The UK’s Dirtiest Cities

Vanguard Cleaning have spent over two decades tending to properties across the UK, and it’s safe to say we’ve travelled just about everywhere and seen a whole host of buildings in various states of disrepair and cleanliness. As such, we have dedicated ourselves to giving businesses the touch-up they need, protecting staff from harm, and elevating the professionalism of your premises.

Of course, the surrounding city environment can play a huge role in the overall appearance and hygiene of your site. Whether it’s piles of rubbish littering your building’s outskirts, pollution lingering in the air, or abandoned and derelict structures hurting the neighbourhood’s appeal, the location of your property will inevitably take its toll. Therefore, the need and extent of cleaning that each property will need depends primarily on the city you’re based in.

In our latest blog, we’ll explore which UK cities are the dirtiest, and what contributes to this lack of cleanliness. We will rank them accordingly, taking into account factors such as air pollution, abandoned homes, fly-tipping, and the general standard of cleanliness to come to our decision.


What Qualifies As A Dirty City?

The definition of what makes a ‘dirty’ city is rather loose. Is it the city with the most piles of litter and rubbish left on the street? Could it be the city with the worst quality water or air? What about the city with the most derelict districts and buildings? Or maybe the city with the most graffiti or grimiest homes? Well, how about a combination of all these factors?

We’ll use data collated by Buildworld, who approached 83 local authorities for information on vacant properties and fly tipping incidents, as well as recording how frequently common house cleaning problems were google searched in each area. On top of this, we’ll take data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the approximate air quality of key cities in the UK – as we’ll see, while the recommended limit for healthy air is 10, many UK cities surpass this.

By combining this data, we can form a pretty good picture of the general cleanliness of a city. However, for some areas, we have limited data coverage, and the cleanliness of these cities remains unclear. This is the case for both Birmingham and Leeds, and with air pollution standing at 10 and 8 respectively in these huge municipalities, it’s safe to assume they are contenders for this list. As a result, we will consider them as not-so honourable mentions.


Top 15 Dirtiest Cities In The UK

Without further ado, here’s a list of the the 15 dirtiest cities in the UK.


15. Ipswich

Situated in the very south-east of East Anglia, Ipswich is one of the UK’s oldest towns, having been settled by both Romans and Anglo-Saxons. It is surrounded by beautiful Suffolk countryside, and while the Ipswich waterfront has long been a hub of trading activity, the city has seen a recent downturn over the past century, being overtaken by bigger and more advanced economies.

The air quality around Ipswich comes in at 9, just barely under the WHO’s recommended limit. As for fly tipping and derelict homes, the seaside city has 4 illegal dumping incidents and 6 abandoned buildings per 10,000 citizens. However, what really makes Ipswich worthy of this list is the frequency that common house problems are googled, with almost 8000 searches every year.


14. Kingston upon Hull

A bustling port city in the East of England, Kingston upon Hull is located on the northern bank of the Humber, and is home to a multitude of docks, ferry stations and wharfs. The city boasts a rich maritime heritage, from the towering bridge linking the city to the Humber’s southern bank, to iconic coastal features such as Hull’s Waterside & Marina, and the huge aquarium known as The Deep.

Reflecting its industrial nature, the air quality of Hull comes in at a whopping 14, one of the highest readings on this list, which no doubt causes serious damage to the surrounding waterways and wildlife. Derelict homes are common, with 9 per 10,000 residents, whereas illegal dumping is also rife, at a rate of 11 incidents per 10,000 inhabitants. Common house cleaning problems are an additional issue, with almost 13,000 google searches annually.


13. Oxford

Renowned across the world for its prestigious university, Oxford also has a storied history. It housed the court of King Charles I during the English Civil War, and underwent an industrial boom during subsequent years. While Oxford’s presence on this list may surprise you, due to the very green and archaic appearance of the city, the continued growth of its printing and car manufacturing industries have contributed to the increasing cleanliness problems in the historical centre.

Oxford’s air quality records at an average of 10, meeting the WHO’s advised limit. The frequency of fly tipping and abandoned homes in the city are both rather low, coming in at just 1 for every 10,000 citizens. A far more pressing concern, however, is the number of google searches for common house cleaning problems, averaging out at an annual rate of 702 searches per 10,000 residents.    


