Abstract The effect of a nonhomogeneous surface potential on the stability of a colloidal dispersion is evaluated within the framework of the classical DLVO theory. The surface potential of the particles is assumed to consist of a periodically varying potential superimposed on a constant background. The stability factor for the dispersion is evaluated as a function of potential periodicity and amplitude. Calculations show that dispersions of particles with a nonhomogeneous surface potential are less stable than dispersions of homogeneously charged particles, which can be attributed to the presence of additional attraction forces between positively and negatively charged spots on the surface of the particles. The validity of the approach was tested by stability measurements for colloidal nickel hydroxy carbonate at various electrolyte concentrations. If a nonhomogeneous surface potential is assumed, the aggregation behavior of the system can be described much better than when a homogeneous surface potential is assumed. By comparing experimental and theoretical results, information concerning the details of the potential distribution is obtained.