Nile Red (NR) staining potentially offers a simple method for monitoring lipid accumulation in microalgal cultivation. However, variable staining efficiencies and methods have been reported. The effect of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), ethylene glycol (EG) and glycerol on NR penetration with four different phytoplankton species representing different taxonomical groups was studied. Treatment with the solvents enhanced the NR fluorescence of the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum during kinetic fluorescence measurements, but high concentrations of solvents were needed. None of the solvents improved NR staining of the green alga Chlorella pyrenoidosa and Scenedesmus obliquus, which are known to be difficult to stain due to their thick and rigid cell walls. The naked Isochrysis sp. cells stained best without solvents. The results confirm that NR staining protocol needs to be optimized for each species.