Abstract Removal of heavy metals present in wastewaters has been a major concern due to their non-biodegradability and toxicity. Removal of copper ion using NaOH treated Rhizopus oryzae biomass was investigated in a batch reactor. The copper uptake exhibited substantial enhancement both in terms of kinetics of uptake as well as the loading capacity. The copper biosorption by viable and pretreated fungal biomass fit well to a Lagergren’s pseudo second order reaction in comparison to pseudo first order kinetics. Investigation on effect of pH indicated improved performance in the range of pH 4–6 in alkali treated biomass. Copper uptake exhibited by viable biomass was highest at 21 °C, unlike pretreated biomass that showed maximum uptake across the range of temperature 21–55 °C. The maximum copper loading capacity of the viable and pretreated biomass according to Langmuir isotherm was 19.4 and 43.7 mg/g, respectively. Distribution coefficient of pretreated biomass showed improvement at lower residual concentration, indicating a change in the nature of binding by the treated biomass. Copper uptake decreased with an increasing dose of biosorbent, although enhancement in the total metal ion removal was observed at higher dose.