In this research, spent coffee grains were modified with citric acid solutions (0.1 and 0.6 M) to increase the quantity of carboxylic groups improving its metal adsorption capacity. Added functional groups on modified and non-modified spent coffee grains were identified and quantified by attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared analyses and potentiometric titrations, respectively. These adsorbents were used for the removal of lead (II) and copper (II) from aqueous solutions at 30 °C and different pH in batch systems. In addition, adsorption–desorption experiments were conducted to evaluate the possibility of re-using the modified adsorbent. Potentiometric titrations data reveal that the quantity of carboxylic groups was increased from 0.47 to 2.2 mmol/g when spent coffee grains were modified with 0.1 and 0.6 M citric acid. Spent coffee grains treated with 0.6 M citric acid, achieved a maximum adsorption capacity of 0.77 and 1.53 mmol/g for lead (II) and copper (II), respectively, whereas non-modified spent coffee grains only reached 0.24 and 0.19 mmol/g for lead (II) and copper (II), respectively. Desorption of lead (II) and copper (II) achieved around 70 % using 0.1 N HCl for non-modified and modified spent coffee grains with 0.6 M citric acid. It is suggested that lead (II) and copper (II) species were adsorbed mainly on the carboxylic groups of modified spent coffee grains and these metals may be exchanged for hydrogen and calcium (II) ions during adsorption on non-modified spent coffee grains. Finally, the adsorption equilibrium was reached after 400 min for modified spent coffee grains with 0.6 M citric acid. Modified spent coffee grains are a promising option for removing metal cations from aqueous solutions due to its low cost and high adsorption capacity (about 10 times higher than the activated carbons).