Diffuse reflectance infrared Fourier transform (DRIFT) spectroscopy was used to assess the effects of heat damage on carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer composites. Moisture-saturated graphite-epoxy laminates with a quasi-isotropic lay-up were heat-damaged above their upper service temperatures. The loss of matrix-dominated mechanical properties due to heat exposure was investigated in the laboratory under environmental testing conditions with mechanical tests, ultrasonic C-scanning, and DRIFT spectroscopy. The reduction of the mechanical strength of the composite materials was accompanied by an increase in the carbonyl band integral and a decrease in the phenyl ratio and hydroxyl and hydrocarbon band integrals, as shown by the DRIFT spectra. DRIFT was confirmed to be more effective than ultrasonic inspection in evaluating the extent of heat damage, and a good correlation was found between the mechanical test results and DRIFT spectra. (c) 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.