We evaluated cellular responses to polymer-treated gold nanorods, which were synthesized using the standard wet-chemistry method that utilizes hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB). The nanorod dispersions were coated with either polystyrene sulfonate (PSS) or polyethylene glycol (PEG). Two sizes of nanorods were tested, with optical responses peaking at 628 and 773 nm. The cells were from mammary adenocarcinoma (SKBR3), Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO), mouse myoblast (C2C12) and Human Leukemia (HL60) cell lines. Their mitochondrial function following exposure to the nanorods were assessed using the MTS assay. We found PEGylated particles to have superior biocompatibility compared with PSS-coated nanorods, which showed substantial cytotoxicity. Electron microscopy showed no cellular uptake of PEGylated particles compared with their PSS counterparts. PEGylated gold nanorods also exhibited better dispersion stability in the presence of cell growth medium; PSS-coated rods tended to flocculate or cluster. In the case of the PSS particles, toxicity correlated with surface area across the two sizes of nanorods studied.