OBJECTIVES To determine household factors associated with treatment seeking for malaria. METHODS The study was carried out in four districts of Madhya Pradesh with different malaria endemicity. A total of 1470 households were interviewed in which at least one member suffered from microscopically confirmed malaria in the 3 months preceding the survey. Socio-demographic, economic, cultural characteristics, their health beliefs, knowledge and practices regarding malaria and choice of treatment seeking were explored. RESULTS A total of 764 households were from high-endemic and 706 from low-endemic areas. More than half of household heads were illiterate; most are farmers. Approximately 46% sought treatment for malaria from unqualified informal providers; 19% from qualified private health practitioners and 35% from government health providers. Analysis revealed that household's area of residence, education, occupation, ethnicity, use of preventive measures, economic status, knowledge and practices, distance and delayed treatment seeking was strongly associated with the type of healthcare providers selected. CONCLUSIONS Demand for formal health services among the poor, illiterate, tribal population living in remote areas is low. Accessible and affordable health services and a sensitisation programme to increase the demand for formal providers are needed.