Abstract This study focuses on the application of hydrothermal sulfidation and floatation to treat the heavy-metal-containing sludge for recovery and stabilization. After the hydrothermal sulfidation, the sulfidation percentage of zinc and lead reach up to 85.0% and 75.4%, respectively. 33.3% of Zn, 58.9% of Pb and 68.8% of Cu can be recovered from the sludge by floatation. The lower recovery of ZnS attributes to its surface and structural characteristics. To compare these characteristics, three types of synthetic metal sulfide (ZnS, PbS and CuS) were prepared and examined with XRD, SEM and TEM. The poor floatability of the finely dispersed, round shape of ZnS can be improved by crystal modification in hydrothermal condition. With increasing the temperature and reaction time, the grain size of the ZnS increased from 7.95nm to 44.28nm and the recovery of Zn increased to from 33.3% to 72.8%. The TCLP results indicate that all the leached heavy metal concentrations of floatation tailings are under the allowable limit. No obvious increase of heavy metal concentration was observed in continuous leaching procedure. The presence of alkaline compounds after hydrothermal sulfidation might act as mineralogical scavengers of dissolved heavy metal released by sulfide oxidation to avoid the heavy metal pollution.