The present study investigates the use of magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) instead of (NH4)2SO4 as a lixiviant in the recovery of rare earth elements (REEs) from clays. Experiments were carried out to investigate the influence of leaching conditions such as leaching time, lixiviant concentration and liquid:solid ratio on the leaching efficiency. The optimum leaching conditions, leading to 75.48% of total REE leaching efficiency, required a stirring speed of 500 rpm, a leaching time of 30 min, a lixiviant concentration of 3 wt.% and a liquid:solid ratio of 3:1. After extension of the leaching process by a second stage, the leaching efficiency may reach up to 96.19%, which is slightly higher than that obtained by (NH4)2SO4. Leaching varies from element to element, with Ce presenting the lowest leaching efficiency, and the partition in leaching solution is in agreement with that in raw ore other than for Ce. Based on these findings, MgSO4 lixiviant is an excellent alternative leaching agent for a sustainable REE industry because it reduces or eliminates NH4+–N pollution.