To compare ease of maintenance and recovery characteristics of sevoflurane and propofol plus fentanyl in day-care anaesthesia, 60 outpatients undergoing elective surgery of up to 3 h duration were randomized to receive sevoflurane or propofol as their primary anaesthetic. Induction was always carried out with propofol, but a fentanyl bolus 5 μg kg−1 was added in the propofol group. Anaesthesia was supplemented with up to 70% N2O. Significantly shorter times to extubation (10.03 min ± 3.2 SD vs. 17.2 ± 7.3; P<0.001) and emergence (10.4 ± 3.1 vs. 16.8 ± 6.4; P<0.001) were observed in the sevoflurane group. Patients treated with sevoflurane felt less confused, showed better performances in the digit symbol substitution test and achieved higher modified Aldrete scores sooner in the post-operative course. Maintenance of anaesthesia with sevoflurane produces faster emergence and recovery than propofol plus fentanyl after anaesthesia of short to intermediate duration.