In the present study, phenanthrene is employed as a model to explore the roles played by three soil organic matter (SUM) fractions, i.e., dissolved organic matter (DOM), humic acid (HA), and fulvic acid (FA), in its photodegradation with assistance of Fe(III)-smectite under visible-light. Slight decrease in phenanthrene photodegradation rate was observed in the presence of DOM, which is explained in terms of oxidative-radical competition between DOM and target phenanthrene molecules due to the high electron-donor capacity of phenolic moieties in DOM. On the other hand, a critic content is observed with FA (0.70 mg/g) and HA (0.65 mg/g). Before reaching the critic content, the removal of phenanthrene is accelerated; while after that, the photodegradation rate is suppressed. The acceleration of phenanthrene degradation can be attributed to the photosensitization of FA and HA. Due to the strong interaction between phenanthrene and the phenyl rings, however, the retention of phenanthrene on SOM-Fe(III)-smectite in the presence of high content of HA or FA is enhanced, thus slowing down its photodegradation. Those observations provide valuable insights into the transformation and fate of PAHs in the natural soil environment and open a window for using clay-humic substances complexes for remediation of contaminated soil. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.