Background: The clinical significance of a trace protein reading on urinalysis is unclear, and such a result is often ignored by the clinician. Methods: We examined 185 samples of urine with trace proteinuria by both Chemstrips and sulfosalicylic acid testing, and compared the results with those of urinary albumin and total protein concentrations. Results: Taking for the purposes of this study an arbitrary upper limit of normal of 20 mg/l for albumin and 100 mg/l for total protein concentration, we found abnormal albumin excretion in 87% and abnormal total protein excretion in 88% of trace samples. In this study, a negative urinalysis for protein excluded microalbuminuria in 87% and proteinuria in 78% of cases. Conclusion: Qualitative testing for protein by urinalysis has a high sensitivity and specificity for diagnosing or ruling out microalbuminuria. Trace proteinuria usually means microalbuminuria; negative proteinuria tends to rule it out.