The optical properties of coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) can be used, in some environments, to trace water masses and provide information about the dynamics of the dissolved organic fraction in natural waters. This work presents the results from a modelling exercise, laboratory experiment and field data, which describe the variations in the optical properties of CDOM during mixing. The exponential slope coefficient (S) is frequently used to characterise different CDOM pools; however, its behaviour during conservative mixing of two different CDOM types is often misunderstood. Identification of a theoretical conservative mixing line allows the rapid identification of non-conservative processes (e.g. in situ production, flocculation and degradation) acting on the pool during mixing. The results suggest that some of the patterns reported in the literature could purely be a result of conservative mixing rather than a product of non-conservative processes.