Medical-grade poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC) was chemically modified to study how the incorporation of monovalent silver influences Pseudomonas aeruginosa adhesion and colonization. The modification investigated consisted of a radio frequency-oxygen (RF-O-2) glow discharge pre-functionalization, followed by a two-step wet-treatment in sodium hydroxide and silver nitrate solutions. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) analysis and contact angle measurements were used to investigate the chemical nature and surface wettability of the films following each step of the modification. XPS analysis proved that the RF-O-2 plasma pre-functionalization of native PVC reproducibly increased the amount of functional groups representative of PVC additives, including ether/alcohol, esters and carboxyl groups. More specifically, we demonstrated that the O-C-O groups representative of the phthalic ester and zinc carboxylate additives identified for native PVC increased by two-fold following the RF-O-2 plasma pre-functionalization step. Although RF-O-2 pre-functionalization did not have an effect on the silver content of the NaOH/AgNO3 treated substrates, such a modification was necessary for biomaterial products that did not have reproducible surfaces amongst production lots. XPS analysis also demonstrated that saponification with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) of esters, like those of the phthalic ester additives of PVC is a simple, irreversible method of hydrolysis, which produced sodium carboxylate and sodium phthalate salts. Exposure of native PVC to NaOH resulted in an increased surface hydrophilicity (from ca 90degrees to ca 60degrees) due to dechlorination. XPS analysis following further incubation in silver nitrate demonstrated that silver ions can be trapped when the sodium of sodium carboxylate is replaced by silver after performing a second treatment with a monovalent silver-containing solution. The creation of silver salt on native PVC resulted in an ultra-hydrophobic (> 120degrees) surface. The chemical modifications using NaOH and AgNO3 wet treatments completely inhibited bacterial adhesion of four strains of P. aeruginosa to both native and oxygen-pre-functionalized PVC, and efficiently prevented colonization over longer periods (72 h). Our results suggest that surface modifications that incorporate silver ions would be extremely effective at reducing bacterial colonization to medical devices. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.