SUMMARY: The self-etch approach provides dentists with a generation of user-friendly and less technique-sensitive adhesives. Nevertheless, some concern has been raised regarding their bonding effectiveness to enamel, in particular when so-called 'mild' self-etch adhesives are employed. OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that the two-step self-etch adhesive Clearfil SE Bond (C-SE; Kuraray, Osaka, Japan) bonds equally effective to enamel/dentin either with or without prior etching with phosphoric acid. METHODS: Bur-cut enamel/dentin surfaces prepared from human molars were partially split in two halves by cutting a shallow groove. One half was first etched with 40% phosphoric acid (K-etchant), while protecting the other half by holding a razor blade in the groove. Next, C-SE was applied strictly following the manufacturer's instructions, after which the surface was built up using Z100 (3M Espe). After 24-h water storage, micro-specimens were prepared with the interface circularly constricted using a Micro-Specimen Former, prior to micro-tensile bond strength (MPa) measurement. In addition, interfaces of C-SE with enamel/dentin prepared with and without beforehand acid etching were examined by Feg-SEM and TEM. RESULTS: Beforehand etching significantly increased the bonding effectiveness of C-SE to enamel. A clearly more micro-retentive surface was revealed by TEM and Feg-SEM when enamel was etched. Phosphoric-acid etching prior to C-SE application on dentin significantly decreased the muTBS to dentin. TEM provided indications of a low-quality hybrid layer after beforehand phosphoric-acid etching. CONCLUSION: Using C-SE, additional etching with phosphoric acid to improve bonding effectiveness should be limited to enamel.