This paper presents an instability theory that can be used to understand the fundamental behavior of an acidization dissolution front when it propagates in fluid-saturated carbonate rocks. The proposed theory includes two fundamental concepts, namely the intrinsic time and length of an acidization dissolution system, and a theoretical criterion that involves the comparison of the Zhao number and its critical value of the acidization dissolution system. The intrinsic time is used to determine the time scale at which the acidization dissolution front is formed, while the intrinsic length is used to determine the length scale at which the instability of the acidization dissolution front can be initiated. Under the assumption that the acidization dissolution reaction is a fast process, the critical Zhao number, which is used to assess the instability likelihood of an acidization dissolution front propagating in fluid-saturated carbonate rocks, has been derived in a strictly mathematical manner. Based on the proposed instability theory of a propagating acidization dissolution front, it has been theoretically recognized that: (i) the increase of the mineral dissolution ratio can stabilize the acidization dissolution front in fluid-saturated carbonate rocks; (ii) the increase of the final porosity of the carbonate rock can destabilize the acidization dissolution front, while the increase of the initial porosity can stabilize the acidization dissolution front in fluid-saturated carbonate rocks; (iii) the increase of the mineral dissolution ratio can cause an increase in the dimensionless propagation speed of the acidization dissolution front; (iv) the increase of the initial porosity can enable the acidization dissolution front to propagate faster, while the increase of the final porosity can enable the acidization dissolution front to propagate slower in the acidization dissolution system. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.