Flow cytometry is a powerful technique capable of simultaneous multi-parametric analysis of heterogeneous cell populations for research and clinical applications. In recent years, the flow cytometer has been miniaturized and made portable for application in clinical- and resource-limited settings. The sample preparation procedure, i.e. labeling of cells with antibodies conjugated to fluorescent labels, is a time consuming (∼45 min) and labor-intensive procedure. Microfluidics provides enabling technologies to accomplish rapid and automated sample preparation. Using an integrated microfluidic device consisting of a labeling and washing module, we demonstrate a new protocol that can eliminate sample handling and accomplish sample and reagent metering, high-efficiency mixing, labeling and washing in rapid automated fashion. The labeling module consists of a long microfluidic channel with an integrated chaotic mixer. Samples and reagents are precisely metered into this device to accomplish rapid and high-efficiency mixing. The mixed sample and reagents are collected in a holding syringe and held for up to 8 min following which the mixture is introduced into an inertial washing module to obtain 'analysis-ready' samples. The washing module consists of a high aspect ratio channel capable of focusing cells to equilibrium positions close to the channel walls. By introducing the cells and labeling reagents in a narrow stream at the center of the channel flanked on both sides by a wash buffer, the elution of cells into the wash buffer away from the free unbound antibodies is accomplished. After initial calibration experiments to determine appropriate 'holding time' to allow antibody binding, both modules were used in conjunction to label MOLT-3 cells (T lymphoblast cell line) with three different antibodies simultaneously. Results confirm no significant difference in mean fluorescence intensity values for all three antibodies labels (p < 0.01) between the conventional procedure (45 min) and our microfluidic approach (12 min). © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd.