Aggregate stability is a fundamental property influencing soil erodibility and hydraulic characteristics. Knowledge of soil components controlling aggregate stability is very important to soil structure conservation. The objective of this study, which was carried out in surface soils from central Greece, was to relate wet aggregate stability to selected soil properties, with emphasis on excessive free carbonate content. The wet-sieving technique of air-dried aggregates was used for structural stability evaluation, according to a test that calculates an instability index. The soils studied were developed on Tertiary marly parent material and ranged in calcium carbonate content from 5 to 641 g kg−1. From the texture analysis before and after removal of carbonates, it was concluded that carbonates mainly contributed to total silt and sand fractions, that is to the mechanical fractions which, as a rule, negatively affect aggregate stability. The results of the correlation analysis showed that aggregate stability was positively affected by aluminosilicate clay content, cation exchange capacity (CEC) and Al-containing sesquioxides. Clay fraction from carbonates and total sand and silt negatively affected aggregate stability. CEC has been proved a very significant determinant of aggregate stability, which in a hyperbolic form relationship with instability index explained 78·9 per cent of aggregate stability variation. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.