OBJECTIVE: We performed a prospective, randomized, single-blind study in children undergoing colonoscopy to evaluate the acceptance and efficacy of three different bowel preparations. METHODS: Seventy patients (ages 3-20 yr, 38 males) were randomly assigned to one of the three study preparations: Magnesium citrate with X-prep and clear liquid diet for 2 days (group A); Dulcolax for 2 days and Fleet enema without dietary restriction (group B); and Golytely 20 ml/kg (up to 1 L) per hour for 4 h with clear liquid diet for 1 day (group C). Endoscopists blinded to bowel preparation graded the adequacy of colon cleansing. The preparations were rated by patients for tolerance, willingness to retake them, adverse effects, and compliance. RESULTS: Data analysis using Fisher exact test and trend test showed that colon cleansing in groups A and C was superior to that in group B (p < 0.0001) and better in group C than A (p < 0.075). Overall tolerance and compliance were significantly better for groups A and B than group C (p < 0.003), but not different between A and B. More of group B patients were willing to retake the preparation than in group C (p < 0.002) and group A (p < 0.05), but this was not different between groups A and C. Adverse effects were reported more frequently by patients in group C than in groups A and B (p < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Although the least well tolerated, Golytely provided the best cleansing. Dulcolax without dietary restriction provided unsatisfactory colon cleansing. Magnesium citrate with X-prep was acceptable and provided good cleansing.