Due to the narrow band gap of HgCdTe required for infrared photodetectors, the device performance is readily influenced by surface effects. This letter examines the effect that hydrogenation has on the quality of industry-standard ZnS passivating films. The hydrogenation is achieved by exposing the samples to a H-2/CH4 plasma that is present during a reactive ion etching process. The results show a marked improvement of the passivant/substrate interface for hydrogenated devices with a reduction of the average fixed interface charge density to 3.5x10(10) cm(-2), accompanied by a sixfold decrease in the standard deviation. The advantage of this method of hydrogenation is that it is integrated into the reactive ion etch processing for mesa formation or p-type to n-type conversion in photoconductive or photovoltaic device fabrication, respectively. With the improvement of the ZnS passivation with hydrogenation, this method may alleviate the need for complex epitaxial passivation processing. (C) 2000 American Institute of Physics. [S0003-6951(00)03717-7].