Abstract Two sets of small scale systems of staged, vertical-flow constructed wetlands (VFCW) were operated in a greenhouse to study the purification of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in admeasured water. Each system consisted of two chambers in which water flowed downward in chamber 1 and then upward in chamber 2. The systems were intermittently fed with wastewater under a hydraulic load of 420 mm·d−1. The measured influent concentrations of DBP in the experimental system were 9.84 mg·l−1, while the other system was used as a control and received no DBP. Effluent concentrations of the treated system averaged 5.82 μg·l−1 and were far below the Chinese DBP discharge standard of ≤0.2 mg·l−1. These results indicate the potential purification capacity of this new kind of constructed wetland in removing DBP from a polluted water body.