Parental smoking behavior at home and sociodemographic variables may influence exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in children. A sample of 115 preschool children aged 3-6 years was enrolled in this study. ETS exposure was evaluated through a questionnaire about parents' smoking behavior and determinations of urinary cotinine - a biomarker of exposure - in children. Bivariate and multiple regression analyses were used to evaluate the association between the smoking behavior of each parent at home, sociodemographic factors and cotinine levels in children. The parental perception of smokiness in the home was significantly associated with urinary cotinine in children (r-partial coefficient=0.324; P<0.002). The father's education, mother's smoking status, and day of the week when urine was sampled (Tuesday) were also independently associated with levels of cotinine. These four variables explained 26.4% of the variance in the cotinine levels of children. In designing educational programs to reduce passive smoking among children, it is necessary to take into account those factors related with cotinine levels in children. Our results support the influence of the mothers' smoking status, the fathers' educational level, and the day of the week of sampling on cotinine in children. The perception of parents (smokers and nonsmokers) about the smokiness in the home could also be a useful indicator of the cotinine in children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in the household.