The 15 Dirtiest Cities in America

There are different kinds of dirty.

When it comes to ranking the filthiest cities in America, there are plenty of criteria to judge — like, are cockroaches openly running through the streets? Does the air pollution make it difficult to see your hand in front of your face? How about the smell?

BusyBee, a cleaning and janitorial services company, recently compiled data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Housing Survey, and the U.S. Census Bureau to determine which major metropolitan cities are the dirtiest. They considered factors such as litter, pests, population density, particulate matter air pollution, and nitrogen dioxide air pollution when establishing the rankings.

Is your city one of the dirtiest? Read on to find out.

15. Baltimore

Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore has a lot of problems. | Melpomenem/iStock/Getty Images

Baltimore has the highest murder rate of any U.S. city, which doesn’t necessarily correlate to how dirty it is, but should at least make you reconsider your vacation plans (dirty and dangerous just doesn’t seem worth it).

This Eastern seaboard city is reportedly getting hit with an increased number of rat complaints, which either means they need to start importing stray cats or they need to find some other way to convince the vermin to hit the road.

Next: Boston

14. Boston

Boston City

Boston’s dense population doesn’t do it any favors. | MIHAI ANDRITOIU/Getty Images

The city of Boston has one of the highest population densities on the list, which is part of the reason it scored such high numbers for the amount of litter, critters, and air pollution. While much of the city is beautiful, it’s hard to have that many people jammed into one space without encountering a fair amount of filth.

Next: Atlanta

13. Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia, USA downtown skyline at dusk.

Atlanta has a problem with toxic waste. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

They may be thirteenth on the list overall, but Atlanta scored disastrously high marks for pests and nitrogen dioxide air pollution. According to Forbes, Atlanta is home to 21,000 tons of environmental waste, making it one of the most toxic cities in the nation.

Next: Washington D.C.

12. Washington D.C.

Washington DC in Spring

Tourist traffic doesn’t do D.C. any favors. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

Our nation’s capital is famous for more than just crooked politicians — it’s also one of the dirtiest cities in America. No doubt thanks to steady amounts of tourist traffic, Washington has abnormally high amounts of litter, which contributes to its overall filthiness score.

Next: Pittsburgh

11. Pittsburgh

Skyline of downtown Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s air is dangerous 10% of the time. | f11photo/iStock/Getty Images

Factories are a major contributor to the filthy air in Pittsburgh.

According to the Post-Gazette, the region violated federal health standards for either ozone or fine particulate matter nearly 10 percent of the time — 35 days — in 2012. On these days, residents were warned that the air was unhealthy, especially for children, people with heart and lung disease, older adults, and those who are active outdoors.

Next: Miami

10. Miami

Miami, Florida

Miami has an unacceptable number of pests. | Aphotostory/iStock/Getty Images

Miami is a populous city with an equally jarring number of pests per citizen. In fact, if the residents of this Florida hotspot wanted to take cockroaches or other vermin out to the nightclubs, they’d find their fair share of dance partners hanging out in the shadows.

Next: San Francisco

9. San Francisco

San Francisco,

San Francisco has a problem with human waste. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

If you left your heart in San Francisco, you may have left some other litter as well. That’s why it’s the ninth most filthy city in America.

There are beautiful, picturesque areas of San Fran and then there’s the rest of the city, which has a decently high homeless population. People living on the street don’t necessarily have access to public bathroom facilities. They are often forced to take care of business out in the open, which doesn’t help the filth factor.

A few years ago, the sheer amount of human waste on the escalator of the BART station was enough to shut it down until a HAZMAT team could come take care of the problem. You can imagine the smell of that — and the worst part is, it’s not uncommon.

Next: Denver

8. Denver


The Mile-High City has pollution problems. | F11photo/iStock/Getty Images

The residents of Denver pride themselves on their healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles. But all that physical activity might be wasted when you stop to consider the sub-standard air quality.

The eighth dirtiest city has a disproportionately high amount of particulate air pollution, fondly known as smog. The EPA blames a host of factors on the crappy air quality, including industrial facilities, electric utilities, and vehicle exhaust.

Next: Houston

7. Houston

Houston, Texas, USA

Houston’s petrochemical industry is an issue. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

The state of Texas has plenty of dirty cities but only Houston takes home the title for third most pests in the nation. Yuck.

Houston is also home to the country’s highest concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants, making it a haven for toxic air pollution. In fact, the buildings along the Ship Channel pump out more than 20 million pounds of polluted air per year.

Next: Phoenix

6. Phoenix

Phoenix Arizona with its downtown lit

Phoenix has terrible air quality. | Dreamframer/iStock/Getty Images

The air pollution in Phoenix is just awful, which is what landed this Southwestern city the sixth spot on the list. Most of the major air pollution in the country gets attributed to California cities, but don’t discount Phoenix as a major problem too. The American Lung Association listed them as big offenders on their list of most polluted.

Next: Philadelphia

5. Philadelphia


Philly has serious sanitation and air quality issues. | iStock/Getty Images

Ever heard of the nickname “Filthadelphia?” There’s some truth to it.

Rodents, air pollution, population density — when it comes to the dirtiness factor, Philly has it all. Refineries and chemical plants help to contribute to the 18.5 million pounds of toxic release that originates in Philadelphia.

Next: Chicago

4. Chicago

Chicago Skyline

Chicago has plenty of filthy neighborhoods. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Midwest doesn’t get much dirtier than Chicago. When you have that many people in one geographical location, there’s bound to be litter, and whenever you have litter, you run the risk of pests eating up all those food remnants.

Resident Chicagoans dispute this claim, saying their city has plenty of clean streets. But for every pristine stretch of sidewalk, a filthy walkway exists just a few blocks away. Add them all together and you get the fourth dirtiest city in America.

Next: Riverside-San Bernardino

3. Riverside-San Bernardino

Air quality here is terrible. | David McNew/Getty Images

Riverside-San Bernardino doesn’t seem like it would make the cut for dirtiest — after all, every other city on the list is a major metropolitan hub. But there’s just no escaping the awful truth: the air quality in this California city is abysmal.

The American Lung Association gave air quality in this region a grade of “F” thanks to the daily presence of particle pollution. Initiatives that push cleaner vehicles and other clean air policies are helping. But they’re still not enough to save this area from being the third filthiest in the nation.

Next: Los Angeles

2. Los Angeles

smog in los angeles

L.A. is famous for its smog. | MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The runner-up for the dirtiest city in the United States is Los Angeles, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever laid eyes on the mid-afternoon smog haze on any given day.

Poor air quality is the main contributing factor to the City of Angels’ high spot on the list. But they also have plenty of litter and pests, making them an all-around dirty place to live and play.

Next: New York City

1. New York City

Statue of Liberty and New York

No city has a trash problem quite like New York. | MDBrockmann/iStock/Getty Images

Ah, New York City, that big, dirty apple.

Manhattan wins by a landslide for pests, litter, and population density. Stroll down any street and you’re certain to encounter mountains of trash bags emitting a sickly sweet rotten smell that’s unique to New York. And while legend holds that the island has an equal number of rats and people, recent studies seriously question this deduction. Though no one’s arguing there are a whole lot of rats living underground.

But there’s a spot of good news for New Yorkers: NYC has half as much air pollution as some other large cities on the list, proving it’s a little safer to breathe the stinky air. If you dare.

Read more: The 15 Most Polluted Cities in the United States

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