Background Laparoscopic lavage has recently emerged as a promising alternative to sigmoid resection in the treatment of perforated diverticulitis. This study examined an early experience with this technique. Methods The files of all patients with complicated diverticulitis were searched in 34 teaching hospitals of the Netherlands. Patients with perforated diverticulitis treated with laparoscopic lavage between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2010 were included. Results Treatment with laparoscopic lavage was performed in only 38 patients in ten hospitals. Lavage was successful in controlling sepsis in 31 of the 38 included patients, with 32 per cent morbidity (10 of 31 patients) and fast recovery. Overall, 17 of 38 patients developed complications, of whom two had a missed overt sigmoid perforation. Two patients died from multiple organ failure and one from aspiration pneumonia; one other patient died after palliative management of inoperable lung carcinoma. Three patients in whom lavage was successful underwent subsequent sigmoid resection for recurrent diverticulitis. Patients in whom lavage was unsuccessful tended to have more co-morbidities, a higher preoperative C-reactive protein concentration and a higher Mannheim Peritonitis Index. Conclusion Laparoscopic lavage for perforated diverticulitis was feasible in the majority of patients, but identification of an overt sigmoid perforation and patient selection are of critical importance. (c) 2013 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.