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. Commented Jan 23, 2014 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... Commented Jan 23, 2014 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 :-) Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 18:32
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    – Matt
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 7:11

10 Answers 10


Murky comes to mind.

(of liquid) dark and dirty; not clear.
Oxford learners dictionary

Also consider Stagnant:

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

I expected Turbid to mean that the water has been stirred to produce the suspension of particles, but if the particles are small enough I would think it works.

Water is said to be turbid when particles suspended in it restrict the transmission of light and give a cloudy or muddy appearance. Only small particles can remain suspended for significant periods of time. Relatively large and dense particles such as sand grains will sink rapidly.
EEA via dpi.vic.gov.au

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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. Commented Jan 23, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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. Commented Jan 23, 2014 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.) Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 16:44
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    The graph shows that turbid needs our support.
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:43
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    "turbid" is used a lot in the water treatment industry - specifically, they measure and record "turbidity" Commented Jan 23, 2014 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. Commented Jan 23, 2014 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). Commented Jan 23, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 13:42
  • Sure, but prolonged stagnation means smelly to me :)
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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 Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 8:59
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    @RegDwigнt Not to be confused with "Muddy Waters". Commented Jan 24, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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 Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 14:49
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    Hellbroth is my new favorite word. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:17
  • +1 for opaque, which none of the other answers mention.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 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.
    – Rag
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 18:03

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


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 :-)
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 1:12
  • :-) plus extra stuff to make the comment long enough
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 1:16

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. Commented Jan 25, 2014 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
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 6:49
  • @nav, no, mire is swamp/marshy ground. "Mired" means to have one's movement impeded by it (usually metaphorically).
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 13:49
  • @Ben: I agree. Perhaps "mire" was too strong for this sentence.
    – Nav
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 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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