We describe a novel combustion synthesis for the preparation of Nanomagnesia (NM) and its application in water purification. The synthesis is based on the self-propagated combustion of the magnesium nitrate trapped in cellulose fibers. Various characterization studies confirmed that NM formed is crystalline with high phase purity, and the particle size varied in the range of 3-7 nm. The fluoride scavenging potential of this material was tested as a function of pH, contact time and adsorbent dose. The result showed that fluoride adsorption by NM is highly favorable and the capacity does not vary in the pH range usually encountered in groundwater. The effects of various co-existing ions usually found in drinking water, on fluoride removal were also investigated. Phosphate was the greatest competitor for fluoride followed by bicarbonate. The presence of other ions studied did not affect the fluoride adsorption capacity of NM significantly. The adsorption kinetics followed pseudo-second-order equation and the equilibrium data are well predicted by Frendlich equation. Our experimental evidence shows that fluoride removal happened through isomorphic substitution of fluoride in brucite. A batch household defluoridation unit was developed using precipitation-sedimentation-filtration techniques, addressing the problems of high fluoride concentration as well as the problem of alkaline pH of the magnesia treated water. The method of synthesis reported here is advantageous from the perspectives of small size of the nanoparticle, cost-effective recovery of the material and improvement in the fluoride adsorption capacity. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.