The evidence base concerning the management of benign pleural effusions has lagged behind that of malignant pleural effusions in which recent randomised trials are now informing current clinical practice and international guidelines. The causes of benign pleural effusions are broad, heterogenous and patients may benefit from individualised management targeted at both treating the underlying disease process and direct management of the fluid. Pleural effusions are very common in a number of non-malignant pathologies, such as decompensated heart failure, and following coronary artery bypass grafting. Pleural fluid analysis forms an important basis of the diagnostic evaluation, and more specific assays and imaging modalities are helpful in specific subpopulations. Options for management beyond treatment of the underlying disorder, whenever possible, include therapeutically aspirating the fluid, talc pleurodesis and insertion of an indwelling pleural catheter. Randomised trials will inform clinicians in the future as to the risks and benefits of these options providing a guide as to how best to manage patient symptoms in this challenging clinical setting.