The use of inorganic nanoparticles (NPs) for biosensing requires that they exhibit high colloidal stability under various physiological conditions. Here, we report on a general approach to render hydrophobic NPs into hydrophilic ones that are ready for bioconjugation. The method uses peglyated polymers conjugated with multiple dopamines, which results in multidentate coordination. As proof-of-concept, we applied the coating to stabilize ferrite and lanthanide NPs synthesized by thermal decomposition. Both polymer-coated NPs showed excellent water solubility and were stable at high salt concentrations under physiological conditions. We used these NPs as molecular-sensing agents to detect exosomes and bacterial nucleic acids.