Malnutrition risk screening in cirrhotic patients is crucial, as poor nutritional status negatively affects disease prognosis and survival. Given that a variety of malnutrition screening tools is usually used in routine clinical practice, the effectiveness of eight screening tools in detecting malnutrition risk in cirrhotic patients was sought. A total of 170 patients (57·1 % male, 59·4 (sd 10·5) years, 50·6 % decompensated ones) with cirrhosis of various aetiologies were enrolled. Nutritional screening was performed using the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool, Nutritional Risk Index, Malnutrition Screening Tool, Nutritional Risk Screening (NRS-2002), Birmingham Nutritional Risk Score, Short Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire, Royal Free Hospital Nutritional Prioritizing Tool (RFH-NPT) and Liver Disease Undernutrition Screening Tool (LDUST). Malnutrition diagnosis was defined using the Subjective Global Assessment (SGA). Data on 1-year survival were available for 145 patients. The prevalence of malnutrition risk varied according to the screening tools used, with a range of 13·5–54·1 %. RFH-NPT and LDUST were the most accurate in detecting malnutrition (AUC = 0·885 and 0·892, respectively) with a high sensitivity (97·4 and 94·9 %, respectively) and fair specificity (73·3 and 58 %, respectively). Malnutrition according to SGA was an independent prognostic factor of within 1-year mortality (relative risk was 2·17 (95 % CI 1·0, 4·7), P = 0·049) after adjustment for sex, age, disease aetiology and Model for End-stage Liver Disease score, whereas nutrition risk according to RFH-NPT, LDUST and NRS-2002 showed no association. RFH-NPT and LDUST were the only screening tools that proved to be accurate in detecting malnutrition in cirrhotic patients.