The removal of an analgesic drug (acetaminophen) from water was investigated using activated carbons prepared from different residues, namely urban wastes (post-consumer plastics), and agro-industrial residues (cork powder and peach stones), comparing their adsorption capacity with that of commercially available carbonaceous adsorbents. The prepared carbon samples were evaluated on the basis of their adsorption capacities and kinetic performances, which were linked with their different properties. The samples prepared from chemical activation of the biomass residues show reasonably high removal efficiencies along with fast rate of adsorption, which are in fact comparable to commercial carbons. The analysis of the carbon samples after adsorbing the analgesic showed that adsorbent-adsorbate affinity is stronger in hydrophobic carbons of basic character that contain a well-developed microporosity. These characteristics are however not sufficient for an overall performance of a carbon in acetaminophen removal. The carbon must also have a well interconnected pore network (to facilitate the accessibility of acetaminophen molecules, thus speeding up adsorption kinetics) and an adequate chemical composition, which ultimately leads to a high adsorption capacity. (C) 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.