Objective A primary drawback to simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) processes is the incompatibility of the temperature and pH optima for the hydrolysis and fermentation steps—with the former working best at 50–55 °C and pH 4.5–5.5. Here, nine thermophilic Bacillus and Parageobacillus spp. were evaluated for growth and lactic acid fermentation at high temperature and low pH. The most promising candidate was then carried forward to demonstrate SSF using the cellulosic fraction from municipal solid waste (MSW) as a feedstock. Results B. smithii SA8Eth was identified as the most promising candidate and in a batch SSF maintained at 55 °C and pH 5.0, using a cellulase dose of 5 FPU/g glucan, it produced 5.1 g/L lactic acid from 2% (w/v) MSW cellulosic pulp in TSB media. Conclusion This work has both scientific and industrial relevance, as it evaluates a number of previously untrialled bacterial hosts for their compatibility with lignocellulosic SSF for lactic acid production and successfully identifies B. smithii as a potential candidate for such a process. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1007/s10529-020-03049-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.