12. Watford

Starting life as a small market town, Watford can be found in the county of Hertfordshire, and is home to several historical breweries, as well as papermaking and printing industries – many of which have since declined. Being just a short journey from the outskirts of London, it has benefited greatly from its proximity to the capital, but has also suffered unintended side effects, such as increased pollution and dirt.

Watford has an air quality of 9, which may not seem so bad, but other aspects give the city a worse outlook. Dirty and abandoned properties are a common sight, at 4 per 10,000 residents, while fly tipping has risen to 7 incidents per 10,000 inhabitants. Digital activity also suggests cleaning is a major issue, with almost 7,000 google searches over a year in the relatively small city.


11. Bournemouth

Sitting on the UK’s southern coast, many flock to Bournemouth’s beaches in the summer months to kick back and relax on the sand. It was an especially popular spot during the COVID-19 lockdowns, with half a million people descending on the beach at some points. Combined with a thriving nightclub scene, the increased footfall from tourism is vital to Bournemouth’s economy, but the city’s continued problems with cleanliness is playing havoc with the industry.

The air quality in Bournemouth is above the recommended limit, clocking in at an average of 11, whereas the city has a higher rate of derelict buildings than most others, at 16 per 10,000 residents. These are key problems, and google data also suggests that residents are struggling with common cleanliness issues, with almost 13,000 searches on the topic every year.


10. Bristol

A major port in Southwest England, the city of Bristol was key to the exploration of the new world, with multiple British expeditions departing from the historical harbour. In recent times, however, the docks have stagnated compared to bigger and faster growing commercial ports, and the economy of Bristol has pivoted to industries such as electronics, media, and even aerospace.

As one of the most populous cities in the UK, Bristol faces key challenges to keep the metropolis clean. Air quality is recorded at an average of 10, meeting but not surpassing the WHO’s limit. As for illegal dumping and derelict properties, Bristol suffers 4 incidents and 1 abandoned structure respectively for every 10,000 citizens. The real problem is the sheer volume of googled cleaning problems, with a whopping 37,000 searches every year, one of the highest rates in the UK.


9. Bolton

From the iconic Bolton Stadium to the nearby hill of Rivington Pike, the Bolton area contains a wide swathe of smaller towns, rivers, and reservoirs. Boasting a long-standing tradition for weaving, Bolton rose to prominence with a booming textiles industry, giving a home to hundreds of cotton mills and dyeworks at the city’s height. However, this declined sharply in the 1900s and the city was forced to make investments into other industries and trades.

Bolton’s air quality is recorded at an average of 10, just staying under the recommended limit. A more serious problem is the prevalence of fly tipping, with 19 illegal dumpings per 10,000 people, much worse than the city’s derelict buildings (4 homes per 10,000 inhabitants). Google searches for common cleaning problems remain steady, approaching 14,000 searches annually.


8. Cambridge

Another renowned university city, Cambridge lives up to its educational prestige in the industries and businesses that are based there. The presence of bioscience companies like Astrazeneca, and key software and technology firms across Cambridge Science Park – as well as a thriving community of start-ups – all point to a healthy and sophisticated economy. It is rather unfortunate that a city on the cutting edge of medical research could have such problems with cleanliness.

Cambridge has one of the poorest air qualities on this list, coming in at an average of 13. If that wasn’t enough, the city also suffers from 7 fly tipping incidents and derelict structures per 10,000 citizens. By far the most alarming stat is that Cambridge receives over 900 google searches for common cleaning problems per 10,000 population. This means that, over the course of a year, almost 1 in 10 Cambridge residents will search for solutions to their home cleanliness troubles.


7. Manchester

One of the most populous cities in the UK, Manchester’s population now clocks in at over 550,000. With a rich industrial and scientific pedigree,   Manchester expanded very quickly during the 19th century, and became the world’s very first industrialised city soon after. From this, it has only continued to grow and develop, becoming a massive urban sprawl filled with a diverse array of cultures, industries, communities, academies, and districts.

As might be expected, this urban expanse has proven difficult to maintain. Manchester possesses a poor air quality score of 13, and has serious problems with illegal dumping, racking up 41 incidents per 10,000 residents. Despite this, abandoned buildings are rarer, owing possibly to the increasing demand for housing in the city. Digital searches for common cleaning problems remain high, with an enormous 42,000 enquiries logged.


6. Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent, located in Staffordshire, is the principal home of the UK’s pottery industry, but also features key industrial and logistics centres. Otherwise known as the city of six towns, Stoke is surrounded by a collection of smaller settlements. In this way, it is more of an amalgamation of these towns rather than a standalone city, which might explain some of the problems the municipality has with cleanliness.

The air quality of Stoke hovers around 12, which is substantially above the recommended limit of 10. On top of this, the city has a serious problem with illegal dumping, with a worrying 125 incidents per 10,000 residents, compared to only 10 derelict homes per 10,000. In addition, online activity surrounding cleaning problems are on par with many other dirty cities, with approximately 12,000 google searches annually.


5. Liverpool

Perhaps the largest coastal city in the UK, Liverpool rests primarily on the river Mersey, and is one of the cultural and economic hubs of the Northwest. It is famous for being the home of iconic English rock group The Beatles, and their famed music venue The Cavern Club. Beyond that, the city has many draws, including the Royal Albert Docks, Concert Square, Bold Street, and Liverpool One, amongst others. Consequently, it is disheartening to see the city become so unkempt.

To begin with, Liverpool’s air quality reflects the scores of many of the UK’s other metropolises, coming in at 12. Like Stoke, it has a real problem with fly tipping, with 116 recorded incidents per 10,000 citizens, while abandoned/derelict buildings average at 23 per 10,000 residents. As is the case with larger cities, there is a considerable uptick of over 33,000 google searches every year seeking solutions to common household cleaning issues.


4. Newcastle upon Tyne

Another behemoth city, Newcastle upon Tyne is renowned for a variety of reasons, from the distinct ‘Geordie’ accent to the city’s highly popular nightlife. Of course, the city has a deep industrial history as well, with key industries ranging from shipbuilding and manufacturing to coal mining and munitions. Today, Newcastle is a bustling metropolis, with a broad range of corporate, retail, and hospitality venues contributing to its economy.

Newcastle’s air quality comes in just above the recommended limit at 11. It has a key problem in the amount of litter and illegal dumping occurring, with 147 instances per 10,000 inhabitants, contrasting with only 4 dirty properties per 10,000 residents. As for google searches, the city sees over 19,000 queries concerning common cleaning problems.


3. Leicester

Boasting a population of over 300,000, Leicester is the largest city in the East Midlands and one of the oldest cities in the UK. It has a deep commercial and industrial heritage, especially in the textile industry, and to this day such renowned companies like Next, Shoezone, and ASOS have key sites in the area. Despite Leicester’s status as a treasured historical city, it faces key problems with cleanliness, which must be tackled to maintain the city’s prestige.

The air quality of Leicester comes in at a high 12, meaning there’s plenty of room for that to be improved. The city suffers from 6 dirty and derelict properties and 175 fly tipping incidents per 10,000 residents. Online activity regarding common cleaning problems remains in line with many other dirty cities, with over 24,000 searches annually.


2. Blackpool

An iconic seaside resort, Blackpool has served as a holiday destination for over a century, providing amusement and entertainment for millions of Brits. From Blackpool Tower soaring above the town centre, to the lengthy promenade stretching from North to South (and the three distinct piers that call it home), to the famed Blackpool Pleasure Beach – the town boasts endless amenities and a busy nightlife.

With such appeal, the town has struggled to keep up with tourist footfall, and has declined in recent years. Blackpool’s air quality stands at a modest average of 10, perhaps owing to the seaside air. Illegal dumping and derelict properties are a more serious problem, however, with 188 incidents and 13 buildings in disrepair for every 10,000 citizens. Google searches are also prevalent, with over 6000 enquiries surrounding common cleaning solutions every year.


1. Plymouth

A key portside town in the south of England, Plymouth has long been an important commercial hub and base for the Royal Navy. It was from Plymouth that the navy’s ships sailed, intercepted, and defeated the Spanish Armada before it reached England in 1588, saving the kingdom from certain invasion. To this day, the city’s economy still heavily leans on seafaring and shipbuilding, with HMNB Devonport remaining the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.

Plymouth’s air quality is middle of the road, recorded at an average of 12, but where the city really runs into trouble is the epidemic of fly tipping that has plagued the area, with a whopping 410 instances per 10,000 people. This shocking stat is only further compounded by the high rates of derelict housing (13 per 10,000 citizens), and digital activity on cleanliness (over 11,000 searches), affirming Plymouth as the dirtiest city in the UK.