Metal ions affect ion channels either by blocking the current or by modifying the gating. In the present review we analyse the effects on the gating of voltage-gated channels. We show that the effects can be understood in terms of three main mechanisms. Mechanism A assumes screening of fixed surface charges. Mechanism B assumes binding to fixed charges and an associated electrostatic modification of the voltage sensor. Mechanism C assumes binding and an associated non electrostatic modification of the gating. To quantify the non-electrostatic effect we introduced a slowing factor, A. A fourth mechanism (D) is binding to the pore with a consequent pore block, and could be a special case of Mechanisms B or C. A further classification considers whether the metal ion affects a single site or multiple sites. Analysing the properties of these mechanisms and the vast number of studies of metal ion effects on different voltage-gated on channels we conclude that group 2 ions mainly affect channels by classical screening (a version of Mechanism A). The transition metals and the Zn group ions mainly bind to the channel and electrostatically modify the gating (Mechanism B), causing larger shifts of the steady-state parameters than the group 2 ions, but also different shifts of activation and deactivation curves. The lanthanides mainly bind to the channel and both electrostatically and non-electrostatically modify the gating (Mechanisms B and C). With the exception of the ether-à-go-go-like channels, most channel types show remarkably similar ion-specific sensitivities.