50 Shades of Yellow: Urine Color and Dehydration

Dr. Lauren Motto, PharmD

Understanding your urine color is a good way to know whether or not you are dehydrated. What goes in must come out, and what comes out can tell us a lot about our health, specifically the yellow shade of your urine! Although there are other ways to note when you are dehydrated, your urine’s color can tell you a lot about your hydration status. Many urine colors look similar, but the slight differences between them are important to notice.

What You Drink Affects How Often You Urinate

If you’re drinking a lot of liquid, you’ll naturally have to use the bathroom more frequently. Not all liquids are equal however. Drinks like alcohol or coffee act as diuretics, which means that they make you pee more. Using the bathroom more often can lead to mild to moderate dehydration, so monitoring how often you’re going (as well as urine color) will help you manage your hydration. Choosing to drink water or oral rehydration solutions, alongside other drinks (alcohol, coffee, even sodas or sports drinks which contain lots of unnecessary sugar) is super important.

Testing Your Urine Color

Before evaluating the color of your urine, it’s important to consider how you are testing it. Urine color will vary when comparing urine in a clear cup versus in a bathroom. Because of the varying levels of water in a toilet bowl, viewing urine in a toilet may be diluted and will change your perceived result. Additionally, if you are using the bathroom multiple times with different toilets it may be difficult to compare the colors due to slightly different levels of water. A toilet with more water will automatically make your urine look lighter in color than it actually is, falsely indicating hydration.

When Things Don’t Look Normal: What Does the Color of Your Urine Mean?

Something to note is that your urine may be a different color than your baseline for a number of reasons. Many medications and medical conditions, or even food dyes, can alter the color of your urine. If you ever see something that concerns you, such as dark or red urine with no identifiable cause, be sure to contact your physician immediately.

If you start to notice a dark or darkening urine, this can indicate mild dehydration symptoms and means you should manage it quickly with an oral rehydration solution and/or consult your doctor or local pharmacist.

The Urine Color Chart: Urine Color from Crystal Clear to Mellow Yellow

This color gradient can give you an idea of your hydration status based on urine color:

the urine color chart

Clear: You likely are over-hydrating. This is acceptable but should not be your default. Feel free to cut back on your water intake.

Pale yellow: A healthy urine color and sign of ideal hydration. Continue consuming water at your current frequency.

Light straw color: A healthy urine color and sign of ideal hydration as well. Continue consuming water at your current frequency.

Yellow: You are pretty well hydrated but are on the line of approaching dehydration. You could benefit from another glass of water.

Dark yellow: You are presenting mild dehydration symptoms. Drink more water!

Amber: You are dehydrated and definitely not taking in enough water. Drink more water now and consider supplementing your hydration with an oral rehydration solution, like Hydralyte.

Orange or darker: You are showing signs of severe dehydration. Depending on other symptoms, you may need to contact your healthcare provider immediately, who may prescribe you to take an oral rehydration solution among other options for managing your dehydration.