Abstract The remediation of the highly contaminated site around the former chemical plant of ACNA (near Savona) in Northern Italy is a top priority in Italy. The aim of the present work was to contribute in finding innovative and environmental-friendly technology to remediate soils from the ACNA contaminated site. Two soils sampled from the ACNA site (A and B), differing in texture and amount and type of organic contaminants, were subjected to soil washings by comparing the removal efficiency of water, two synthetic surfactants, sodium dodecylsulphate (SDS) and Triton X-100 (TX100), and a solution of a natural surfactant, a humic acid (HA) at its critical micelle concentration (CMC). The extraction of pollutants by sonication and soxhlet was conducted before and after the soil washings. Soil A was richer in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, whereas soil B had a larger content of thiophenes. Sonication resulted more analytically efficient in the fine-textured soil B. The coarse-textured soil A was extracted with a general equal efficiency also by soxhlet. Clean-up by water was unable to exhaustively remove contaminants from the two soils, whereas all the organic surfactants revealed very similar efficiencies (up to 90%) in the removal of the contaminants from the soils. Hence, the use of solutions of natural HAs appears as a better choice for soil washings of highly polluted soils due to their additional capacity to promote microbial activity, in contrast to synthetic surfactants, for a further natural attenuation in washed soils.