AIMS To characterize and select Lactobacillus strains for properties that would make them a good alternative to the use of antibiotics to treat human vaginal infections. METHODS AND RESULTS Ten Lactobacillus strains belonging to four different Lactobacillus species were analysed for properties relating to mucosal colonization or microbial antagonism (adhesion to human epithelial cells, hydrogen peroxide production, antimicrobial activity towards Gardnerella vaginalis and Candida albicans and coaggregation with pathogens). The involvement of electrostatic interactions and the influence of bacterial metabolic state in the binding of lactobacilli to the cell surface were also studied. Adherence to epithelial cells varied greatly among the Lactobacillus species and among different strains belonging to the same Lactobacillus species. The reduction in surface negative electric charge promoted the binding of several Lactobacillus strains to the cell membrane whereas lyophilization reduced the adhesion capacity of many isolates. The antimicrobial activity of lactobacilli culture supernatant fluids was not directly related to the production of H2O2. CONCLUSIONS Three strains (Lactobacillus brevis CD2, Lact. salivarius FV2 and Lact. gasseri MB335) showed optimal properties and were, therefore, selected for the preparation of vaginal tablets. The selected strains adhered to epithelial cells displacing vaginal pathogens; they produced high levels of H2O2, coaggregated with pathogens and inhibited the growth of G. vaginalis. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY The dosage formulation developed in this study appears to be a good candidate for the probiotic prophylaxis and treatment of human vaginal infections.