Various chemical models of ion adsorption are presented and discussed. Chemical models, such as surface complexation models, provide a molecular description of anion adsorption reactions using an equilibrium approach. Two such models, the constant capacitance model and the triple layer model, are described in the present study. Characteristics common to all the surface complexation models are equilibrium constant expressions, mass and charge balances, and surface activity coefficient electrostatic potential terms. Methods for determining parameter values for surface site density, capacitances, and surface complexation constants also are discussed. Spectroscopic experimental methods of establishing ion adsorption mechanisms include vibrational spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, electron spin resonance spectroscopy, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, and X-ray reflectivity. Experimental determinations of point of zero charge shifts and ionic strength dependence of adsorption results and molecular modeling calculations also can be used to deduce adsorption mechanisms. Applications of the surface complexation models to heterogeneous natural materials, such as soils, using the component additivity and the generalized composite approaches are described. Emphasis is on the generalized composite approach for predicting anion adsorption by soils. Continuing research is needed to develop consistent and realistic protocols for describing ion adsorption reactions on soil minerals and soils. The availability of standardized model parameter databases for use in chemical speciation–transport models is critical. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:2172–2180. Published 2014 Wiley Periodicals Inc. on behalf of SETAC. This article is a US Government work and as such, is in the public domain in the United States.