ZrO 2 nanocrystals were synthesized by the microwave combustion method (MCM) using urea as the fuel without using any template, catalyst or surfactant. For the purpose of comparison, it was also prepared using the conventional combustion method (CCM). The as-synthesized ZrO 2 was characterized by powder X-ray diffraction (XRD), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), high resolution scanning electron microscopy (HR-SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDX), diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS) and photoluminescence (PL) spectroscopy. The results indicated that the ZrO 2 nanocrystals obtained by MCM show high crystallinity and uniform size distribution than the ones prepared by CCM. Hence, the influence of the preparation methods on the structure, morphology and optical activity of ZrO 2 was investigated systematically. Photocatalytic degradation (PCD) of 4-Chlorophenol (4-CP), a potent endocrine disrupting chemical in aqueous medium was investigated by ZrO 2 nanocrystals obtained by MCM. The kinetics of PCD was found to follow pseudo first-order. Having established that ZrO 2 was photo catalytically active, the mixed oxide catalysts of ZrO 2-TiO 2 were also tested for the PCD of 4-CP. © 2012 Elsevier Inc.