Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain receptors (NLRs) are families of pattern recognition receptors that, together with inflammasomes, sense and respond to highly conserved pathogen motifs and endogenous molecules released upon cell damage or stress. Evidence suggests that TLRs, NLRs and the NACHT, LRR and PYD domains-containing protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome have important roles in kidney diseases through regulation of inflammatory and tissue-repair responses to infection and injury. In this Review, we discuss the pathological mechanisms that are related to TLRs, NLRs and NLRP3 in various kidney diseases. In general, these receptors are protective in the host defence against urinary tract infection, but can sustain and self-perpetuate tissue damage in sterile inflammatory and immune-mediated kidney diseases. TLRs, NLRs and NLRP3, therefore, have become promising drug targets to enable specific modulation of kidney inflammation and suppression of immunopathology in kidney disease.