BACKGROUND Hospital and laboratory equipment that come in contact with body fluids of patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are potentially infective and require special measures for decontamination and disposal. Human immunodeficiency virus is sensitive to several chemicals but requires a continuous exposure to the disinfectant to effective inactivation. Polymers have the capacity to release viricidal chemicals in a sustained fashion for prolonged periods of time, and may be used to coat patient care items before their use. Iodine was chosen because of its universal antimicrobial potential; it was incorporated into polyurethane polymers and the effectiveness of the polymer-iodine against HIV-1 3B was assayed. STUDY DESIGN Iodine was loaded into polyurethane polymers by two different methods: polyurethane-complexing, where the iodine is released through a desorption mechanism, and polyurethane-matrixing, where the iodine is released through a diffusion mechanism. The pharmacokinetics of the iodine release were studied in each case. Twenty-four-well viral culture plates used for HIV-1 3B assays were coated with both types of polyurethane-iodine polymers. Their effectiveness against HIV was assessed by MT4 cell viability and reverse transcriptase assays. RESULTS The polymer-iodine combination remained stable as long as it was dry: the iodine release started only when the plates came in contact with an aqueous environment. The release from the polyurethane-iodine complex was large and rapid, resulting in inactivation of the HIV-1 3B within 15 to 30 minutes, as determined both by reverse transcriptase and the MT4 cytopathic cell cultures assays. The release from the polyurethane-iodine matrix was slower and had no significant antiviral effect. CONCLUSIONS The polyurethane polymer provided a sustained release of iodine that effectively inactivated HIV. The coating may be applied at the time of manufacturing to specific hospital and laboratory items that are to come in contact with blood from patient-contaminated fluids. This technology is attractive for decontamination, especially in situations where appropriate and rapid disposal of medical waste is not readily available. Further research is in progress to speed the release of the iodine from the polymer and the subsequent inactivation of the virus.