2022’s Dirtiest Cities in America

trash overflowing in two public receptacles with a line of people in the background

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.

Some cities are dirtier than others. How does your city compare to the others in our ranking of 2022’s Dirtiest Cities in America?

LawnStarter ranked nearly 90 of the biggest U.S. cities across four key categories, including pollution, living conditions, infrastructure, and consumer satisfaction.

Find out how your city fared in our ranking below, followed by some highlights, lowlights, 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 RankInfrastructure RankConsumer Satisfaction Rank
1Newark, NJ52.971321432
2Houston, TX50.12972820
3Los Angeles, CA49.87215315
4San Bernardino, CA49.79241621
5Oklahoma City, OK49.01103567
6San Antonio, TX46.923022522
7Las Vegas, NV45.911942221
8Phoenix, AZ45.55654923
9Glendale, CA43.8920191347
10Chicago, IL43.412747324
11Anaheim, CA42.7523276614
12Mesa, AZ42.628532028
13Cleveland, OH42.215311445
14New York, NY42.19541496
15Memphis, TN427081210
16Aurora, CO41.942948627
17Scottsdale, AZ41.79758756
18Washington, DC41.544463049
19Long Beach, CA41.471497543
20Detroit, MI41.286723483
21San Jose, CA40.9945265518
22Denver, CO40.734443744
23Pasadena, CA40.0718157637
24Dallas, TX39.9612374733
25Peoria, AZ39.811602266
26Tempe, AZ39.583502763
27Jersey City, NJ39.455510507
28Kansas City, KS39.355611840
29Aurora, IL39.2522178338
30Santa Ana, CA39.0824436113
31Philadelphia, PA37.976812518
32Riverside, CA37.9511466825
33San Francisco, CA37.486213539
34Orlando, FL37.3917641054
35Fort Worth, TX37.3528516315
35New Orleans, LA37.3577182112
37Chandler, AZ36.425551782
38Tampa, FL35.9142323568
39Naperville, IL35.6225244183
40Plano, TX35.3631348042
41Henderson, NV35.2932453346
42Irvine, CA34.9916591672
43Miami, FL34.969162931
44Milwaukee, WI34.5538393269
45Tucson, AZ34.283772462
46Akron, OH33.5482381917
47Minneapolis, MN33.3341258279
48Atlanta, GA33.243675626
49Sunnyvale, CA33.1646208674
50Portland, OR32.850366952
51Austin, TX32.6139574457
52Fort Lauderdale, FL32.3353301864
53Port St. Lucie, FL32.3136334681
54Sacramento, CA32.2726687041
55Arlington, TX32.2533475960
56Kansas City, MO31.6935762350
57Seattle, WA31.5847515858
58Newport News, VA31.078666604
59San Diego, CA30.6934703961
60Cincinnati, OH30.646082330
61Rochester, NY30.6181288516
62Providence, RI30.2840835429
63Louisville, KY29.752741139
64Oakland, CA29.2765565719
65Raleigh, NC28.9451358178
66Boston, MA27.7566227470
67Baltimore, MD27.5874733811
68Richmond, VA27.3278297253
69Buffalo, NY26.3849697871
70Fremont, CA26.2964633448
71St. Petersburg, FL25.883491576
72Arlington, VA25.5561147186
73Jacksonville, FL25.4575752632
74St. Louis, MO25.3958774035
75Murfreesboro, TN25.117187177
76Vancouver, WA24.9176406759
77Bellevue, WA23.4648618484
78Indianapolis, IN23.3263844534
79Hayward, CA23.2459627755
80Nashville, TN21.473852451
81Pittsburgh, PA20.1857818736
82Greensboro, NC18.1984786473
83Charlotte, NC17.9380807965
84Columbus, OH17.7379864275
85Virginia Beach, VA17.787715280
86Overland Park, KS17.0772793685
87Norfolk, VA15.7885656587
Infographic of the dirtiest cities in the US

Highlights and Lowlights

Newark: Dirty is in the Eye of the Beholder

New Jersey’s biggest city, Newark, lands atop the landfill as our Dirtiest City in America because of residents’ perceptions of Brick City. 

Newark ranked No. 1 for both the share of residents who consider the city to be dirty or untidy and the share of residents dissatisfied with garbage disposal, according to a Numbeo survey. The city ranked No. 2 for the share of residents dissatisfied with the city’s parks and greenery.

Take away those survey results and the most flattering rankings for Newark were No. 68 for refuse and recycling collectors per 100,000 residents and No. 52 for tons of waste in landfills per 100,000 residents. 

