Viruses influence ecosystem dynamics by modulating microbial host population dynamics, evolutionary trajectories and metabolic outputs. While they are ecologically important across diverse ecosystems, viruses are challenging to study due to minimal biomass often obtained when sampling natural communities. Here we describe a technique using chemical flocculation, filtration and resuspension to recover bacteriophages from seawater and other natural waters. The method uses iron to precipitate viruses which are recovered by filtration onto large-pore size membranes and then resuspended using a buffer containing magnesium and a reductant (ascorbic acid or oxalic acid) at slightly acid pH (6–6.5). The recovery of bacteriophages using iron flocculation is efficient (>90%), inexpensive and reliable, resulting in preparations that are amenable to downstream analysis by next generation DNA sequencing, proteomics and, in some cases, can be used to study virus–host interactions.