What do you call unclean water that you can't see through? Probably contaminated with dirt, prolonged stagnation or mineral erosion, almost pale brown, like stagnated water on a rainy day.

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    Why does it have to be brown? Post-Katrina, several Vermont lakes were dull green. And from a technical point of view, water is highly absorptive, so you can't see more than a couple hundred feet in water that's devoid of suspended particles. Presumably you're more interested in water with particulate levels high enough to block vision. – Carl Witthoft Jan 23 '14 at 15:50
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    If the water is contaminated with dirt or sediment then "dirty water" seems the natural choice. Google ngrams shows that "dirty water" is generally more than twice as frequent as murky or turbid water (from 1780 till now). The Muddy Charles river separating Cambridge and Boston even has a dedicated song by that name. "Love that murky water" just doesn't sound the same... – Bill Dubuque Jan 23 '14 at 17:42
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    @Gone Quite possible "murky water" is trademarked by the same corporation which does marketing stats for Click&Clack, the Tappett Brothers :-) – Carl Witthoft Jan 23 '14 at 18:32
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    manky.................? – Matt Jan 23 '14 at 21:48
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    "Troubled" water isn't murky. It's water that's stirred up. There's an old spiritual: "Wade in the water...God's gonna trouble the water". See John 5:4 – swbarnes2 Jan 24 '14 at 7:11

10 Answers 10


Murky comes to mind.

Turbid is not a word I have heard before

Ngram graphic for "murky water" and "turbid water" usage 1900-2008

Also Stagnant having no current or flow and often having an unpleasant smell as a consequence

may be interesting for you

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    I would hesitate to use "stagnant" because,strictly speaking, it only means "not moving," even tho' in colloquial use it implies smelly dirty water. – Carl Witthoft Jan 23 '14 at 15:46
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    "...that you can't see though..." sidelines stagnant, which describes only the state of flow. Turbid is most precise, followed closely by murky. – cssyphus Jan 23 '14 at 16:41
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    You are right about the "see through" bit but I wouldn't say stagnant only describes the state of flow. When I fill the bath up and turn the taps off, the water's not going anywhere but I'm not bathing in stagnant water either! Stagnant usually means it's been sitting around for a while and consequently has a bad smell (or some other negative consequence) as a result of that. – starsplusplus Jan 23 '14 at 16:44
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    "Turbid" is a word that gets more use in technical circumstances, like geo- and environmental science. It means having stuff stirred up in it. See also "turbidity", and important water-quality metric. (Yes, it's not fitting for the OP's use.) – SevenSidedDie Jan 23 '14 at 16:44
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    The graph shows that turbid needs our support. – andy256 Jan 24 '14 at 0:33

You can use the adjective turbid.


(of a liquid) cloudy, opaque, or thick with suspended matter. the turbid estuary

Or feculent which means of or containing dirt, sediment, or waste matter.

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    How odd, I've always associated "turbid" with a decrease in visibility caused by disturbance of the liquid itself (i.e. rough water) rather than any particulate matter or solute within it. I guess that happens sometimes when you only base your understanding of a word off of the various contexts you encounter it in rather than looking it up in the dictionary. – JAB Jan 23 '14 at 15:43
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    "turbid" is used a lot in the water treatment industry - specifically, they measure and record "turbidity" – Chris Lawlor Jan 23 '14 at 15:54
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    @starsplusplus It's often in the context of a open-reservoir municipal water-treatment system after a storm when the filters are overwhelmed. Extra chemical treatment can render the remaining fine particles of runoff and lake bottom sterile, but unappetising-looking. The measure of visible particulate is called "turbidity", but is a measure that's independent of potability. – SevenSidedDie Jan 23 '14 at 16:53
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    @JAB, probably also because you more or less unconsciously connect it with turbulence (with which it does share etymological roots). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 23 '14 at 17:02
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    Turbid seems like the best word to describe unclean water that you cannot see through. Murky give the impression of mud. Turbid could be any unclean consistency. – user63188 Jan 23 '14 at 18:40

Muddy is the obvious choice for me.

Murky can be any color, basically anything non-transparent. Muddy is much closer to your description of "almost pale brown" and "after a rainy day".

