Abstract A novel porous composite adsorbent was prepared by using sodium alginate and hydroxyl ethyl cellulose blending as an immobilization matrix for humic acid, then crosslinked by glutaraldehyde. The adsorbent was prepared using polyethylene glycol (PEG) as porogen and used to remove Cd(II) ions from aqueous solution. The physico-chemistry properties of adsorbent before and after adsorption were investigated by FT-IR, SEM and EDX methods. Batch adsorption experiments were carried out to investigate the effects of the amount of PEG adding to the adsorbent, solution pH, dosage of adsorbent, initial Cd(II) ions concentration and contact time. The prepared adsorbent exhibited the maximum uptake of 148.9 mg/g under the optimal adsorption condition. Kinetics experiments indicated that the pseudo-first-order model displayed the best correlation with adsorption kinetics data. The Crank model showed that the intraparticle solute diffusion was the rate-controlling adsorption step. Besides, experimental data could be better described by the Freundlich isotherm model. Dubinin–Radushkevich isotherm indicated that the adsorption was mainly an ion exchange process. The results suggested that the prepared adsorbent is promising for using as an effective and economical adsorbent for Cd(II) ions removal.