Water pollution is one of the global challenges that society must address in the 21st century aiming to improve water quality and reduce human and ecosystem health impacts. Industrialization, climate change, and expansion of urban areas produce a variety of water pollutants. In this work, we discuss some of the most recent and relevant findings related to the release of heavy metals, the possible risks for the environment and human health, the materials and technologies available for their removal. Anthropogenic activities are identified as the main source of the increasing amounts of heavy metals found in aquatic environments. Some of the health hazards derived from repeated exposure to traces of heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, are outlined. We also give some perspectives about several techniques used to detect heavy metals, as well as about the factors that could affect the contaminant removal. The advantages and drawbacks of conventional and non-conventional heavy metal removal methods are critically discussed, given particular attention to those related to adsorption, nanostructured materials and plant-mediated remediation. Some of the commercial products currently used to eliminate heavy metals from water are also listed. Finally, we point out some the requirements and opportunities linked to developing efficient methods for heavy metal removal, such as the ones that exploit nanotechnologies.