The phoneme detection task is widely used in spoken word recognition research. Alphabetically literate participants, however, are more used to explicit representations of letters than of phonemes. The present study explored whether phoneme detection is sensitive to how target phonemes are, or may be, orthographically realised. Listeners detected the target sounds [b,m,t,f,s,k] in word-initial position in sequences of isolated English words. Response times were faster to the targets [b,m,t], which have consistent word-initial spelling, than to the targets [f,s,k], which are inconsistently spelled, but only when listeners’ attention was drawn to spelling by the presence in the experiment of many irregularly spelled fillers. Within the inconsistent targets [f,s,k], there was no significant difference between responses to targets in words with majority and minority spellings. We conclude that performance in the phoneme detection task is not necessarily sensitive to orthographic effects, but that salient orthographic manipulation can induce such sensitivity.