This study describes the use of linearly modulated optically stimulated luminescence (LM-OSL) to distinguish surface-soil derived sediments from those derived from channel bank erosion. LM-OSL signals from quartz extracted from 15 surface-soil and five channel bank samples were analysed and compared to signals from samples collected from two downstream river sites. Discriminant analysis showed that the detrapping probabilities of fast, first slow and second slow components of the LM-OSL signal can be used to differentiate between the samples collected from the channel bank and surface-soil sources. We show that for each of these source end members these components are all normally distributed. These distributions are then used to estimate the relative contribution of surface-soil derived and channel bank derived sediment to the river bed sediments. The results indicate that channel bank derived sediments dominate the sediment sources at both sites, with 90.1 ± 3% and 91.9 ± 1.9% contributions. These results are in agreement with a previous study which used measurements of 137Cs and 210Pbex fallout radionuclides to estimate the relative contribution from these two sources. This result shows that LM-OSL may be a useful method, at least in the studied catchment, to estimate the relative contribution of surface soil and channel erosion to river sediments. However, further research in different settings is required to test the difference of OSL signals in distinguishing these sediment sources. And if generally acceptable, this technique may provide an alternative to the use of fallout radionuclides for source tracing. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.