Abstract We explored a feasible approach to enhance removal capacity of three natural clays for removing anionic dye from aqueous solution. Optimal mixing proportions of the clay materials and temperature range for the calcination were investigated. We found that the removal efficiency can be improved significantly when the clay materials were mixed at certain ratio with the addition of lime and the mixed clay materials were calcined 100–300 °C. Batch experiments were conducted to study the effects of initial concentration, material dosage, contact time and pH on dye elimination. Kinetic study showed that more than 80% dye removal took place in 5 min. A high removal capacity (>575 mg g −1) of the mixed clay materials can be achieved at a low adsorbent dose. The mixed clay materials can be easily recovered by thermal treatment. The recovered mixtures demonstrated an enhanced removal capability after a few cycles of removal and regeneration. The results revealed that use of these clay materials could develop a low-cost treatment process for industrial wastewater.