Heavy metal ions such as Cd2+, Pb2+, Cu2+, Mg2+, and Hg2+ from industrial waste water constitute a major cause of pollution for ground water sources. These ions are toxic to man and aquatic life as well, and should be removed from wastewater before disposal. Various treatment technologies have been reported to remediate the potential toxic elements from aqueous media, such as adsorption, precipitation and coagulation. Most of these technologies are associated with some shortcomings, and challenges in terms of applicability, effectiveness and cost. However, adsorption techniques have the capability of effectively removing heavy metals at very low concentration (1–100 mg/L). Various adsorbents have been reported in the literature for this purpose, including, to a lesser extent, the use of hydrogel adsorbents for heavy metal removal in aqueous phase. Here, we provide an in-depth perspective on the design, application and efficiency of hydrogel systems as adsorbents.