The standard technique for fistula cannulation, the rope-ladder technique, is problematic for patients with short fistula lengths and for patients in whom the fistula is difficult to cannulate. The buttonhole technique, cannulation of exactly the same site, offers the advantage of an easy cannulation procedure. However, it can be used only in native fistulas and cannulation is preferably executed by a 'single-sticker'. This study was conducted to compare these cannulation techniques using objective parameters. We introduced the buttonhole technique for self-cannulating home haemodialysis patients and compared it with baseline data obtained with the rope-ladder technique. Thirty-three patients with a native arteriovenous fistula were observed prospectively during 18 months on the following parameters: cannulating ease, number of bad sticks, pain, time of compression after cannula removal, bleeding, infectious complications and aneurysm formation. With the buttonhole method, cannulating ease improved distinctly, which was especially favourable in patients with a short fistula vein. Reported cannulation pain did not change significantly. The incidence of bad sticks decreased significantly, as well as time of compression after cannula removal, without increased incidence of bleeding. Three patients developed a local skin infection of their buttonhole during the study, after which the disinfection routine prior to cannulation was changed. Compared with the rope-ladder technique, the buttonhole method offers the advantage of an easier cannulation procedure with less bad sticks, which has a special benefit for patients with limited access cannulation sites or with a fistula which is difficult to cannulate. Prolonged compression times or re-bleeding episodes did not occur, but precautions have to be taken in order to prevent infectious complications. The buttonhole method can contribute considerably to the cannulating ease of self-cannulating patients, thus providing a better quality of life.