The equivalent diffuse double layer (DDL) thickness in clay-electrolyte systems is a very useful parameter for analyzing the engineering behavior of clays under different environmental conditions. The equivalent DDL thickness is generally assumed to be equal to the characteristic (Debye) length. The present work examined critically the applicability of characteristic length to define equivalent DDL thickness under various clay-surface and pore-fluid conditions. A critical analysis is presented of the changes in the equivalent DDL thickness and characteristic length under the influence of different clay-surface and electrolyte properties. The equivalent DDL thickness was found to be smaller than the characteristic length for a wide range of surface and pore-fluid parameters normally encountered in engineering practice. An accurate and simple power relationship was developed to predict the equivalent DDL thickness from the characteristic length, which is applicable to a wide range of clay-electrolyte systems.