Wastewater produced from polymer flooding in oil production features high viscosity and chemical oxygen demand because of the residue of high-concentration polymer hydrolysed polyacrylamide (HPAM). In this study, steel slag, a waste from steel manufacturing, was studied as a low-cost adsorbent for HPAM in wastewater. Optimisation of HPAM adsorption by steel slag was performed with a central composite design under response surface methodology (RSM). Results showed that the maximum removal efficiency of 89.31% was obtained at an adsorbent dosage of 105.2 g/L, contact time of 95.4 min and pH of 5.6. These data were strongly correlated with the experimental values of the RSM model. Single and interactive effect analysis showed that HPAM removal efficiency increased with increasing adsorbent dosage and contact time. Efficiency increased when pH was increased from 2.6 to 5.6 and subsequently decreased from 5.6 to 9.3. It was observed that removal efficiency significantly increased (from 0% to 86.1%) at the initial stage (from 0 min to 60 min) and increased gradually after 60 min with an adsorbent dosage of 105.2 g/L, pH of 5.6. The adsorption kinetics was well correlated with the pseudo-second-order equation. Removal of HPAM from the studied water samples indicated that steel slag can be utilised for the pre-treatment of polymer-flooding wastewater.