Abstract The metal content of a series of contaminated sediments has been determined by equilibrating ion-exchange resins of different types (held in porous cages) with aqueous suspensions of the sediments. H +-form exchangers took up high proportions of the Cu, Pb, Zn and Cd contents with recoveries depending on whether the acid functional groups were strong. Na +-form exchangers took up a smaller, loosely bound, labile fraction. The metal ions held on the exchangers were back-extracted into 0.05 M EDTA and determined by flame AAS. Dissolution of sediment components led to the exchangers also taking up large amounts of Ca, Mg, Fe and Al. The exchange-resin technique provides an alternative means of subdividing the metal content of sediments into different “labile” or “available” fractions. Possible advantages include minimal re-adsorption of released metal ions by the sediment phases, retention of only “labile” species (ions or complexes), and a transfer mechanism which may resemble the action of plant roots more closely than chemical extractant processes do.