The distribution of clay minerals in recent sediments on the continental shelf and in the Bay of Cadiz has been analysed as part of a wider study of sedimentary exchange between the continent and the continental margin. The clay minerals included in the muddy sediments consist mainly of illite, kaolinite, smectite, randomly mixed-layered illite-smectite, chlorite, vermiculite and randomly mixed-layered illite-chlorite. Distribution of the minerals indicates that inheritance from the adjacent continental areas is the most important process involved. The relations between the clay minerals were established by Q-mode and R-mode factor analysis. The main clay mineral associations are: (1) illite-kaolinite, (2) smectite-random mixed-layered illite-smectite, and (3) kaolinite-random mixed-layered illite-smectite-vermiculite. The main sources of sediment supply to the continental shelf are the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers. Sediment from these rivers and from the rivers flowing into the Bay of Cadiz (mainly the Guadalete) is transported to the part of the shelf outside the bay by ebb-tide currents. The path of this outflow to the continental shelf, where the sediment is partially deposited, is influenced by the morphology of the coast and by hydrodynamic processes.