A d.c. oxygen glow discharge was used to modify medical-grade poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC) to study how surface chemistry and hydrophilicity influence Pseudomonas aeruginosa adhesion. The effects of plasma exposure time on the resulting surface, including chemical composition, wettability and roughness, were assessed using x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, contact angle measurements and atomic force microscopy analysis. A significant alteration in the hydrophilicity of the native PVC surface was observed after oxygen glow discharge treatment. The water contact angle decreased from similar to80degrees to 8-20degrees, with a weak dependence of the exposure time used. The change in surface wettability resulted from the incorporation of oxygenated functional groups, including esters, ketones and acids, as indicated by XPS analysis. The amount of oxygen incorporation was shown to be essentially independent of plasma exposure time. However, prolonged plasma exposure resulted in increased surface roughness. Bacterial adhesion efficiency was evaluated for PVC modified by 120 s of plasma exposure, because this exposure time was determined to yield the maximum decrease in contact angle. Oxygen plasma treatment of native PVC was found to yield a 70% reduction in bacterial adhesion for the four strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa tested. Copyright (C) 2003 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.