Saline (0.9%, 285 mOsm) and Hartmann's solution (255 mOsm) are two commonly used joint irrigation solutions that alter the extracellular osmolarity of in situ chondrocytes during articular surgery. We asked whether varying the osmolarity of these solutions influences in situ chondrocyte death in mechanically injured articular cartilage. We initially exposed osteochondral tissue harvested from the metacarpophalangeal joints of 3-year-old cows to solutions of 0.9% saline and Hartmann's solution of different osmolarity (100-600 mOsm) for 2 minutes to allow in situ chondrocytes to respond to the altered osmotic environment. The full thickness of articular cartilage then was "injured" with a fresh scalpel. Using confocal laser scanning microscopy, in situ chondrocyte death at the injured cartilage edge was quantified spatially as a function of osmolarity at 2.5 hours. Increasing the osmolarity of 0.9% saline and Hartmann's solution to 600 mOsm decreased in situ chondrocyte death in the superficial zone of injured cartilage. Compared with 0.9% saline, Hartmann's solution was associated with greater chondrocyte death in the superficial zone of injured cartilage, but not when the osmolarity of both solutions was increased to 600 mOsm. These experiments may have implications for the design of irrigation solutions used during arthroscopic and open articular surgery.