2021’s Dirtiest Cities in the U.S.

Smog hampers visibility of the Los Angeles skyline.

City living has its advantages, but with greater population density often comes an assortment of problems like pests, litter, and pollution that can turn any city from sparkling to filthy.

But some cities are dirtier than others. How does your city compare to the others on our list of the Dirtiest Cities in America?

LawnStarter compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities across 20 key metrics including air and water quality, waste regulations, and the share of homes with signs of mice or rats.

Scroll down for our ranking, highlights and lowlights, details on the study methodology, and a few notes on why this study matters. Depending on where you live, you may want to buy some air fresheners, mouse traps, or a can of Raid.

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Methodology
  4. Why This Study Matters

City Rankings

See how your city and others fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScorePollution RankLiving Conditions RankCitizen Satisfaction with City Cleanliness RankInfrastructure Rank
1Palmdale, CA55.306107156
2Los Angeles, CA54.735312126
3Newark, NJ54.321259239
4Houston, TX50.0322143392
5San Antonio, TX49.345723479
6New York, NY49.24127113107
7New Orleans, LA48.358128361
8Long Beach, CA48.043670127
9Memphis, TN46.8915721142
10Chicago, IL46.5033206364
11Aurora, IL46.4032265263
12Glendale, CA46.2771378123
13Mesa, AZ45.0429744312
14Phoenix, AZ44.8027763820
15Fontana, CA44.38156421132
16Pasadena, CA44.3147107159
17Anaheim, CA44.141241922131
18Detroit, MI44.11137453109
19Las Vegas, NV43.6137543190
20San Jose, CA43.54883328117
21Fort Worth, TX43.2356811893
22Dallas, TX43.0039414798
23Oklahoma City, OK42.80383411116
24Santa Clarita, CA42.7098139103
25Fresno, CA42.51411106165
26Kansas City, KS42.1313815674
27Akron, OH41.6987622959
28San Francisco, CA41.651521224119
29Jersey City, NJ41.27128442547
30Henderson, NV41.0148576062
31Riverside, CA40.80197844152
32Tempe, AZ40.6221709337
33Aurora, CO40.5342925138
34Miami, FL40.15135165068
35Tampa, FL40.12653710552
36Scottsdale, AZ39.5528809941
37Peoria, AZ39.4730831208
38Pasadena, TX39.46111156115
39Birmingham, AL39.26160177911
40Bakersfield, CA38.86361409170
41Pomona, CA38.8695156106
42Philadelphia, PA38.84148531957
43Stockton, CA38.52861315144
44Santa Ana, CA37.621236635116
45Modesto, CA37.336713810147
46Newport News, VA37.2619498485
47Chandler, AZ36.73257214222
48Arlington, TX36.6061739188
49Lancaster, CA36.5789156163
50Torrance, CA36.4724156192
51Fort Lauderdale, FL36.321312310167
52Port St. Lucie, FL35.78973214827
53El Paso, TX35.31631522360
54Washington, DC35.17159318554
55Shreveport, LA34.98831891551
56Milwaukee, WI34.82856311380
57Atlanta, GA34.817010845142
58Orlando, FL34.52551008897
59Denver, CO34.36117878355
60Fayetteville, NC34.341061998149
61Joliet, IL34.003129156108
62Rockford, IL33.999816411164
63Gilbert, AZ33.97147515610
64Macon, GA33.86198194173
65Portland, OR33.761123896185
66Plano, TX33.751344865104
67Cleveland, OH33.69146569219
68Minneapolis, MN33.677249127157
69Amarillo, TX33.575014830130
70Glendale, AZ33.36267115613
71Tucson, AZ33.24641099484
72Alexandria, VA33.00158476999
73Sunnyvale, CA32.968930121195
74Austin, TX32.77749198135
75Seattle, WA32.697686106145
76Providence, RI32.58801324886
77Louisville, KY32.50132115645
78Jackson, MS32.3175169669
79Syracuse, NY31.9710315916154
80Rochester, NY31.961884627191
81Tacoma, WA31.967365116175
82Oakland, CA31.921559041102
83Naperville, IL31.881302714378
84Albuquerque, NM31.8769156973
85Irving, TX31.815835156100
86San Diego, CA31.5144105108168
87Baltimore, MD31.371671182661
88Mesquite, TX31.36623915695
89Baton Rouge, LA31.351291912028
