AbstractDissolved and colloidal substances (DCS) in the process waters of paper machine systems can interfere with the retention of fine particles, retard the drainage of water from the wet web, and generally hurt the intended functions of various polyelectrolytes that are added to the process. This review considers publications that have attempted to characterize the nature and effects of different DCS fractions, in addition to some of the ways that paper technologists have attempted to overcome related problems. The consequences of DCS in a paper machine system can be traced to their ability to form complexes with various polyelectrolytes. Such tendencies can be understood based on a relatively strong complexing ability of multivalent materials, depending on the macromolecular size and charge density. Continuing research is needed to more fully understand the different contributions to cationic demand in various paper machine systems and to find more efficient means of dealing with DCS.