This paper describes the synthesis and characterization of sol-gel silica nanoparticles (NPs) derived from tetraethoxysilane (TEOS) and from tetraethoxysilane and methyltriethoxysilane (TEOS-MTEOS) in which is encapsulated, an in-house synthesized, stable oxygen-sensitive ruthenium complex, ruthenium (II) (bis-2,2-bipyridyl)-2(4-carboxylphenyl) imidazo[4,5-f][1,10]phenanthroline. These NPs were characterized using dynamic light scattering, transmission electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and Brunauer-Emmett-Teller analysis. The spherical, stable and monodispersed NPs have been prepared using the Stöber method. It was found that the addition of prehydrolyzed MTEOS-based sol prepared in an acidic environment to the reaction mixture containing TEOS NPs synthesized for 6 h produced material with increased porosity when compared to pure silica NPs. Oxygen sensitivity, stability, photobleaching and leaching have been characterized. The hybrid NPs exhibit enhanced O2 sensitivity but a high degree of leaching when compared to pure silica NPs, which have minimum O2 sensitivity and no leaching. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.