The dirtiest cities in america

By
Updated on April 3, 2024
Written by
James Booth
James has over ten years experience as a content producer and editor. He focuses on writing articles that are compelling, clear and, more importantly, helpful to the readers. He honed his research and copywriting skills working as part of NeoMam Studios, the parent company of HouseFresh.
A bag of trash

From the career opportunities on offer to the diverse social and cultural experiences that come along with being amongst the hustle and bustle, life in the city is rich with opportunity.

However, with the enduring charm of the bright lights luring in settlers and tourists alike, cities are notoriously densely populated. And with that comes a whole host of issues, including pollution, pests, healthcare problems and poor sanitation.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, people around the world have been considerably more concerned about contamination and health risks than ever before. From regularly using hand sanitizer to wearing masks on public transport, being more aware of the cleanliness of our surroundings is now second nature.

Cities, more so than rural areas, often have higher levels of grubbiness. But which cities in the U.S. are the dirtiest? The indoor health quality experts here at HouseFresh have taken a deep dive into the US’s non-emergency 311 complaint system to find out.

We analyzed 12.3 million sanitation-related 311 complaints placed over the last 365 days to reveal the dirtiest cities in America. Covering categories related to sanitation issues — such as garbage, waste and recycling — we ranked locations based on the number of sanitation-related reports per 100,000 population.

Key findings

  • Baltimore is the dirtiest city in America, with 47,295 sanitary-related complaints
  • Milwaukee is the cleanest city in America, with only 309 complaints linked to cleanliness conditions
  • With 89,391 complaints surrounding sanitary issues, 21213 is the dirtiest zip code in Baltimore
  • Zip code 77546 is the cleanest zip code in Houston, and in America, with a mere 19 sanitary-related complaints

Baltimore is the dirtiest city in America

Due to its vast landscape, cities across America come in all shapes and sizes. While each has its own character and reputation, most cities tend to deal with the same kind of issues. And sanitation is one of them.

For example, did you know that more than 1.57 million Americans live without a toilet or tap at home? The lack of basic water sanitation costs the U.S. economy $8.58 billion every year, according to a report produced by DigDee.

From clean drinking water to sewage disposal, littered streets to missed garbage pick-ups, we analyzed 12.3 million sanitation-related 311 complaints in a series of U.S. cities to reveal which metropolises need to clean up their act.

According to our research, it’s the East coast city of Baltimore that needs to concentrate on its cleanliness the most.

Though in close company with the cities of Sacramento, Charlotte and Los Angeles, it’s the residents of Baltimore that are the most discontent with their level of dirtiness. With a staggeringly high complaint rate of 47,295 per 100k population, there seems to be a disconnect between the needs of the community and the cleanliness of the city.

However, if you’re a clean-conscious citizen with little patience for poorly kept neighborhoods, then you might feel more at home in the Midwest. With the smallest number of complaints per 100k population, the affordable city of Milwaukee is the cleanest in the U.S., with only 309 reports. The liberal city of Riverside is not far behind, with a mere 1,609 complaints.

Houston is home to the cleanest city zip code  

Though you may be under the impression that zip codes are only used to locate your home or sort out your mail, they actually have more to do with your welfare and the cleanliness level of your city than you might think. According to USA Today, 60% of your health is determined by your zip code alone. But which city zip codes are the cleanest in America?

According to The 2022 “State of the Air” report produced by the American Lung Association, Houston’s rankings were mixed for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: particle pollution and ozone. Despite this, the southern city is home to the cleanest zip code with the fewest sanitary-related complaints.

According to our findings,with a commendable 19 complaints made per 100k population, 77546 is the cleanest zip code in the country. This adds to the city’s number of accolades, including its affordable cost of living and thriving job market. Meanwhile in Baltimore, which topped as the dirtiest city, is home to six of the dirtiest zip codes, each located either in or around the city’s center.

Brooklyn is home to the dirtiest zip code in new york

Despite American novelist John Steinback insisting that New York is ‘a dirty city,’ the Big Apple — with its reputation for being riddled with rats, trash and traffic — isn’t as ‘dirty’ as you may have been led to believe. The city has a surprisingly low complaint rate of 3,728 per 100k population — in comparison to the 21,616 complaints made by the inhabitants of the glamorous — albeit dry, dusty and dirty — Los Angeles. We found that the highest-complaining zip code, with 7,664 reports, came from Brooklyn.

With its population having risen by 6.8% since 2020, according to Best Places, Brooklyn is home to more than 2.5 million U.S. citizens and attracts hordes of tourists each year. With such a high turnover of people using the borough as their base, it’s no surprise that its cleanliness has suffered as a cost of its hospitality.

On the other hand, the cleanest New York zip code, 11040 in New Hyde Park, only notched up a mere 176 complaints per 100k population. A quieter neighborhood nestled in the suburban sector outside of Queens, the New Hyde Park area is away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

The dirtiest and cleanest zip codes in Los Angeles

With healthy green juices on tap and streets lined with Hollywood stars, you may not expect the glamourous city of Los Angeles to have an issue with cleanliness. Ranking as the fourth dirtiest city according to our analysis, the City of Angels isn’t quite as idyllic as the movies might have us think.

Ramping up a surprisingly high complaint rate is the affluent neighborhood of Mission Hills, an area boasting many local businesses and where most people own their homes.

Though ‘calm, quiet and friendly,’ according to one reviewer on Trulia, Mission Hills inhabitants are far from satisfied with the sanitation levels of their neighborhood. The 91345 zip code issues an average of 30,284 per 100k population.

