Poly(4-vinyl-N-alkylpyridinium bromide) was covalently attached to glass slides to create a surface that kills airborne bacteria on contact. The antibacterial properties were assessed by spraying aqueous suspensions of bacterial cells on the surface, followed by air drying and counting the number of cells remaining viable (i.e., capable of growing colonies). Amino glass slides were acylated with acryloyl chloride, copolymerized with 4-vinylpyridine, and N-alkylated with different alkyl bromides (from propyl to hexadecyl). The resultant surfaces, depending on the alkyl group, were able to kill up to 94 +/- 4% of Staphylococcus aureus cells sprayed on them. A surface alternatively created by attaching poly(4-vinylpyridine) to a glass slide and alkylating it with hexyl bromide killed 94 +/- 3% of the deposited S. aureus cells. On surfaces modified with N-hexylated poly(4-vinylpyridine), the numbers of viable cells of another Gram-positive bacterium, Staphylococcus epidermidis, as well as of the Gram-negative bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli, dropped more than 100-fold compared with the original amino glass. In contrast, the number of viable bacterial cells did not decline significantly after spraying on such common materials as ceramics, plastics, metals, and wood.