The white-throated dipper is about 18 centimetres (7.1 in) long, rotund and short tailed. The head of the adult is brown, the back slate-grey mottled with black, looking black from a distance, and the wings and tail are brown. The throat and upper breast are white, followed by a band of warm chestnut which merges into black on the belly and flanks. The bill is almost black, the legs and irides brown.
The young are greyish brown and have no chestnut band.