Selected physico-chemical and chemical characteristics of 13 coconut coir dust (mesocarp pithy tissue plus short-length fibres) samples from Asia, America and Africa were evaluated as peat alternatives. All properties studied differed significantly between and within sources, and from the control Sphagnum peat. pH of coir dust was slightly acidic, whereas salinity varied dramatically between 39 and 597 mS m−1in the saturated media extract. The cation exchange capacity and carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio ranged from 31.7 to 95.4 and from 75 to 186, respectively. Most carbon was found as lignin and cellulose. The concentrations of available nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and micro-elements were low, while those of phosphorus and potassium were remarkably high (0.28–2.81 mol m−3 and 2.97–52.66 mol m−3 for P and K, respectively). Saline ion concentrations, especially chloride and sodium, were also high.