Preoxidation process is usually needed in the treatment of arsenic-containing drinking water because arsenite (i.e. As[III]) is less easily removed by adsorption. Nano-scale titanium dioxide is an efficient photocatalyst for arsenite oxidation but its application in water treatment is limited due to the difficulty of separation or packed-bed application of the tiny particles. This study synthesized a composite photocatalyst by loading titanium dioxide onto activated carbon fiber (TiO2/ACF). The effects of calcination temperature, photocatalyst dosage, pH, initial concentration of As(III) and common anions on the oxidation of As(III) were studied. Photocatalytic oxidation of As(III) took place in minutes and followed first-order kinetics. 0.80 mg L−1 of As(III) could be entirely oxidized to As(V) within 30 min in the presence of 3.0 g L−1 photocatalyst and under UV-light irradiation. The oxidation of As(III) occurred in a wide range of pH as examined from 2 to 10 with the oxidation efficiency increasing markedly with pH. The presence of phosphate and silicate significantly decreased As(III) oxidation at pH 7, while the effect of sulfate and chloride was small.