A coal preparation plant incorporates a variety of solid-solid separation processes that operate in relatively independent parallel circuits. Studies have shown that total plant performance can be optimized by selecting circuit cutpoints that maximize total clean coal yield irrespective of the performance of individual circuits. Although the optimum cutpoints can be determined using simulation programs, these mathematical routines require detailed washability data and empirical partition information that is not often available to plant operators. In addition, routine fluctuations in the washability characteristics of the plant feed make this approach impractical to implement in industrial facilities. As an alternative, practical optimization criteria can be developed for plant operators through a fundamental understanding of scientific principles involved in coal cleaning operations. This article provides an overview of the most important optimization criteria and presents several industrial case studies that illustrate the financial benefits of this practical approach to plant optimization.