An outbreak of Acinetobacter baumannii colonization and infection occurred in 19 patients over a 14-month period during 1998-1999 on a neurosurgical intensive care unit. During efforts to control the outbreak a significant correlation was observed between the number of environmental isolates of A. baumannii obtained during each monthly screening and the number of patients with A. baumannii colonization/ infection in the same calendar month (P = 0.004). Use of 1000 ppm hypochlorite solution and the introduction of new cleaning protocols reduced the number of environmental isolates. Failure to maintain low levels of environmental contamination with A. baumannii resulted in increases in patient colonization. This study showed that high standards of cleaning play an integral role in controlling outbreaks of A. baumannii in the intensive care unit setting.