90Garland, TX31.04604015694
91Paterson, NJ30.842450156136
92North Las Vegas, NV30.84495815658
93Raleigh, NC30.7810155123180
94Paradise, NV30.75516015656
95Oxnard, CA30.727813454139
96Richmond, VA30.561863676166
97Corpus Christi, TX30.533416140181
98Yonkers, NY30.432369156105
99Hialeah, FL30.251401815630
100Brownsville, TX30.238213017198
101Thornton, CO30.08468815636
102San Bernardino, CA30.012068156137
103McAllen, TX29.839312410383
104Springfield, MA29.669512249184
105Ontario, CA29.661367156153
106Toledo, OH29.641001725665
107Mobile, AL29.561091925845
108Corona, CA29.511877156143
109Pittsburgh, PA29.496612071183
110Reno, NV29.23841458675
111Colorado Springs, CO29.19771668153
112Miramar, FL28.951402515631
113Pembroke Pines, FL28.891402415633
114Tulsa, OK28.773517512934
115Hollywood, FL28.661402215643
116Honolulu, HI28.652001143972
117Irvine, CA28.5611985115177
118St. Louis, MO28.421441236840
119Killeen, TX28.369443156124
120St. Petersburg, FL28.261669311729
121Jacksonville, FL28.261681176250
122Spring Valley, NV28.205152156160
123Cincinnati, OH27.851451265770
124Kansas City, MO27.751471118766
125Greensboro, NC27.74107116114138
126Boston, MA27.6216279112121
127Lakewood, CO27.57439415689
128Salinas, CA27.4711412137199
129Huntington Beach, CA27.4312012977125
130Fremont, CA27.391549689118
131Montgomery, AL27.301531844223
132Buffalo, NY27.2510499130173
133Lubbock, TX26.441261637474
134Sacramento, CA26.3315010173167
135Vancouver, WA26.2419142122171
136Rancho Cucamonga, CA26.1416136149134
137Santa Rosa, CA26.1011513772174
138Arlington, VA25.871615115477
139Grand Rapids, MI25.8110516790128
140Nashville, TN25.481801337526
141Cary, NC25.2710261156169
142Durham, NC25.0211018384141
143Virginia Beach, VA24.6019510213435
144Bridgeport, CT24.536815095188
145Omaha, NE24.461741558018
146Bellevue, WA24.427989150196
147Columbus, GA24.321971575544
148Anchorage, AK24.0911619712846
149Knoxville, TN24.0218218232133
150Overland Park, KS23.8216311214614
151Worcester, MA23.7699160131111
152Midland, TX23.6411142156122
153Fort Collins, CO23.3571180137114
154Chula Vista, CA23.3545104156179
155Hayward, CA23.2914995102193
156Indianapolis, IN23.1615612553194
157Moreno Valley, CA23.0717144156129
158Laredo, TX23.069112715648
159Escondido, CA23.0240106156186
160Wichita, KS22.831831781106
161Savannah, GA22.621851735996
162Boise City, ID22.3392165133158
163Murfreesboro, TN22.259013915642
164Charlotte, NC22.09178119109146
165Chattanooga, TN21.8517619610425
166Fullerton, CA21.8212182156182
167Eugene, OR21.73111141124190
168Spokane, WA21.69108158138140
169Orange, CA21.3412284156187
170Olathe, KS21.231651131567
171Columbus, OH21.1017713511981
172Grand Prairie, TX20.995915115687
173Tallahassee, FL20.9617116212532
174Norfolk, VA20.901929715382
175Cape Coral, FL20.489618815624
176Salt Lake City, UT20.1213316846197
177Augusta, GA20.0116418111869
178Huntsville, AL19.5118720013515
179Sunrise Manor, NV19.5051146156160
180Garden Grove, CA19.37125128156110
181Oceanside, CA19.3647143156176
182Sioux Falls, SD19.33113198152113
183Enterprise, NV19.2351153156160
184Springfield, MO18.5817318782172
185Fort Wayne, IN18.4217519061189
186Des Moines, IA17.68196177100150
187Chesapeake, VA17.6719310715676
188Salem, OR17.40118149126200
189Little Rock, AR17.13181186132112
190Lincoln, NE16.7619917114149
191Lexington, KY16.6818917614071
192McKinney, TX16.3913919514591
193Clarksville, TN16.2019019315521
194Elk Grove, CA16.03151103156178
195Metairie, LA16.0017215415617
196St. Paul, MN15.63169147144148
197Dayton, OH15.57170185136155
198Madison, WI14.60179179147120
199Frisco, TX13.88136170156101
200Winston-Salem, NC13.25184174151151
Infographic showing dirtiest cities in America by various metrics including air quality, mouse/rat infestations, etc.

