Oxidative injury to hemoglobin (Hb) leads to formation of methemoglobin (MetHb), reversible hemichromes (rHCRs), and irreversible hemichromes (iHCRs). iHCRs precipitate and form Heinz bodies that attach to the red cell membrane causing injury that leads to hemolysis. The molecular mechanisms of this membrane damage have not been fully elucidated. We have studied the effect of Hb oxidation products on the mechanical stability of red cell membrane skeletons and the associations of membrane skeletal proteins. Hb and MetHb stabilized the isolated membrane skeletons, whereas further oxidation to rHCRs abolished this stabilizing effect. Crude iHCRs prepared by phenylhydrazine oxidation of Hb destabilized membrane skeletons by decreasing formation of the spectrin-protein 4.1-actin complex, the effect similar to that of pure hemin. Whereas virtually no hemin was released from Hb and MetHb, high concentrations of hemin were released from crude iHCR preparations. After removal of this hemin fraction by Dowex resin, the iHCRs lost their destabilizing effect. We conclude that as the oxidation of Hb proceeds, the stabilizing effect of Hb on the membrane skeleton is gradually lost and the deleterious effect increases. The destabilization of the red cell membrane skeleton in the presence of crude iHCR is caused by release of hemin, which lowers the stability of membrane skeleton by weakening the spectrin-protein 4.1-actin interaction.