Four mechanical surface treatments have been considered for the application to austenitic stainless steel structures. Shot peening (SP), laser shock peening (LSP), ultrasonic impact treatment (UIT) and water jet cavitation peening (WJCP), also known as cavitation shotless peening (CSP), have been applied to 8 mm thick Type 304 austenitic stainless steel coupons. This study considers the merits of each of these mechanical surface treatments in terms of their effect on the surface roughness, microstructure, level of plastic work and through thickness residual stress distribution. Microstructural studies have revealed the formation of martensite close to the treated surface for each process. Residual stress measurements in the samples show compressive stresses to a significantly greater depth for the LSP, UIT and WJCP samples compared to the more conventional SP treated sample. © Springer-Verlag 2010.