Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry is applied for the selective detection of metal ligands after a post-column continuous-flow ligand-exchange reaction. The detection is based on the specific release of a reporter ligand from a metal-reporter ligand complex by a high affinity ligand. Constant infusion and direct-injection experiments are performed to optimize the method. The on-line coupling of a liquid chromatographic separation prior to the continuous flow ligand-exchange reaction enables the screening for high affinity ligands in complex samples. The feasibility of the method is demonstrated by using several ligands with a different affinity for either Cu(II) or Zn(II) ions. The selectivity of the ligand-exchange detection method can be tuned by the choice of the reporter ligand. This is demonstrated by using either 2,2′-bipyridyl or 5-methyl-1,10-phenanthroline as reporter ligands. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.