Defining background concentrations for heavy metals in soils is essential for recognizing and managing soil pollution. However, background concentrations of metals in soils can vary naturally by several orders of magnitude. Moreover, many soils have also been subject to unquantifiable anthropogenic inputs of metals, in some cases, for centuries. Hence determination of heavy metal background concentrations in soils has to date been fraught with difficulty. Here we demonstrate that there are associations between the background heavy metal and Fe or Mn contents in soils which appear to be consistent for seven important heavy metals of environmental concern. The relationships are remarkably independent of both soil type and climatic setting. These observations provide the basis for a series of general equations from which it is proposed Southeast Asian including Australian, and possibly worldwide background concentrations for As, Cr, Co, Cu, Ni, Pb, and Zn in soils can be derived.