The Cleanest (and Dirtiest) Cities in America

If you're looking for a new city to call home—or even just choosing a holiday destination—you’ll want to read this list first! Our collection of the cleanest and dirtiest cities in the United States is based on research from YouGov and The American Lung Association’s pollution rankings, which consider factors like litter, eco-friendly initiatives, and air pollution. The results may surprise you, so get ready to discover America’s best- and worst-kept cities.

  1. Cleanest: Minneapolis-St. Paul

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    If Minnesota makes you think only of harsh winters and endless snow, it's time to take a closer look. The Twin Cities are oases of summer fun—especially along the metro area's extensive biking and walking trails. Despite the cold climate, parks and fitness areas abound, and low levels of air pollution and secondhand smoke keep these public spaces clean and enjoyable for all.

    Related: 12 Destinations You Should Actually Visit During the Off-Season

  2. Cleanest: Dallas-Fort Worth

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    Discover a place where cleanliness and social justice go hand in hand. In Dallas, the Clean Slate program pays people who are homeless to help clean up the city’s streets, contributing to a more beautiful city in more ways than one.

    Related: 20 Places with (Almost) Zero Crime

  3. Cleanest: Denver

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    The poor air quality that has plagued Denver as a result of ozone pollution is being remedied through the city's membership in the Department of Energy-sponsored Clean Cities Coalition. This program funds and implements hybrid and electric technology, fuel efficiency, and community engagement.

    Related: 20 Must-Visit Mountain Towns Across America

  4. Cleanest: Orlando

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    Meet a city with its own Downtown Clean Team. Its mission is to improve the urban experience by picking up litter and removing graffiti. Volunteers also do their part to make this city a poster child for clean streets and clean air.

    Related: The 19 Most Photographed Homes in America

  5. Cleanest: Miami-Fort Lauderdale

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    Miami ranks high on the American Lung Association’s list of clean cities, and no doubt benefits from purifying ocean winds and government caps on emissions. Plus, efforts by health-conscious residents help the city rank high in “livability.”

    Related: The Best Tiny Beach Towns from East to West

  6. Cleanest: Phoenix

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    You can enjoy the beauty of the desert without pollution in Phoenix. The city government emphasizes community outreach and participation in green initiatives, and works with “Blight Busters,” volunteers who mobilize to help keep neighborhoods vibrant.

    Related: 20 Destinations for Plant Lovers Across America

  7. Cleanest: Washington, D.C.

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    You may not consider Washington, D.C., a hothouse for creativity, but think again. Our nation’s capital boasts many green innovations, including rooftop gardens that filter water and purify air. These urban green spaces are just part of the “green infrastructure” that is starting to take root in more cities across America.

    Related: 21 Crazy But True Facts About the White House

  8. Cleanest: Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida

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    Like Miami, Tampa fosters a culture of urban stewardship, with both employees and volunteers keeping the city beautiful. In addition, at the University of South Florida, you will find the Clean Energy Research Center—a great resource for scientists, students, and advocates.

    Related: The 30 Best Towns to Move to for Retirement

  9. Cleanest: Atlanta

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    In 2017, Atlanta pledged to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2035. Will it make good on its promise to the planet? Well, it's certainly trying! A host of young professionals and innovators will be needed to bring these efforts to fruition—and, consequently, competitive jobs in solar technology are popping up in the area.

    Related: America’s 50 Favorite Streets

  10. Cleanest: Seattle

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    Government policies are important, but so is a culture of action. Known as one of the most eco-conscious cities in America, Seattle encourages community participation in green initiatives. Plus, with its many lush green spaces, it's the perfect place to celebrate Earth Day—every day.

    Related: The Best U.S. Cities for a Summer Staycation

  11. Dirtiest: Los Angeles

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    L.A. and Bakersfield, California, are tied for first place on the American Lung Association’s Most Polluted Cities list, a fact that's not surprising, given the region's population density and traffic issues. Ozone pollution, short-term and year-round particulate matter—L.A. consistently ranks high for all these forms of pollution.

    Related: America's 50 Most Exclusive Neighborhoods

  12. Dirtiest: Fresno-Madera

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    Another California city tops the list of America's most polluted: the nation’s “Raisin Capital,” Fresno. Air pollution from agriculture and industry can be severe here, and such pollution can lead to numerous ills, including heart damage, coughing, headaches, and even the flu.

    Related: 20 American Towns with Perfect Weather

  13. Dirtiest: Visalia

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    A third smog-filled California metropolitan area is Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, where there are more than 14,000 reported cases of pediatric asthma. As this is a highly productive agricultural region, pesticides are big contributors to ozone and groundwater pollution.

    Related: Pedestrians Only: 20 Car-Free Places in America

  14. Dirtiest: Fairbanks

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    One surprise on the American Lung Association’s list of the dirtiest cities: Fairbanks. Defying the popular misconception of a pristine Alaska, the city suffers from dirty air, especially in the form of short-term particle pollution.

    Related: These 30 Places Have the Worst Weather in America

  15. Dirtiest: Salt Lake City

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    In Salt Lake City, ozone levels can soar to over 20 times the federal limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Sadly, poor air quality prevents residents from fully enjoying the outdoors. Experts advise that the best way to avoid the negative health effects of air pollution is to stay inside on poor air quality days.

    Related: 25 Tiny Towns to Visit for a Glimpse at How We Used to Live

  16. Dirtiest: Pittsburgh

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    Elevated soot levels in Pittsburgh, famous as one of America's first industrial cities, continue to plague residents today. That said, city officials and residents have been hard at work to improve environmental protections and quality of life.

    Related: The Best Tiny Towns in Every State

  17. Dirtiest: New York City

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    Another city that has made significant improvements in air quality is New York—yet smog still hangs in the air. With the status of national environmental policies uncertain, the pressure is on local regulators and innovators to find solutions. Air pollution poses a thorny problem, however, because lax laws in nearby industrial areas can impact the quality of the city's air.

    Related: 15 Places Every American Should Visit at Least Once

  18. Dirtiest: Las Vegas

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    Drought, heat, and climate change all contribute to the thick air obscuring Sin City. In recent years, however, idle reduction requirements and other emissions-lowering efforts have been making some headway in the city's pollution problems.

    Related: 18 Small Towns That Changed America

  19. Dirtiest: Philadelphia

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    Boasting the unfortunate title of “second smoggiest city in the northeast,” Philadelphia has earned its place on this list thanks to its particularly poor air quality. Although the city has made modest improvements in eco-friendliness, it has a long way to go toward cleaning up its air and waterways.

    Related: The 20 Friendliest Cities in America

  20. Dirtiest: Cleveland

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    Although it's made great strides in reducing the number of dangerously high ozone days, Cleveland still retains a spot on the American Lung Association's list of shame. Rates of respiratory illnesses like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer are relatively high in the region, as a result of excessive particle pollution and weather patterns.

    Related: 18 American Towns Every Old-House Lover Needs to See

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