Asteroids of this class have spectra very similar to those of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites (types CI and CM). The latter are very close in chemical composition to the Sun and the primitive solar nebula, except for the absence of hydrogen, helium and other volatiles. Hydrated (water-containing) minerals are present.
C-type asteroids are extremely dark, with albedos typically in the 0.03 to 0.10 range. Consequently, whereas a number of S-type asteroids can normally be viewed with binoculars at opposition, even the largest C-type asteroids require a small telescope. The potentially brightest C-type asteroid is 324 Bamberga, but that object's very high eccentricity means it rarely reaches its maximum magnitude.
Their spectra contain moderately strong ultraviolet absorption at wavelengths below about 0.4 μm to 0.5 μm, while at longer wavelengths they are largely featureless but slightly reddish. The so-called "water" absorption feature of around 3 μm, which can be an indication of water content in minerals, is also present.
The largest unequivocally C-type asteroid is 10 Hygiea, although the SMASS classification places the largest asteroid, 1 Ceres, here as well, because that scheme lacks a G-type.