Mg(OH)2 (MH) nanoparticles were synthesized by hydration of the light-burned MgO at low temperature (70°C). Effects of additives, such as magnesium nitrate and magnesium acetate, on the size, morphology and agglomeration of MH particles were investigated. MH nanoparticles have platelet-like structure and approximately 20–40 nm in thicknesses. The supersaturation degree plays an important role in magnesia hydration and is defined. When magnesium acetate was used as the additive, the hydroxyl ion can be homogeneously introduced into the solution. The size and morphology of MH nanoparticles are more homogeneous. Modified by titanate coupling agent, MH nanoparticles were used as the flame retardant for polypropylene (PP). The combustibility, mechanical properties and thermal behaviors of the PP/MH composites were characterized. The mechanical properties of PP/MH composites are not seriously deteriorated with increasing MH content. When the amount of MH fraction reached 65, the limiting oxygen index (LOI) value and UL 94 testing result of MH65 are 33.8 and V-0 grading, respectively. The onset temperature (T10%) and the maximum thermal decomposition temperature (Tmax) of MH65 separately increased by approximately 100°C and 77°C than those of neat PP. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.