Acetaldehyde is produced during ethanol metabolism predominantly in the liver by alcohol dehydrogenase and rapidly eliminated by oxidation to acetate via aldehyde dehydrogenase. Assessment of circulating acetaldehyde levels in biological matrices is performed by headspace gas chromatography and reverse phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC). We have developed an optimized method for the measurement of acetaldehyde by RP-HPLC in hepatoma cell culture medium, blood, and plasma. After sample deproteinization, acetaldehyde was derivatized with 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH). The reaction was optimized for pH, amount of derivatization reagent, time, and temperature. Extraction methods of the acetaldehyde-hydrazone (AcH-DNP) stable derivative and product stability studies were carried out. Acetaldehyde was identified by its retention time in comparison with AcH-DNP standard, using a new chromatography gradient program, and quantitated based on external reference standards and standard addition calibration curves in the presence and absence of ethanol. Derivatization of acetaldehyde was performed at pH 4.0 with an 80-fold molar excess of DNPH. The reaction was completed in 40 minutes at ambient temperature, and the product was stable for 2 days. A clear separation of AcH-DNP from DNPH was obtained with a new 11-minute chromatography program. Acetaldehyde detection was linear up to 80 μM. The recovery of acetaldehyde was >88% in culture media and >78% in plasma. We quantitatively determined the ethanol-derived acetaldehyde in hepatoma cells, rat blood and plasma with a detection limit around 3 μM. The accuracy of the method was <9% for intraday and <15% for interday measurements, in small volume (70 μl) plasma sampling. An optimized method for the quantitative determination of acetaldehyde in biological systems was developed using derivatization with DNPH, followed by a short RP-HPLC separation of AcH-DNP. The method has an extended linear range, is reproducible and applicable to small-volume sampling of culture media and biological fluids.