The physical variables affecting the trapping of particles in sediment collectors are grouped into a set of six dimensionless parameters, as a function of a dimensionless particle collection efficiency. Relevant laboratory calibration studies on sediment trap biases are evaluated to determine the quantitative dependence between collection efficiency and three of the parameters, trap Reynolds number, the ratio of flow speed to particle fall velocity and the ratio of trap height to mouth diameter, as well as trap geometry. We find that few of the parameters have been systematically tested in the laboratory and that trap Reynolds number-similarity for field conditions is maintained only for the slowest flow speeds and/or smallest trap diameters. However, the literature results do suggest some intriguing trends in biased trapping which also can be explained physically. The physical mechanisms are derived from a physical description of particle trapping based on observations of flow through traps, the mass balance for particles entering and leaving traps and a definition of particle collection efficiency, coupled with model development for cases where collection efficiency, as specified by the mass balance, deviates from one.The following testable hypotheses for biased trapping by unbaffied, straight-sided cylinders and noncylindrical traps result from our analysis. For fixed values of the other two parameters, collection efficiency of cylinders will decrease over some range of increasing trap Reynolds number, decrease over some range of decreasing particle fall velocity and increase over some range of increasing trap aspect ratio. Traps will be undercollectors or overcollectors depending on the physical mechanisms causing the biased collections. Predicting biased collections for noncylindrical traps is more complex but, in most cases, small-mouth, wide-body traps will be overcollectors and funnel-type traps will be undercollectors. Future laboratory studies are required to test these hypotheses and, in particular, parameter combinations representative of field conditions, where traps are deployed, must be tested.