We have investigated the effect of an exogenous lactate load given during machine haemofiltration treatment in 22 patients with acute renal failure and 12 patients with chronic renal failure, without any overt evidence of liver disease. Hyperlactataemia occurred in all patients, but the expected changes in acid base status, an increase in bicarbonate and a reduction in arterial hydrogen ions were observed in less than 40% of the treatments in the acute renal failure group. Ultrafiltrate losses of lactate and bicarbonate could not alone explain the changes in acid-base status. There was a positive correlation between the increase in arterial lactate and hydrogen ion concentrations, r = 0.52, p < 0.01. Lactate accumulation in patients at, or close to, their threshold for lactate utilisation may result in further depression of cardiac function and peripheral lactate utilisation. Hyperlactataemia due to use of lactate-based dialysis/haemofiltration solutions in critically ill patients may result in a worsening of the acid-base status, and arterial pH should be monitored so that bicarbonate solutions can be substituted if the changes are progressive.