Abstract: The roles of different forms of Fe(III) impurities in a hectorite with respect to the oxidation of benzidine in aqueous suspension have been evaluated using electron spin resonance and UV-visible spectroscopy. Natural surface-adsorbed Fe(III) showed no detectable activity in the oxidation process, while very small quantities of structural octahedral Fe(III) apparently promoted a relatively rapid conversion to the radical cation. However, extremely small quantities of benzidine were oxidized in comparison to the exchange capacity of the clay. Freshly adsorbed Fe3+ cations effectively oxidized benzidine, but lost much of this ability upon aging. The Fe(III)-benzidine electron transfer could be distinguished from an O2-benzidine reaction, since the latter reaction was slow and limited by the rate of O2 diffusion into the clay-water system. The O2-benzidine reaction was also inhibited at high pH. The existence of two reaction mechanisms and the involvement of only a small fraction of the total structural iron, as shown by comparison of the hectorite and a montmorillonite, may explain the conflicting interpretations in the literature. The benzidine blue reaction not only requires an oxidizing agent to form the radical, but also a clay surface to adsorb and stabilize it against further oxidation.