Rhizoremediation is a bioremediation technique whereby enhanced microbial degradation of organic contaminants occurs within the plant root zone (rhizosphere). It is considered an effective and affordable 'green technology' for remediating soils contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs). This paper critically reviews the potential role of root exuded compounds in rhizoremediation, with emphasis on commonly exuded low molecular weight aliphatic organic acid anions (carboxylates). The extent to which remediation is achieved shows wide disparity among plant species. Therefore, plant selection is crucial for the advancement and widespread adoption of this technology. Root exudation is speculated to be one of the predominant factors leading to microbial changes in the rhizosphere and thus the potential driver behind enhanced petroleum biodegradation. Carboxylates can form a significant component of the root exudate mixture and are hypothesised to enhance petroleum biodegradation by: i) providing an easily degradable energy source; ii) increasing phosphorus supply; and/or iii) enhancing the contaminant bioavailability. These differing hypotheses, which are not mutually exclusive, require further investigation to progress our understanding of plant-microbe interactions with the aim to improve plant species selection and the efficacy of rhizoremediation. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.