Effective modelling of the fate and transport of water‐borne pathogens is needed to support federally required pollution‐reduction plans, for water quality improvement planning, and to protect public health. Lack of understanding of microbial–particle interactions in water bodies has sometimes led to the assumption that bacteria move in surface waters not associated with suspended mineral and organic particles, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting otherwise. Limited information exists regarding the factors driving interactions between micro‐organisms and particles in surface waters. This review discusses cellular, particle and environmental factors potentially influencing interactions and in‐stream transport. Bacterial attachment in the aquatic environment can be influenced by properties of the cell such as genetic predisposition and physiological state, surface structures such as flagella and fimbriae, the hydrophobicity and electrostatic charge of the cell surface, and the presence of outer‐membrane proteins and extracellular polymeric substances. The mechanisms and degree of attachment are also affected by characteristics of mineral and organic particles including the size, surface area, charge and hydrophobicity. Environmental conditions such as the solution chemistry and temperature are also known to play an important role. Just as the size and surface of chemical particles can be highly variable, bacterial attachment mechanisms are also diverse.