BACKGROUND Identification of bacterial pathogens is paramount for prompt and effective treatment of respiratory exacerbations in children with cystic fibrosis (CF). This can be a challenge in non-expectorating patients as reliability of cough swabs (CS) is poor. More recently, cough plates (CP) have been reported to give high yields in some series. The aim of the study was to ascertain their effectiveness compared to CS and to assess the impact of cough strength on efficacy of CP. METHOD Non-expectorating children with CF aged 3-16 years were recruited. Baseline data was recorded and peak cough flow measured. Specimens were obtained with CP and a cough swab in a randomised order and repeated at up to four clinic visits to obtain multiple measurements. Subjects completed a short questionnaire. RESULTS Number of subjects was 95, mean age 8.8±4.1 years, 45 males. Mean baseline % predicted FEV1 was 90.8±18. In total, 324 sets of specimens were collected. Pathogens were isolated in 18.2% of CS and 8% of CP. Agreement between the two specimens occurred in only 5.5% of cases. CP isolated pathogens on six occasions when the CS was negative while 40 CS were positive with a corresponding negative CP. Cough strength increased with age, and there was a trend towards older children isolating more pathogens on CP. However, this was not statistically significant. The majority of subjects preferred the CP. CONCLUSIONS CP are less effective than CS in identifying respiratory pathogens in children with CF.