The bactericidal activities of polyhexamethylene biguanide hydrochloride (PHMB), 1-bromo-3-chloro-5,5-dimethylimidazolidine-2,4-dione (BCDMH) and the combination of the two (designated as PB) were compared using Escherichia coli as the test organism. PB exhibited strong bactericidal activity: 10 mg/L PHMB combined with 8 mg/L BCDMH resulted in approximately 5.74 log10 reduction (LR), whereas 320 mg/L PHMB or 20 mg/L BCDMH was about 5.53 and 6.56 LR, respectively. Analyses using scanning electron microscopy, flow cytometry and atomic absorption spectroscopy indicated that PB, PHMB and BCDMH disrupted cell membranes and changed membrane structure and permeability, resulting in the leakage of intracellular soluble proteins and ions. PB exerted stronger effects on potassium and magnesium leakage, membrane potential and permeability than BCDMH did. PB caused less protein leakage than PHMB did. These results suggest that at a relatively low concentration, PB exhibited good bactericidal activity and physiological effect on E. coli.