Only a small fraction of the transition metals content in sludge-amended soils is soluble, and yet this fraction is a major contributor to the mobility and bioavailability of the metals. The chemical species of zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu) in the soluble fractions of soil-sludge mixtures were characterized with respect to their charge, molecular weight, and stoichiometry using ion exchange resin and gel chromatography procedures. The change in the metals' species with time after sludge application was followed for 100 d. Copper in the water extracts of the sludge-sand mixtures was found almost exclusively in low molecular weight (below 1000 Da) complexes. Higher molecular weight (around 2500 Da) dissolved organic carbon (DOC) was present in the extracts as well, but this DOC fraction exhibited little complexation. Copper was present in the extracts mainly as negatively charged species throughout the incubation period, and zinc tended to form zwitter ions. As incubation progressed, the relative content of positively charged Zn in solution increased. Complexation capacity of DOC in sludge water extract, extrapolated to infinite dilution, was 8.75 mM Cu g-1 DOC. When the complexation capacity of the extract is near saturation, a mean Cu-DOC complex can be defined. It consists of 1.9 Cu atoms attached to DOC species containing 5.6 C atoms. Thus, the organic Cu complexes consist primarily of about two Cu ions attached to DOC species containing only five or six C atoms. Amino acids and small peptides or polycarboxylic acids, such as citric acid, thus may be important complexing agents of the metal.