On the other hand, the residents of Inglewood are the happiest with their sanitary conditions, issuing just 72 complaints per 100k population.

West Englewood is home to the dirtiest zip code in Chicago

The city of Chicago is also known for its abundance of greenery. Latin for ‘city in a garden,’ Chicago has adopted the phrase “urbs in horto,” and — with over 8,800 acres of nature preserves — it’s safe to say that the city breathes all manner of life. However, despite its lush surroundings, Chicago is surprisingly dirtier than New York and San Francisco, according to our research.

Coming in with 19,714 complaints per 100k population, West Englewood is home to the dirtiest zip code in Chicago. With 36% of the population of West Englewood living in poverty, it’s likely that residents of this neighborhood have multiple pressing issues to tackle — aside from the cleanliness of the community.

Elsewhere, the Loop of Chicago houses the cleanest zip code in the city — with only 792 complaints. Rich in architectural landmarks and cultural institutions, this central neighborhood is leading the way in terms of clean streets and low complaint rates.

Friendswood is the cleanest area in Houston

Famous for its contributions to science and space studies, the Texan city of Houston has many things to be proud of. It seems that its nationally recognized leader, Mayor Turner, has done a stellar job of managing the nation’s fourth-largest city. From zero income tax and a low cost of living to being the most ethnically diverse metropolitan city in the United States, the residents of the ‘Space City’ have a lot to be content with — and its sanitary conditions are no exception. According to our research, it’s positively sparkling in comparison to the likes of Baltimore and Sacramento.

Tallying up a very small number of 19 complaints per 100k population, zip code 7756, located in Friendswood, is the area with the fewest sanitation issues. The conservative-leaning neighborhood is ‘one of the best places to live in Texas,’ is made up of a wealthy community and a top-rated public school system.

In comparison, it’s the Houston Gardens area that’s made the most complaints, with a much larger report rate of 19,168 from zip code 77,028. Though the home prices are far below the city’s average, it seems as though the neighborhood could do with a spruce — that’s if the hefty cleanliness complaint rate is anything to go by.

The dirtiest and cleanest zip codes in Philadelphia

According to our findings, the city of Philadelphia is on top of more than just its cheesesteaks. Set against the likes of Los Angeles, Charlotte and Memphis, Philadelphia is one of the cleanest cities in the United States, judging by its relatively small complaint rate of 2,144 per 100k population.

Still a low report figure in comparison to other cities, zip code 19146 — located in Southern Philadelphia — came in with the highest number of complaints with 5,840. South Philadelphia houses a dense population rate of 42,106 people per square mile, whose busy streets and overcrowded areas may contribute to its sanitation issues.

Comparatively, the area of Darby is home to the lowest complaining zip code, 19023, with only 109 reports per 100k population. Known as Philadelphia’s largest suburb, it appears that Darby offers a family-friendly, ‘world in one place’ neighborhood with very little to complain about. 

Some cities need sprucing more than others

With any city, hygiene issues are a given, and none of them can be completely clean. But some cities and zip codes are doing better than others at staying sanitary. To find out which urban areas are the dirtiest, input any U.S. city to discover which zip codes have the highest and lowest complaint rates. Explore the full data in our interactive table below.

So, if you ever find yourself wondering which American urban destination is the dirtiest, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re yearning to move to another city and take advantage of a clean slate or want to take a vacation to the most sanitary side of Los Angeles, we’re here to help you sort out the dirty laundry and find the cleanest city spots in America.

Methodology

To find out which are the dirtiest cities in America, we analyzed the 12.3 million sanitation-related 311 complaints in a series of U.S. cities. We calculated the number of these complaints per 100,000 population, both on a city level and on a zip code level. Finally, we ranked the cities and zip codes by the number of complaints per 100K population.

We started the process by manually exploring which cities have 311 service call data in the United States, in which we selected the latest 365 days for every city to build up a uniform time frame. Then, we explored how the categories were named in each city. Upon close inspection, we selected 644 categories related to sanitation issues among an approximate total of ~6,000. These categories include some keywords such as waste, recycling, garbage, etc.

After this, we selected the records that matched the sanitation categories. For these records, we searched for the zipcode they belong to, if not disclosed, using either their latitude, longitude coordinates or their address. We removed the records we couldn’t find a match for or were formatted poorly.

Finally, we counted the number of sanitary complaints in every zip code and divided it by the population that the zipcode had to obtain the number of complaints per 100K population.

Important Note: some zip codes from each city’s 311 database refer to areas within the county area of that city, not just the city center itself.

Methodology Notes:

    1. Some cities were excluded as their 311 data did not include sanitary issues.

    2. We only report results for cities with more than 250K population and where at least 50% of their sanitary complaints were mapped to a zip code.

    3. We only report results for zip codes with more than 10 complaints and more than 10K population.

    4. City-wide complaints per 100K population considers both mapped and unmapped sanitary complaints.

Join our newsletter

We’ll send you a nice email every once in a while. No spam.

Support HouseFresh

Buy us a coffee
Your support makes it possible for us to keep doing what de wo.
About the author

James Booth

James has over ten years experience as a content producer and editor. He focuses on writing articles that are compelling, clear and, more importantly, helpful to the readers. He honed his research and copywriting skills working as part of NeoMam Studios, the parent company of HouseFresh.

Join our newsletter

We’ll send you a nice email every once in a while. No spam.

Support HouseFresh

Buy us a coffee
Your support makes it possible for us to keep doing what we do.

Comments are closed.

We are ad-free and buy all the devices we test with our own money. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, which we use to fund new product tests. Learn more