Suspensions of nanoparticles (i.e., particles with diameters < 100 nm) in liquids, termed nanofluids, show remarkable thermal and optical property changes from the base liquid at low particle loadings. Recent studies also indicate that selected nanofluids may improve the efficiency of direct absorption solar thermal collectors. To determine the effectiveness of nanofluids in solar applications, their ability to convert light energy to thermal energy must be known. That is, their absorption of the solar spectrum must be established. Accordingly, this study compares model predictions to spectroscopic measurements of extinction coefficients over wavelengths that are important for solar energy (0.25 to 2.5 μm). A simple addition of the base fluid and nanoparticle extinction coefficients is applied as an approximation of the effective nanofluid extinction coefficient. Comparisons with measured extinction coefficients reveal that the approximation works well with water-based nanofluids containing graphite nanoparticles but less well with metallic nanoparticles and/or oil-based fluids. For the materials used in this study, over 95% of incoming sunlight can be absorbed (in a nanofluid thickness ≥10 cm) with extremely low nanoparticle volume fractions - less than 1 × 10-5, or 10 parts per million. Thus, nanofluids could be used to absorb sunlight with a negligible amount of viscosity and/or density (read: pumping power) increase.