Aims: To investigate the effect of oxygen limitation, glucose-starvation and temperature on the susceptibility of Escherichia coli towards the quaternary ammonium biocide benzalkonium chloride (BAC). Methods and Results: The effect of BAC on planktonic and sessile cells were investigated using the gfp-tagged E. coli K-12 strain MG1655[pOX38Km]. Increasing temperature from 10 degrees C to 30 degrees C increased the bactericidal effect of BAC for both starved and nonstarved E. coli under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. The lowest minimum bactericidal concentration was observed for cells in anaerobic media at 30 degrees C (30 mg l(-1) BAC). Decreasing cell densities increased the decay rate for BAC-exposed cells for both starved and nonstarved E. coli. Biofilms of E. coli exposed to BAC in anaerobic medium showed a greater percentage of membrane-compromised cells than biofilms grown in aerobic medium. Image analyses of BAC-exposed biofilms showed that membrane-compromised cells were occasionally located in the interior structure of the biofilm microcolonies. Conclusions: Increasing temperatures and the absence of oxygen, and energy substrates increased the antimicrobial effect of BAC towards E. coli. Significance and Impact of the Study: The results are relevant for understanding the disinfection efficacy of quaternary ammonium compounds towards planktonic and sessile bacteria.