A procedure of making membranes of amphiphilic materials at the bottom of a U-shaped flexible plastic tube within an aqueous medium is described. The membranes were made sufficiently large in order for the annulus area to be neglected. Consequently the hydrophobic thickness of the membrane could be measured by a capacitance technique assuming the relative permittivity of the hydrophobic part of the bilayer. Introduction of an AC microvolt technique allowed manufacture of stable thick membranes by quenching the electroconstriction observed when DC electrical potentials in the millivolt range are used. By continuously monitoring the hydrophobic thickness and by use of the AC microvolt technique the membrane-thinning process by chemical means could be studied in isolation because the electroconstriction was quenched. The maximally thinned hydrophobic thickness of a monooleylglycerol membrane measured at 38 degrees C was found to be 25 +/- 1.2 Angstrom. Criteria and argumentation for maximal thinning of the membrane are put forward. A distinction between genuine and modified cholesterol was demonstrated to be possible by the described method. (C) 1999 Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.