Factors that affect water consumption should be identified to develop effective public policies. However, factors influencing domestic water consumption in cities in China, particularly on a national scale, are unclear. In this study, urban water consumption and its influencing factors in 286 municipal cities in China were analysed by using conditional inference trees and the random forest method. Results showed that water consumption (per capita per day) of 130 cities had changed significantly (decrease: 69; increase: 61) from 2000 to 2015. Of the 286 cities studied, 112 were classified as low-water consumption cities with water consumption below 70 L per capita per day. In addition, water consumption per capita per day in China was found to be highly affected by meteorological factors, socioeconomic status, water supply and conservation factors. The factors influencing water consumption also varied across different cities. In high-consumption cities, water consumption per capita per day was strongly influenced by precipitation, water conservation investment, water heater for showering or bathing per household and gross domestic product per capita. In medium- and low-consumption cities, water consumption per capita per day was affected by water supply capacity and socioeconomic status, including gross domestic product per capita, education received and Engel's coefficient. Significant disparities in these factors suggest that different policies regarding water consumption should be implemented across China. In high-consumption cities, investment in water conservation should be continued to ensure sustainable use by reducing water consumption. In low-consumption cities, water supply capacity should be improved to guarantee water availability for basic health and hygiene requirements.