Abstract Disordered carbons in the order of nanometers were prepared by a hydrothermal reaction route. X-ray diffraction studies indicated a highly disordered carbon structure. SEM and TEM results revealed that these disordered carbons have a perfect spherical morphology, smooth surface and uniform particle size of about 100 nm. The lithium intercalation property of the products was also investigated. The results showed that the products delivered lithium insertion and deinsertion capacities of 1233 and 491 mA h g − 1 respectively during the first cycle. Subsequent cycles showed a remarkable improvement in cycling efficiency with a 10th cycle efficiency of 98%. The correlation between microstructure, morphology and electrochemical behavior of such carbons was discussed.