Oil, coal, and slate are found in the surrounding area. However, Sanshui is also an important producer of food for Guangdong Province, especially fruit. The mainstay of the former city's economy was the Jianlibao Company, which produced a soft drink made from oranges and honey. During the 1990s, Jianlibao was a popular drink throughout China and it even made it into the Hong Kong market. However, embezzlement by the company's senior management has reduced its success. Despite Sanshui's proximity to Guangzhou and other Pearl River Delta cities, it remains a relatively poor place with many people only earning a few hundred yuan a month.
In February 2008, twenty fireworks warehouses exploded in Sanshui. In total over 15,000 cartons of fireworks were set off over a period of 24 hours. The loss of inventory was extensive enough that U.S. markets faced real shortages of supply.