Considering the issues of environmental pollution and energy efficiency, heat pumps are gradually replacing traditional coal combustion for heating at low ambient temperatures. In this paper, eco-friendly CO2/HCs with large temperature glides are applied in a single-stage recuperative heat pump water heater. Its heating performance is theoretically investigated under the working condition of producing circulating hot water in typical winter of northern China, with medium temperature difference between supply/return water and large temperature difference between air inlet and water inlet. Due to its simple structure, low initial investment and high efficiency, its potential for producing circulating hot water is demonstrated. Exergy analyses are conducted to reveal the significant influence of the exergy losses of heat exchanger on system performance. For specified CO2/HC, optimal COP is obtained through global optimization of cycle pressures and mixture concentration. The heating performances of different CO2/HCs are compared, among which CO2/R600 and CO2/R600a behave better. Meanwhile, a typical vapor-injection cycle is used to demonstrate priorities on the heating performance of this recuperative cycle, in which the COP of recuperative cycle using CO2/R600 is more than 3.4% higher than that of the vapor-injection cycle. The results obtained in this paper provide a simple and efficient solution for producing circulating hot water at low ambient temperatures.