The use of optical methods in the diagnosis of early caries is developing rapidly. The introduction of the quantitative light-induced fluorescence (QLF) device has promised the use of a quantifiable technique in vivo. This study describes the effect that ambient light has upon the reliability of QLF analyses. Using human teeth and simulated lesions the study examined the effect of 15 different light levels on three severities of carious lesions. The study found that a light level of 88 lux could be employed in areas where QLF is to be used without significantly affecting the reported value, ΔQ. This study impacts upon the health and safety issues surrounding QLF usage as well as ethical issues relating to working in dark environments. © 2002 Blackwell Science Ltd.