Octylphenoxy polyoxyethylene ethers (Triton detergents) interact with the erythrocyte membrane in a biphasic manner, i.e. they stabilize erythrocytes against hypo-osmotic haemolysis at low concentrations (0.0001-0.01%, v/v), but become haemolytic at higher concentrations. This biphasic behaviour was demonstrated with Triton X-114, Triton X-100 and Triton X-102. However, a critical chain length is a prerequisite for the haemolytic effect, because Triton X-45, which differs from the other Tritons only by the shorter chain of the polyoxyethylene residue, does not exhibit this biphasic behaviour, but goes on protecting against osmotic rupture up to saturating concentrations. Even a 1% solution of Triton X-45 does not cause haemolysis. This structural specificity of Triton X-45, namely the lack of haemolysis and efficient stabilization against osmolysis even at higher concentrations of the detergent, is exhibited at 0 degree and 37 degrees C as well as at room temperature. Three conclusions are reached: (i) a critical chain length of the octylphenoxy polyoxyethylene ethers is required for the haemolytic effect; (ii) the different structural requirements would suggest that different mechanisms are responsible for the haemolytic and the stabilizing effect of amphiphilic substances; (iii) the results suggest that haemolysis is not caused simply by dissolution of the membrane by the detergent but is a rather more specific process.