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Hospital-acquired infections are commonly resistant to antibiotics and cause substantial morbidity and mortality in susceptible populations. Although there is no direct contact between the anaesthetic machine's controls and the patient, there is considerable potential for colonising organisms to be carried between the anaesthetic machine and the patient on the anaesthetist's hands. We performed two cross-sectional studies of bacterial contamination on anaesthetic machines before and after a simple intervention. Without warning, during theatre sessions, bacterial cultures were obtained from anaesthetic equipment. A new departmental policy of cleaning anaesthetic equipment with detergent wipes between cases was then introduced. Six weeks later, again without warning, a further set of cultures was taken. There was significant reduction in the proportion of cultures containing pathogenic bacteria (from 14/78 cultures (18%; 95% CI 9.4–26.5%) before the intervention to 5/77 cultures (6%; 95% CI 1.0–12%) after the intervention (p = 0.03)). The intervention was quick, easy and enthusiastically taken up by the majority of staff. We conclude that cleaning of anaesthetic equipment between cases should become routine practice.