Batch adsorption of fluoride onto manganese dioxide-coated activated alumina (MCAA) has been studied. Adsorption experiments were carried out at various pH (3–9), time interval (0–6 h), adsorbent dose (1–16 g/l), initial fluoride concentration (1–25 mg/l) and in the presence of different anions. Adsorption isotherms have been modeled using Freundlich, Langmuir and Dubinin–Raduskevich isotherms and adsorption followed Langmuir isotherm model. Kinetic studies revealed that the adsorption followed second-order rate kinetics. MCAA could remove fluoride effectively (up to 0.2 mg/l) at pH 7 in 3 h with 8 g/l adsorbent dose when 10 mg/l of fluoride was present in 50 ml of water. In the presence of other anions, the adsorption of fluoride was retared. The mechanism of fluoride uptake by MCAA is due to physical adsorption as well as through intraparticle diffusion which was confirmed by kinetics, Dubinin–Raduskevich isotherm, zeta-potential measurements and mapping studies of energy-dispersive analysis of X-ray.