Clindamycin phosphate (C-PO4) must be hydrolyzed to the active antibiotic, but whether this occurs within the peritoneal cavity during peritoneal dialysis is unknown. Therapeutic peritoneal levels are difficult to achieve after intravenous administration, so direct intraperitoneal instillation is preferred in treating dialysis-associated peritonitis. Therefore, the activation of C-PO4 in peritoneal dialysate was investigated. Fresh and 'uremic' peritoneal dialysates of 1.5 and 4.25% dextrose concentrations at pHs of 5.1 and 7.4 did not activate C-PO4. Clindamycin hydrochloride in this same fluid was active, ruling out uremic deactivators. A patient with peritonitis was treated with intraperitoneal C-PO4, and therapeutic (greater than 5 micrograms/ml) serum and peritoneal levels were achieved. Infected (exudative) peritoneal dialysate drained from another patient with peritonitis activated C-PO4 in vitro. Commercial alkaline phosphatase added to uremic dialysate also activated C-PO4 in vitro. C-PO4 was instilled into the peritoneal cavities of 10 noninfected patients. Exposure to the peritoneal membrane at two concentrations resulted in a 3% activation of C-PO4. From these observations it is clear that C-PO4 is only partially activated intraperitoneally. Uremia or uremic products in the dialysate do not deactivate the antibiotic. Exudative material (bacteria, white blood cells and proteins) in infected dialysate contribute to activation of C-PO4. The peritoneal membrane further assists in activation. We recommend that C-PO4 be administered at a concentration of 167 mg/l of dialysate to ensure therapeutic peritoneal levels of the active antibiotic, especially after the exudative phase clears.