In this study, a series of crosslinked N-vinyl-2-pyrrolidone–itaconic acid (NVP-IA) hydrogels was prepared by free radical polymerisation in aqueous solution. Swelling, mechanical and adsorption properties for the removal of Cu2+ and Pb2+ ions from aqueous solutions of these hydrogels were investigated. Metal ion adsorption capacities of hydrogels for Cu2+ and Pb2+ ions were determined as 2.1 and 0.6 mmol g −1, respectively. Adsorption processes of metal ions onto the NVP-IA hydrogels follow pseudo-second-order type adsorption kinetics. The equilibrium adsorption data have been evaluated using Freundlich and Langmuir isotherm models. The results illustrated that the adsorption follows Freundlich isotherm.