Zeta potential is a function of surface coverage by charged species at a given pH, and it is theoretically determined by the activity of the species in solution. The zeta potentials of particles occurring in soils, such as clay and iron oxide minerals, directly affect the efficiency of the electrokinetic soil remediation. In this study, zeta potential of natural magnetite was studied by conducting electrophoretic mobility measurements in single and binary solution systems. It was shown that adsorption of charged species of Co-2+,Co- Ni2+, Cu2+, Zn2+, Pb2+, and Cd2+ and precipitation of their hydroxides at the mineral surface are dominant processes in the charging of the surface in high alkaline suspensions. Taking Pb2+ as an example, three different mechanisms were proposed for its effect on the surface charge: if pH < 5, competitive adsorption with H3O+; if 5 < pH < 6, adsorption and surface precipitation; and if pH > 6, precipitation of heavy metal hydroxides prevails. Oxalate anion changed the associated surface charge by neutralizing surface positive charges by complexing with iron at the surface, and ultimately reversed the surface to a negative zeta potential. Therefore the adsorption ability of heavy metal ions ultimately changed in the presence of oxalate ion. The changes in the zeta potentials of the magnetite suspensions with solution pH before and after adsorption were utilized to estimate the adsorption ability of heavy metal ions. The mechanisms for heavy metals and oxalate adsorption on magnetite were discussed in the view of the experimental results and published data. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.