Urban surface water runoff typically contains high but varying amounts of organic matter and nutrients that require removal before reuse. Infiltration systems such as sunken lawns can improve water quality. However, there is currently insufficient information describing the treatment efficiency of lawn-based infiltration systems. In this study, novel sunken lawn infiltration systems (SLISs) were designed and their pollutant removal effectiveness was assessed. The results revealed that SLISs with Poa pratensis and Lolium perenne effectively removed most chemical oxygen demand (CODCr) and dissolved nutrients. Average CODCr, total nitrogen (TN), ammonium–nitrogen (NH4+-N) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations were reduced by 78.93, 66.64, 71.86 and 75.83%, respectively, and the corresponding effluent concentrations met the standard for urban miscellaneous water consumption in China. The NH4+-N in the synthetic runoff was shown to be removed by adsorption during the stormwater dosing and nitrification during subsequent dry days, as well as through uptake by plants. Phosphorus was mainly removed by adsorption and chemical precipitation. The NH4+-N and phosphorus Langmuir isotherm model fitted the clay loam soil adsorption process better than the Freundlich model. Overall, these results indicate that an SLIS provides an alternative means of removing runoff pollutants owing to its efficiency, easy operation and maintenance.