Abstract Commonly used organophilic clays are modified by alkylammonium cations which hold apart the aluminosilicate layers permanently. The cations fill the interlayer space and are contemplated as flexible pillars, resulting from the mobility of the alkyl chains. Therefore, the interlayer distance varies depending on the layer charge and on the alkyl chain length. Contrary to these cations, rigid pillaring cations guarantee a constant interlayer distance without occupying the interlayer by themselves and show special adsorption properties such as hydrophilic behavior contrary to the generally hydrophobic ones. Smectites were modified by flexible organic cations, e.g., dimethyldioctadecylammonium, and by rigid ones, e.g., tetraphenylphosphonium. Their adsorption properties are compared. Our investigations showed improved adsorption properties for rigid organic cations on smectites using 2-chlorophenol as pollutant. Best adsorption results are achieved using pillaring cations in combination with low charged smectites, especially at low pollutant concentrations. The properties of organic modified smectites are discussed by a pollution intercalation model. The intercalation process of an organic pollutant into an organic modified smectite is expressed by a two-step Born-Haber cycle process: (i) the formation of an adsorbing position by layer expansion and (ii) the occupation of the adsorbing position by the pollutant. The first step of the formation of the adsorbing position is an endothermal transition state which lowers the total intercalation energy and therefore worsens the adsorption behavior. Thus, an already expanded organophilic smectite will show improved adsorption behavior. The formed adsorbing position state on organic modified smectites is comparable to the pillared state of inorganic pillared clays.