Determination of absolute surface coverage with sub-monolayer sensitivity is demonstrated using evanescent-wave cavity ring-down spectroscopy (EW-CRDS) and conventional CRDS by employing conservation of the absolute integrated absorption intensity between gas and adsorbed phases. The first C–H stretching overtones of trichloroethylene (TCE), cis-dichloroethylene, and trans-dichloroethylene are probed using the idler of a seeded optical parametric amplifier having a 0.075 cm–1 line width. Polarized absolute adsorbate spectra are obtained by EW-CRDS using a fused-silica monolithic folded resonator having a finesse of 28 500 at 6050 cm–1, while absolute absorption cross sections for the gas-phase species are determined by conventional CRDS. A measure of the average transition moment orientation on the surface, which is utilized for the coverage determination, is derived from the polarization anisotropy of the surface spectra. Coverage measurement by EW-CRDS is compared to a mass-spectrometer-based surface-uptake technique, which we also employ for coverage measurements of TCE on thermally grown SiO2 surfaces. To assess the potential for environmental sensing, we also compare EW-CRDS to optical waveguide techniques developed previously for TCE detection. ©2004 American Institute of Physics.