Ten instruments for measuring the grain-size distribution of loamy sediments in water were tested in a comparative study. Instruments tested were: the Malvern Mastersizer S, the Coulter LS 200, the Fritsch Analysette 22 (version C), the Horiba Partica LA-950, the Sedigraph 5100, the Atterberg cylinder, the Coulter Multisizer 3, the CIS-100, the EyeTech and the image analysis software Histolab. The first four instruments use laser diffraction. The Sedigraph and Atterberg cylinder are based on sedimentation. The Coulter Multisizer 3 uses impedance measurements and the last three instruments use optical techniques. Grain-size analyses were carried out on four sediments with median grain diameters of approximately 35, 30, 12 and 9 μm, respectively, and with no particles >90 μm. The laser diffraction instruments produced the best results for the various criteria considered in this study, followed by the Coulter Multisizer 3 (electrical sensing zone technique), the sedimentation techniques and the optical methods. However, the study also showed that there is no such thing as an ‘ideal’ method because techniques may score differently according to the criterion tested. An appropriate evaluation thus requires that various criteria be considered. Issues to be taken into account are: type of sediment, quantity of sediment available, speed of measurement, complexity of the measurement protocol, processing of the data, reproducibility of the results and the specific aims of the study undertaken.