The adsorption of two dinitrophenol herbicides, 4,6-dinitro-o-cresol (DNOC) and 4,6-dinitro-o-sec-butyl phenol (dinoseb), by two reference smectite clays (SWy-2 and SAz-1) was evaluated using a combination of sorption isotherms, Fourier transformation infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD) and molecular dynamic simulations. Clays were subject to saturation with various cations, and charge reduction. The DNOC adsorption decreased with increasing pH indicating that DNOC was primarily adsorbed as the neutral species. The FTIR spectra of DNOC-clay films showed that DNOC molecules are oriented parallel to the clay surface. Interlayer cations have a strong effect on adsorption depending largely on their hydration energies. Weakly hydrated cations, e.g. K+ and Cs+, resulted in greater sorption compared to more strongly hydrated cations such as Na+ or Ca2+. Lower hydration favors direct interactions of exchangeable cations with −NO2 groups of DNOC and manifests optimal interlayer spacings for adsorption. In the presence of sorbed DNOC, an interlayer spacing for K-SWy-2 of between 12 and 12.5 Å was maintained regardless of the presence of water. This d-spacing allowed DNOC molecules to interact simultaneously with the opposing clay layers thus minimizing contact of DNOC with water. The charge density of clays also affected sorption by controlling the size of adsorption domains. Accordingly, DNOC adsorption by low-charge clay (K-SWy-2) was much higher than by high-charge clay (K-SAz-1) and Li-charge reduction greatly enhanced dinoseb adsorption by K-SAz-1. Steric constraints were also evident from the observation that adsorption of DNOC, which contains a methyl substituent, was much greater than dinoseb, which contains a bulkier isobutyl group. Adsorption of DNOC by K-SAz-1 was not affected in the presence of dinoseb, whereas dinoseb adsorption was greatly reduced in the presence of DNOC.