What does this say about the city that was the setting for “The Many Saints of Newark?” The people who live there think the city could be cleaner, brighter, and greener. Our suggestion: Just wait for the cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park — how can you not feel better about living in Newark?

Biggest and Dirtiest Cities

More people means more rats, more roaches, and more dirty, smoggy air. Houston and Los Angeles landed in the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on our Dirtiest Cities list. 

H-Town ranked No. 7 in the Living Conditions category (the home of the Rockets is also home to lots of roaches, finishing No. 3) and No. 9 in the Pollution category. 

California’s largest city, meanwhile, ranked No. 5 in both the Living Conditions and Consumer Satisfaction categories. The City of Angels is also, it seems, the city of junkyards (tied at No. 1 with three other cities).

How did other big cities fare in our ranking? Chicago finished No. 10 but tied for No. 1 in the share of homes with sewage disposal breakdowns in the past 3 months. New York landed at No. 14 both overall and for the share of homes with signs of mice or rats in the past 12 months.

One-Hit Wonders

Some cities stand out for a single metric — but they’re no reasons to brag. For example, Indianapolis landed at No. 1 for refuse and recycling collectors per 100,000 residents, while Rochester, New York, tops the share of homes with mold in the past 12 months.

St. Petersburg, Florida, meanwhile, wins hands-down — or should that be slamming shoes down — when it comes to the share of homes with signs of cockroaches in the past 12 months.

Methodology

We ranked 87 of the biggest U.S. cities from dirtiest (No. 1) to cleanest (No. 87) based on their overall scores (out of 100 possible points), averaged across all the weighted metrics listed below. 

We began with an initial sample comprising the 200 biggest U.S. cities. We then eliminated the cities — 113 total — lacking data for more than 10% of the total metrics in a single category. 

The 87 cities that remained in our sample were then scored and ranked only on the metrics for which data were available. In most cases, a city lacked data for only one out of 23 total metrics and limited to two maximum for the fairest possible comparison.

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueDirtiest
Pollution
Median Air Quality Index338101Max. Value
Presence of Water Quality Violations (1 = Present, 0 = Not Present)301Max. Value
Greenhouse-Gas Emissions (Metric Tons CO2e) per Capita2030.65Max. Value
Annual Excess Fuel Consumption (Gallons per Auto Commuter)1723Max. Value
Living Conditions
Population Density (Residents per Square Mile)2955.7228,028.79Max. Value
Share of Overcrowded Homes10.81%11.66%Max. Value
Share of Homes with No Kitchen Facilities10.38%22.02%Max. Value
Share of Homes with No Plumbing Facilities10.22%19.22%Max. Value
Share of Homes with Mold in Last 12 Months20.00%4.37%Max. Value
Share of Homes with Signs of Mice or Rats in Last 12 Months30.20%20.12%Max. Value
Share of Homes with Signs of Cockroaches in Last 12 Months30.67%37.60%Max. Value
Share of Homes with Sewage Disposal Breakdowns in Last 3 Months20.51%1.97%Max. Value
Unsheltered Homeless Rate (per 1,000 Residents)10.015.92Max. Value
Infrastructure
Tons of Waste in Landfills per 100,000 Residents3024.24MMax. Value
Rating of State Waste Regulations and Measures2350Max. Value
Refuse and Recycling Collectors per 100,000 Residents19.85304.47Min. Value
Share of Roads in Poor Condition14%71%Max. Value
Alternative-Fuel Stations per 100,000 Residents14.75211.23Min. Value
Number of Junk Yards1017Max. Value
Consumer Satisfaction
Share of Residents Who Find City Dirty and Untidy30%90.62%Max. Value
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Pollution33.57%75.00%Max. Value
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Garbage Disposal20%65.62%Max. Value
Share of Residents Dissatisfied with Greenery and Parks10%63.64%Max. Value

Sources: County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, LawnStarter, National Transportation Research Nonprofit (TRIP), Numbeo, Salvage-Parts.com, 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

Every cloud — even the pandemic — has a silver lining. We can thank the 2020 lockdowns for cleaning the air and water in many cities across the globe. 

But old habits die hard. As lockdown restrictions eased, pollution returned to pre-pandemic levels in many urban areas. And once Americans started commuting and traveling again in 2021, U.S. emissions shot up by 6.2% compared with 2020.

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.

Clean cities tend to have lots of tidy, healthy, green lawns. If you need help getting and keeping your yard looking picture-perfect and pest-free, LawnStarter’s pros can help.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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