A series of crosslinked poly(sodium acrylate-co-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) based on sodium acrylate (SA), 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA), and N,N′-methylene-bis-acrylamide (NMBA) are prepared by inverse suspension polymerization. The resultant crosslinking polymers are xerogellants. This work investigates not only the absorbency or swelling behavior for these xerogellants composed of different ratios of HEMA/SA in water, but also the effects of various salts and pH values on the swelling properties. Experimental results indicate that the absorbency in deionized water decreases with an increase in the HEMA in copolymeric gel, which is related to the degree of expansion of the network and the strength of the hydrophilic group. The absorbency in the chloride salt solutions decreases with an increase in the salt concentration (swelling is 50 times for the IA group chloride salt solutions, but is less than 5 times for the IIA group salt solution), owing to the osmosis of water and ions between the polymeric gel and the external solution. A decrease in the extent of swelling occurs for divalent and trivalent chloride salt solutions. For the salt solutions of the same ionic strength, the swelling amount has the following tendency: LiCl(aq) = NaCl(aq) = KCl(aq), CaCl2(aq) < SrCl2(aq) < BaCl2(aq), and Fe3+ > Ca2+ > Zn2+ > Cu2+. These orders are related to the complexing ability between metallic cations and the carboxylate group in the polymeric chains. Finally, the adsorption of ferric ion by these gels is also investigated. © 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.