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    Muddy can be clean mud, sediment on its way to the sea. I would step in muddy but not in murky water – mplungjan Jan 23 '14 at 13:33
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    @mplungjan Sediment on its way to the sea would be one result of the mineral erosion the question specifically mentions. "Clean mud" is a funny concept to me, but more to the point, making mud clean won't make it transparent. Just google for "muddy water" and see for yourself. – RegDwigнt Jan 23 '14 at 13:42
  • Sure, but prolonged stagnation means smelly to me :) – mplungjan Jan 23 '14 at 14:17
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    true, but stagnant water does not become mud without clay/sand, and in that form it is no longer water – pythonian29033 Jan 24 '14 at 8:59
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    @RegDwigнt Not to be confused with "Muddy Waters". – Elliott Frisch Jan 24 '14 at 20:00

You can call it opaque; not able to be seen through; not transparent. You might call it cloudy (of a liquid); not transparent or clear. Nonpotable, un-fit for drinking.

Other synonyms include turbid, murky, unclear, muddy, thick and milky. You might also use the Shakespearean hellbroth (uncommon, but from Macbeth).

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    Half of your synonyms are already on this page – mplungjan Jan 23 '14 at 14:31
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    Turbidity is the scientific term used when quantifying the characteristic. The units that measure turbidity depend on the instrumentation used. More than you probably want to know: or.water.usgs.gov/grapher/fnu.html – Michael Owen Sartin Jan 23 '14 at 14:49
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    Hellbroth is my new favorite word. – Mike G Jan 23 '14 at 15:17
  • +1 for opaque, which none of the other answers mention. – Kevin Jan 23 '14 at 17:00
  • I wouldn't use opaque. If you can see a short distance through it then it's not opaque, it's transparent. You might also call it translucent, but in my mind that applies more to a frosted-glass effect where it's impossible to make out details (no matter how close you get) but light still goes through. – Brian Gordon Jan 23 '14 at 18:03

This question reminds me of the Indus River dolphin, actually evolved a kind of blindness over years due to the turbidity of the water. So the words used in these scientific articles are usually turbid, murky, and they also throw in silt-laden.

The Indus River dolphin is functionally blind having evolved without a crystalline lens or well-developed light-sensitive organ. A deep fold just above the dolphin's mouth is the remnant of what might once have been eyes down the evolution line. However, this is not a disadvantage but an adaptation to living in the silt-laden turbid waters of the Indus where eyes are virtually useless, as very little light penetrates below the surface of the murky water.


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    "silt-laden turbid ... murky" is a case of too many extra unnecessary adjectives! Not mention superfluous :-) – andy256 Jan 24 '14 at 0:28
  • How about "the water was so, so turbid, that the dolphins living in it actually evolved a kind of blindness (because they did not need to use their eyes)" – bobobobo Jan 24 '14 at 1:12
  • :-) plus extra stuff to make the comment long enough – andy256 Jan 24 '14 at 1:16

Stained is a common fishing term used to describe water that is not clear.


Water that is unclean, and no longer transparent is often called murky but there is another adjective, very common and indisputable in its meaning that is used to describe the same phenomenon. Filthy water means water that is dirty, unclean, unsafe, and impure to drink from.

There is a TED talk which describes a filter which makes filthy water safe to drink. The title of the talk is: How to make filthy water drinkable

Okay, so I'm going to take this really filthy water, and put it in here. Do you want a drink yet?

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    I'm going to mix in skanky water with your filthy water, and perhaps add some swamp juice too. – joeytwiddle Jan 25 '14 at 12:22


Not only undesirable [water] but also afflicted with dirt or swamp contaminants.

One could figuratively apply murling to water as one would to fire, a play on peatiness.

  • So as per the question, we could call the water "Murky and mired with..." – Nav Jan 24 '14 at 6:49
  • @nav, no, mire is swamp/marshy ground. "Mired" means to have one's movement impeded by it (usually metaphorically). – Ben Jan 24 '14 at 13:49
  • @Ben: I agree. Perhaps "mire" was too strong for this sentence. – Nav Jan 25 '14 at 3:06

you can use misty water for that!!

mist•y (ˈmɪs ti)

adj. mist•i•er, mist•i•est.

  1. covered or obscured by mist.

  2. consisting of or resembling mist.

  3. indistinct or blurred.

  4. obscure; vague.

Reference : Misty


Consider "silty water."

silty: full of silt; of, like, suggestive of silt; soiled

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