A hydrothermal pre-treatment has been developed to improve sewage sludge quality or to produce low nitrogen biocrude via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) in a subsequent step. The mild hydrothermal pre-treatment (150 °C) step was performed with deionized water, sulfuric acid (0.5 M), or citric acid (0.5 M) to solubilize nitrogen containing compounds in the aqueous supernatant. Downstream, the residual solid material was liquefied with the addition of sodium carbonate via hydrothermal liquefaction (350 °C). The pre-treatment with citric acid transferred up to 66.7 wt. % of nitrogen into the aqueous supernatant, while 62.0 wt. % of carbon was recovered in the solid. Due to the pre-treatment lipids retained in the sewage sludge solid, which increased the favored biocrude yield up to 42.9 wt. % and the quality evaluating value H/Ceff ratio significantly to 1.48. Multi-method characterization of the resulted biocrude samples showed a lower concentration of N-heterocycles, while long-chain aliphatics and free fatty acid are increased.