BACKGROUND: Wiping of the mouth and nose at birth is an alternative method to oronasopharyngeal suction in delivery-room management of neonates, but whether these methods have equivalent effectiveness is unclear. METHODS: For this randomised equivalency trial, neonates delivered at 35 weeks' gestation or later at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, Birmingham, AL, USA, between October, 2010, and November, 2011, were eligible. Before birth, neonates were randomly assigned gentle wiping of the face, mouth (implemented by the paediatric or obstetric resident), and nose with a towel (wipe group) or suction with a bulb syringe of the mouth and nostrils (suction group). The primary outcome was the respiratory rate in the first 24 h after birth. We hypothesised that respiratory rates would differ by fewer than 4 breaths per min between groups. Analysis was by intention to treat. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01197807. FINDINGS: 506 neonates born at a median of 39 weeks' gestation (IQR 38-40) were randomised. Three parents withdrew consent and 15 non-vigorous neonates with meconium-stained amniotic fluid were excluded. Among the 488 treated neonates, the mean respiratory rates in the first 24 h were 51 (SD 8) breaths per min in the wipe group and 50 (6) breaths per min in the suction group (difference of means 1 breath per min, 95% CI -2 to 0, p<0·001). INTERPRETATION: Wiping the nose and mouth has equivalent efficacy to routine use of oronasopharyngeal suction in neonates born at or beyond 35 weeks' gestation. FUNDING: None.