Abstract Thermal decomposition of oil palm fruit press fiber (FPF) into a liquid product (LP) was achieved using subcritical water treatment in the presence of sodium hydroxide in a high pressure batch reactor. This study uses experimental design and process optimisation tools to maximise the LP yield using response surface methodology (RSM) with central composite rotatable design (CCRD). The independent variables were temperature, residence time, particle size, specimen loading, and additive loading. The mathematical model that was developed fit the experimental results well for all of the response variables that were studied. The optimal conditions were found to be a temperature of 551 K, a residence time of 40 min, a particle size of 710–1000 μm, a specimen loading of 5 g, and a additive loading of 9 wt.% to achieve a LP yield of 76.16%.