We carried out a prospective, controlled trial of intra-operative autologous transfusion (IOAT) in cardiac surgery using the Haemonetics Cellsaver 4, to determine the effects on transfusion requirements and early clinical outcome. Intra-operative autologous transfusion in unselected patients resulted in a reduction in the use of red cells in patients undergoing first-time operations (IOAT median 3 units, controls median 4 units, P = 0.0023), with no difference in the use of other blood products. Post-operative haemoglobin was higher in IOAT patients (IOAT 11.6 g/dl +/- 1.1 versus controls 11.2 g/dl +/- 0.98, P < 0.001). There is therefore the potential for a further reduction in homologous blood use in the IOAT group. There was no difference in early clinical outcome in the two groups; in particular the incidence of coagulopathies was not influenced by IOAT. The routine use of IOAT would add substantially to the cost of these operations. The decision to use it must therefore be based on an assessment of the value of the reduction in risk to the patient achieved by a small reduction in homologous donor exposures.