Wastewater containing heavy metal ions is considered as a serious environmental problem for human society. Advances in nanoscale science and engineering provide new opportunities to develop more cost-effective and environmentally acceptable water treatment technologies. Nanomaterials have a number of physicochemical properties that make them particularly attractive as nanoadsorbents for decontamination of wastewaters from heavy metals. These materials are capable of removing heavy metal ions at low concentrations with high selectivity and adsorption capacity. The use of various nanoadsorbents in treating contaminated water, mainly including carbon-based nanomaterials, iron-based nanomaterials and photocatalytic nanomaterials, was overviewed; their advantages and drawbacks in such applications were evaluated. © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2017.