Abstract Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), although the issue is still under debate. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of SIBO in those with IBS and its association with colonic motility, bowel symptoms and psychological distress. Sucrose hydrogen and methane breath tests were performed in 158 IBS patients and 34 healthy controls (HC). Thresholds for pain and urgency were tested by barostat in the descending colon. The motility index (MI) was calculated as the average area under the curve for all phasic contractions. Questionnaires assessed psychological distress, IBS symptom severity (IBS-SS), IBS quality of life (IBS-QOL) and self-reported bowel symptoms. Fifty-two of 158 (32.9%) IBS patients had abnormal breath tests compared with six of 34 (17.9%) HC (χ2 = 0.079). SIBO (SIBO+) and non-SIBO (SIBO−) patients did not differ in the prevalence of IBS subtypes, IBS-SS, IBS-QOL and psychological distress variables. IBS patients had a greater post-distension increase in MI than HC, but there was no difference between SIBO+ and SIBO− patients. Predominant methane producers had higher urge thresholds (28.4 vs 18.3, P < 0.05) and higher baseline MI (461 vs 301.45, P < 0.05) than SIBO− IBS patients, and they reported more ‘hard or lumpy stools’ when compared with predominant hydrogen producers (P < 0.05) and SIBO− IBS patients (P < 0.05). SIBO is unlikely to contribute significantly to the pathogenesis of IBS. Methane production is associated with constipation.