Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and oxidative stress have recently been linked to the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel diseases. Under physiological conditions, intestinal epithelial cells are exposed to ER and oxidative stress affecting the cellular ionic homeostasis. However, these altered ion flux ‘signatures’ during these stress conditions are poorly characterized. We investigated the kinetics of K+, Ca2+ and H+ ion fluxes during ER and oxidative stress in a colonic epithelial cell line LS174T using a non-invasive microelectrode ion flux estimation technique. ER and oxidative stress were induced by cell exposure to tunicamycin (TM) and copper ascorbate (CuAsc), respectively, from 1 to 24 h. Dramatic K+ efflux was observed following acute ER stress with peak K+ efflux being −30·6 and −138·7 nmolm−2 s−1 for 10 and 50 μg ml−1, respectively (p < 0·01). TM-dependent Ca2+ uptake was more prolonged with peak values of 0·85 and 2·68 nmol m−2 s−1 for 10 and 50 μg ml−1 TM, respectively (p < 0·02). Ion homeostasis was also affected by the duration of ER stress. Increased duration of TM treatment from 0 to 18 h led to increases in both K+ efflux and Ca2+ uptake. While K+ changes were significantly higher at each time point tested, Ca2+ uptake was significantly higher only after prolonged treatment (18 h). CuAsc also led to an increased K+ efflux and Ca2+ uptake. Functional assays to investigate the effect of inhibiting K+ efflux with tetraethylammonium resulted in increased cell viability. We conclude that ER/oxidative stress in colonic epithelial cells cause dramatic K+, Ca2+ and H+ ion flux changes, which may predispose this lineage to poor stress recovery reminiscent of that seen in inflammatory bowel diseases. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.