The competitive adsorption at the water-goethite interface between phosphate and a carboxylic acid, either oxalate, citrate, 1,2,3,4-butanetetracarboxylic acid (BTCA), mellitate or Suwannee River Standard Fulvic Acid 1S101F (FA), was investigated over a wide pH range (3-9) by means of batch experiments and attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. The quantitative results from the competitive adsorption measurements show that the efficiency of the organic acids in competing with phosphate was in the order oxalate < citrate < BTCA FA < mellitate. Oxalate showed no detectable effect, whereas the effect in the mellitate system was strong, and the aggregative results indicate that an increasing number of carboxylic groups favours competitive ability towards phosphate. The infrared spectroscopic results show conclusively that competition for goethite surface sites between carboxylic acids and phosphate is not a ligand-exchange reaction between inner-sphere surface complexes. Instead, ligands capable of multiple H-bonding interactions are required to out-compete and desorb surface complexes of phosphate. The fact that partially protonated organic acids are the most efficient emphasizes the importance of both H-accepting carboxylate groups and H-donating carboxylic acid groups for the competitive effect.