In this study, we investigate the hydration of three different functional groups present on cellulose nanocrystal (CNC) surfaces: hydroxyls, carboxylates and sulphates by means of quantum chemical calculation. The performance of several density functional theory (DFT) functionals in reproducing, against higher level MP2 benchmark calculations, relevant non-covalent CNC interactions is also assessed. The effect of a sodium ion on the hydration of the surface functional groups was also investigated. Major restructuring of the hydrogen-bonding network within cellulose was found in the presence of a sodium ion. The calculated binding energy of water with a surface group ion pair was also greater, which indicates a greater hydrophilicity of CNC surfaces in the presence of adsorbed sodium. Cellulose hydrophilic surfaces (1 1 0) and (1 −1 0) were also calculated using DFT methods. The results indicate that the surfaces possess different electrostatic potential maps. Hydrogen bond restructuring is found on the chemically modified surfaces. The adsorption energy of water and electrolyte is also found to be different on each surface.