Saliva contains anti-HIV-1 factors, which show unclear efficacy in thwarting mucosal infection. When incubated in fresh, unfractionated whole saliva, infectious HIV-1 IIIb and BaL (X4- and R5-tropic, respectively) persisted from 4 to at least 30min in a saliva concentration-dependent manner. In salivary supernatant for up to 6h, both infectious HIV-1 strains "escaped" into immortalized oral epithelial cells; infectious BaL showed selectively enhanced escape in the presence of saliva. Fluorescently labeled HIV-1 virus-like particles entered oral epithelial cells within minutes of exposure. Using a previously unrecognized mechanism, therefore, strains of HIV-1 escape inactivation by saliva via rapid uptake into oral epithelial cells.