Highlights and Lowlights

The Golden and Smoggy State 

One state appears most often in the top ranks: California. Eight Golden State cities are in the top 20, and seven of those cities are in the Los Angeles metro area. LA-area cities scored especially poorly on pollution metrics, such air quality and fuel consumption. And with LA’s famous smog hitting pollution records even during the pandemic, the skies won’t be clearing anytime soon.

Bigger and Dirtier Cities

The filthiest cities are often also the largest, as five of the 10 most populated U.S. cities found their way into our own top 10 list. These megacities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston, for example) performed especially badly in our living-conditions metrics, with New York City having the highest percentage of homes with signs of mice or rats. It’s no surprise then that New York’s Pizza Rat became a viral video sensation. 

Roach Motel Cities and States

When it comes to cockroaches, Florida and Texas are tops. Of the top 30 cities for share of homes with signs of cockroaches, 23 were in our two most infested states. The warm subtropical climate is the most likely reason for the increased bug presence. If you live in Florida or Texas — or New York City and Newark (where Joe’s Apartment was filmed) — you’re likely sharing your home with six-legged uninvited guests.

Methodology

We ranked the 200 biggest U.S. cities in descending order — from dirtiest to cleanest — based on their individual score totals in the metrics listed below. The city that scored the highest ranked No. 1, or “dirtiest.”

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. Value
Air Quality21977
Water Quality201
Greenhouse-Gas Emissions per Capita2097.43
Annual Excess Fuel Consumption1859323712
Pollution Category Total7
Population Density1171.9828028.79
Share of Overcrowded Households10.00730.1449
Share of Households with No Kitchen or Plumbing Facilities10.00310.0434
Share of Homes with Mold in Last 12 Months200.0437
Share of Homes with Signs of Mice or Rats in Last 12 Months200.112
Share of Homes with Signs of Cockroaches in Last 12 Months20.00670.376
Share of Homes with Sewage Disposal Breakdowns in Last 3 Months20.00510.0197
Homeless Rate10.3216.14
Living Conditions Category Total12
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Garbage Disposal2070
Share of Residents Who Find City Dirty and Untidy2089.29
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Time in City Due to Pollution2071.3
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Greenery and Parks2075
Resident Satisfaction with City Cleanliness Category Total8
Rating of State Waste Regulations and Measures2251
Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors per 100,000 Residents114.91303.4
Alternative-Fuel Stations per 100,000 Residents10.4375.08
Share of Roads in Poor Condition10.040.71
Infrastructure Category Total5
Overall Total32

Sources: County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, LawnStarter, National Transportation Research Nonprofit (TRIP), Numbeo, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Why This Study Matters

Following the lockdowns last year, people across the globe marveled at the cleaner air and water in their cities. Now the pollution is back to pre-pandemic levels in many urban areas. In some cases, it’s even worse.

Unclean air is the last thing we all need during this pandemic. Air pollution worsens the severity of COVID-19 in lung cancer patients, and it increases our chances for heart disease and stroke.

In many cities, people deal with more than just pollution, though — they have to contend with pests, litter, and even bad waste-management services.

Despite the obvious issue — dirty cities are unappealing to residents and tourists — dealing with dirt and grime can be a huge drain on municipal budgets. 

For example, in 2017, San Francisco spent $46 million on street cleaning alone. 

Here’s the bottom line: Dirty cities aren’t just smoggy, buggy, and costly to clean — they also can damage our bodies. Avoiding a dirty city — or moving away from one, if you can afford to do that — could just extend your life.

Main Photo Credit: Smog makes it harder to see the Los Angeles downtown / Shutterstock

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