Reliable predictions of the fate and behaviour of pesticides in soils is dependent on the use of accurate ‘equilibrium’ sorption constants and/or rate coefficients. However, the sensitivity of these parameters to changes in the physicochemical characteristics of soil solids and interstitial solutions remains poorly understood. Here, we investigate the effects of soil organic matter content, particle size distribution, dissolved organic matter and the presence of crop residues (wheat straw and ash) on the sorption of the herbicides atrazine and isoproturon by a clay soil. Sorption Kd's derived from batch ‘equilibrium’ studies for both atrazine and isoproturon by <2 mm clay soil were approximately 3.5 L/kg. The similarity of Koc's for isoproturon sorption by the <2 mm clay soil and <2 mm clay soil oxidised with hydrogen peroxide suggested that the sorption of this herbicide was strongly influenced by soil organic matter. By contrast, Koc's for atrazine sorption by oxidised soil were three times greater than those for <2 mm soil, indicating that the soil mineral components might have affected sorption of this herbicide. No significant differences between the sorption of either herbicide by <2 mm clay soil and (i) <250 μm clay soil, (ii) clay soil mixed with wheat straw or ash at ratios similar to those observed under field conditions, (iii) <2 mm clay soil in the presence of dissolved organic matter as opposed to organic free water, were observed.