Cation (CEMs) and anion exchange membrane (AEMs) are commonly used in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to enhance Coulombic efficiencies (CEs) by reducing thefluxof oxygen through the cathode to bacteriaonthe anode. AEMs typically work better than CEMs, but in initial experiments we observed the opposite using a membrane electrode assembly MFC. The reason was identified to be membrane deformation, which resulted in water and gas trapped between the membrane and cathode. To correct this, stainless steel mesh was used to press the membrane flat against the cathode. With the steel mesh, AEM performance increased to 46±4W/m3 in a single cathode MFC, and 98±14W/m3 in a double-cathode MFC. These power densities were higher than those using a CEM of 32±2W/m3 (single cathode) and 63±6W/m3 (double cathode). Higher pH gradients across the membrane and salt precipitation on the cathode were responsible for the reduced performance of the CEM compared to the AEM. CEs reached over 90% for both membranes at >2A/m2. These results demonstrate the importance of avoiding water accumulation in thin films between membranes and electrodes, and explain additional reasons for poorer performance of CEMs compared to AEMs. © 2009 Elsevier B.V.