Abstract Rainwater and airborne particles were sampled at five sites, including Beijing and Mazhuang Town in the northeast of China, Chongqing in the southwest of China, Shenzhen and Mangdang Mountain in the south of China. The pollution of airborne particles in winter at Chongqing and Beijing were the worst and the following was in summer at Mazhuang town and atmosphere quality in spring at Mangdang Mountain was the best. The ratios of fine particles to coarse particles were high among all the sampling sites. The contribution from soluble components to particulate mass was important and the main ions both on PM10 and PM2.5 were SO42−, NO3− and NH4+. Both inorganic and organic soluble components on particles were mainly enriched on fine particles. The average pH values in rainwater at Beijing, Mazhuang Town, Shenzhen and Mangdang Mountain were 6.02, 5.97, 4.72 and 4.81 respectively. A new methodology to determine the neutralizing capacity of airborne particles was established in this study. The pH values and water-soluble ion concentrations in particulate matter extract were measured, then the ionization balance and charge conservation principle were adopted to determine the amount of acid-basic compositions on particle. The amount of H+ in rainwater neutralized by airborne particles per unit mass was used to denote the neutralizing capacity of particles. The neutralizing capacity of airborne particles was lower if both of the concentrations of particles and ratio of fine to coarse particles were higher. The neutralizing capacity of airborne particles was inverse proportion to the acidity of rainwater and the rain intensity. The neutralizing effect of particles accounted for 4%–28% of the reduction of rainwater acidity during wash-out process among different sites, and it was deduced that NH3 was the major neutralizing species especially for rainwater from sites in the northeast of China.