Abstract: The objective of this study was to investigate the influence of layer charge on the hydration of Mg-saturated expandable 2:1 phyllosilicates. Water retained by 12 Mg-saturated clays at 54% relative humidity was quantified gravimetrically. X-ray diffraction and total chemical analysis were used to determine the hydratable surface area (447–759 m2 g−1) and layer charge [0.327–0.754 electrons per formula unit (e f.u.−1)] of each sample. Water retained by the clays increased with both hydratable surface area and layer charge of the clays. However, the increase in H2O content with layer charge occurred only on external surfaces of the clays. This result suggests that the H2O on external surfaces is localized around the cation/charge sites rather than forming multi-layers as was suggested previously. A model is proposed for the hydration of expandable 2:1 phyllosilicates. The model assumes that interlayer volume controls interlayer hydration and that the number of cation/charge sites on external surfaces controls hydration of external surfaces.