Staphylococcus aureus isolates (n = 225) from bovine teat skin, human skin, milking equipment, and bovine milk were fingerprinted by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Strains were compared to assess the role of skin and milking equipment as sources of S. aureus mastitis. PFGE of SmaI-digested genomic DNA identified 24 main types and 17 subtypes among isolates from 43 herds and discriminated between isolates from bovine teat skin and milk. Earlier, phage typing (L. K. Fox, M. Gershmann, D. D. Hancock, and C. T. Hutton, Cornell Vet. 81:183-193, 1991) had failed to discriminate between isolates from skin and milk. Skin isolates from humans belonged to the same pulsotypes as skin isolates from cows. Milking equipment harbored strains from skin as well as strains from milk. We conclude that S. aureus strains from skin and from milk can both be transmitted via the milking machine, but that skin strains are not an important source of intramammary S. aureus infections in dairy cows. A subset of 142 isolates was characterized by binary typing with DNA probes developed for typing of human S. aureus. Typeability and overall concordance with epidemiological data were lower for binary typing than for PFGE while discriminatory powers were similar. Within several PFGE types, binary typing discriminated between main types and subtypes and between isolates from different herds or sources. Thus, binary typing is not suitable as replacement for PFGE but may be useful in combination with PFGE to refine strain differentiation.