Background Patients suspected of personality disorders (PDs) by general practitioners are frequently referred to psychiatric outpatient clinics (POCs). In that setting an effective screening instrument for PDs would be helpful due to resource constraints. This study evaluates the properties of The Iowa Personality Disorder Screen (IPDS) as a screening instrument for PDs at a POC. Methods In a cross-sectional design 145 patients filled in the IPDS and were examined with the SCID-II interview as reference. Various case-findings properties were tested, interference of socio-demographic and other psychopathology were investigated by logistic regression and relationships of the IPDS and the concept of PDs were studied by a latent variable path analysis. Results We found that socio-demographic and psychopathological factors hardly disturbed the IPDS as screening instrument. With a cut-off ≥4 the 11 items IPDS version had sensitivity 0.77 and specificity 0.71. A brief 5 items version showed sensitivity 0.82 and specificity 0.74 with cut-off ≥ 2. With exception for one item, the IPDS variables loaded adequately on their respective first order variables, and the five first order variables loaded in general adequately on their second order variable. Conclusion Our results support the IPDS as a useful screening instrument for PDs present or absent in the POC setting.