The purpose of the study described in this paper was to evaluate the application of bioleaching technique involving Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans to recover heavy metals (Zn, Cu, Ni, Pb, Cd and Cr) in dewatered metal plating sludge (with no sulfide or sulfate compounds). The effect of some conditional parameters (i.e. pH, oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), sulfate production) and operational parameters (i.e. pulp density of the sludge and agitation time) were investigated in a 31 completely mixed batch (CMB) reactor. The metal recovery yields in bioleaching were also compared with chemical leaching of the sludge waste using commercial inorganic acids (sulfuric acids and ferric chloride). The leaching of heavy metals increased with decreasing of pH and increasing of ORP and sulfate production during the bioleaching experiment. Optimum pulp density for bioleaching was observed at 2% (w/v), and leaching efficiency decreased with increasing pulp density in bioleaching experiments. Maximum metal solubilization (97% of Zn, 96% of Cu, 93% of Ni, 84% of Pb, 67% of Cd and 34% of Cr) was achieved at pH 2. solids contents of 2% (w/v), and a reaction temperature of 25 +/- 2 degrees C during the bioleaching process. The maximum removal efficiencies of 72% and 79% Zn, 70% and 75% Cu, 69% and 73% Ni, 57% and 70% Pb, 55% and 65% Cd, and 11% and 22% Cr were also attained with the chemical leaching using sulfuric acids and ferric chloride, respectively, at pH 2, solids contents of 2% (w/v), and a reaction temperature of 25 +/- 2 degrees C during the acid leaching processes. The rates of metal leaching for bioleaching and chemical leaching are well described by a kinetic equation related to time. Although bioleaching generally requires a longer period of operation compared to chemical leaching, it achieves higher removal efficiency for heavy metals. The efficiency of leaching processes can be arranged in descending order as follows: bioleaching > ferric chloride leaching > sulfuric acid leaching. These results suggest that bioleaching may be an alternative or adjunct to conventional physicochemical treatment of dewatered metal plating sludge for the removal hazardous heavy metals. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.