Abstract Cetyltrimethyl ammonium bromide (CTAB) has been extensively applied in the solution-phase synthesis of many types of colloidal nanoparticles. However, the uses of CTAB were mainly considered as template or capping agents to form controllable shape and protect the product from agglomeration. Here it was discovered that CATB could serve as a very mild reductant to reduce gold salt precursors preparing gold nanoparticles (GNPs) at base environment. CTAB acted as the reducing agent suffering a partial degradation and forming CTA macro radicals. FTIR proved the formation of CCl and/or CBr bond after CTAB degraded. The characterization of synthesized GNPs was examined by UV–Vis spectra, TEM and XRD. Several factors affecting the process of reaction, such as the amount of NaOH, the molar ratio of CTAB and HAuCl4, the reaction temperature, the effect of light and oxygen, and stirring were discussed.