Abstract A sol–gel procedure in a water/oil emulsion was introduced for the synthesis of porous silica spheres. Tetraethoxysilane was used as the silica source. The specific surface area and total pore volume of the product reached 772.3m2/g and 0.663cm3/g, respectively. The electrolyte washing process conferred a surface charge to the product, which displayed self-dispersal properties in water. The porous spheres have potential applications in the fields of drug delivery, controlled release capsules, indoor air pollutant scavengers, and hydrogen storage agents. The oil phase, which accounts for over 80% of the chemical cost of the procedure, could largely be recycled by filtering, standing, and layering. The whole procedure is suitable for application as an industrial process.