13 Highest-Paying Dirty Jobs (Could You Do Any of Them?)

Dirty jobs can actually come with impressive paychecks.

engineer under inspection and checking construction
Updated June 16, 2024
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Many people seek clean, comfortable environments when it comes to job preferences. But there's a group of hardworking individuals who tackle some of the dirtiest, toughest, and most challenging jobs out there.

These jobs might not always be glamorous, but they often come with surprisingly high paychecks that can rival or even surpass those of white-collar professions.

In this article, we'll explore the world of the highest-paying dirty jobs that most people shy away from but could help you get ahead financially.

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Oil rig operator

Parilov/Adobe industry operator use mobile tablet

These brave individuals endure the harsh conditions of offshore drilling platforms or remote land-based rigs to extract oil and natural gas. The pay is substantial but comes at a price.

Workers face long shifts, isolation from loved ones, and constant exposure to the elements. There's also the risk of accidents, fires, and equipment malfunctions.

The average oil rig operator salary in the U.S. is about $105,031.

Coal miner

Usmanify/Adobe coal mining

Working deep beneath the earth's surface, coal miners extract one of the world's most important sources of energy. Despite the physically demanding, dangerous, and often dirty conditions, coal miners can earn substantial incomes.

The allure of these earnings is balanced by the inherent risks, including cave-ins, respiratory issues from coal dust, and long hours in confined spaces. 

However, the role is integral to our energy infrastructure. The average coal miner's salary in the U.S. is $51,178.

Wastewater treatment operator

Zstock/Adobe engineers assessing waste treatment plant

Wastewater treatment operators are the unsung heroes of environmental protection. They are responsible for ensuring that sewage and wastewater are cleaned and purified before returning to the environment. 

This job involves handling raw sewage, working with complex machinery, and maintaining treatment systems that can be quite grimy. It's a high-paying dirty job that offers a sense of fulfillment in knowing you're contributing to a cleaner, healthier world.

The average wastewater treatment operator salary in the U.S. is about $58,119. Treatment operators on the higher end of the pay scale make close to $69,027.

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Kurhan/Adobe plumber

Plumbers might not be elbow-deep in literal dirt, but their work often leads to messy, grimy situations. Dealing with clogged drains, sewage backups, and burst pipes is their daily reality.

Still, their skills are vital and will earn them a pretty penny. The job isn't just dirty; it can also be physically demanding and challenging. 

Plumbers need to diagnose problems, work in tight spaces, and handle toxic materials. The average plumber's salary in the U.S. is about $64,810, but top plumbers can make over $81,626.

Crab fisherman

vintagepix/Adobe opilio crab caught in a trap

These brave souls venture into some of the world's most treacherous waters to haul in valuable crab catches. Battling icy, tumultuous seas, they endure sleepless nights and backbreaking labor.

The job is as grueling as it is rewarding, with a high average pay that can fluctuate significantly based on the success of the crab season. 

These workers often endure extreme isolation and dangerous conditions, all while working long hours in harsh weather. The average crab fisherman's salary in the U.S. is about $46,343.

Septic tank cleaner

Natalia/Adobe utility worker opened a well hatch

Septic tank cleaners tackle one of the dirtiest jobs imaginable. They maintain and clean septic systems, which treat and dispose of human waste. 

This job involves handling toxic waste materials, entering cramped, odorous spaces, being physically demanding, and often working in unpleasant weather conditions.

However, septic tank cleaners play a crucial role in public health by ensuring these systems function properly. This is one of the higher-paying dirty jobs. The average septic tank cleaner salary in the U.S. is about $43,569, while some make a little over $48,511.

Hazmat worker

nimito/Adobe team of virologists in hazmat suits

Hazmat workers deal with hazardous materials and substances that pose severe risks to human health and the environment. 

They are responsible for containment, cleanup, and disposal of dangerous materials such as chemicals, radioactive substances, or biological hazards.

This job requires wearing protective gear, including suits, masks, and gloves, to minimize exposure. The average hazmat worker salary in the U.S. is about $44,035.


Keitma/Adobe person rake leaves in autumn

Landscapers sculpt and maintain outdoor spaces, but it's not all about picturesque gardens and vibrant lawns. These professionals often grapple with dirt, mud, pesticides, and heavy machinery. Their hands-on work under the sun or in harsh weather conditions can be physically demanding and dirty.

Some seasoned landscapers have very high earning potential. While the job is far from glamorous, landscapers play a crucial role in beautifying our surroundings and ensuring that green spaces thrive.

The average landscaper salary in the U.S. is about $40,674, but top landscapers can earn about $80,000.


Zaleman/Adobe guy from the pest control service

Exterminators are professionals trained to eliminate pests like insects, rodents, and other unwanted creatures from homes, businesses, and public spaces. 

They often work in less-than-ideal conditions, crawling into tight spaces, handling toxic chemicals, and encountering creepy crawlies daily.

While it's a dirty job, it can pay pretty well. The demand for pest control services ensures job stability, making this profession attractive to those willing to tackle the less glamorous side of pest management. 

The average exterminator salary in the U.S. is about $44,797.

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Oil field service technician

Grispb/Adobe employee of oil refinery

If you're not afraid of hard work, harsh weather, and getting your hands dirty, a career as an oil field service technician might be for you. These technicians play a crucial role in maintaining and repairing the equipment used in oil drilling operations.

This job involves exposure to extreme weather conditions, heavy machinery, and often working in remote areas far from city comforts. Although, the compensation can be attractive.

The average oil field service technician's salary in the U.S. is about $58,750, with some making as much as $115,995.

Commercial diver

Maren Winter/Adobe commercial diver with scuba gear

For those with a sense of adventure and a love for the deep, a career as a commercial diver can be incredibly lucrative.

These professionals work underwater, performing tasks like underwater welding, inspecting underwater structures, and salvaging items from the depths.

The job requires specialized training and equipment, and it often means working in dark, cold, and sometimes hazardous conditions. However, the payoff can be worth it. The average commercial diver's salary in the U.S. is about $34,970.

Construction worker

tong2530/Adobe engineering inspected the structure

Construction workers are the backbone of the building industry, and their jobs are among the dirtiest and most physically demanding. 

They toil in all weather conditions, performing tasks like digging trenches, laying foundations, and erecting structures. Dust, debris, and heavy machinery are constant companions.

However, the potential for good pay is one of the main attractions. Skilled construction workers, especially those in specialized fields like welding or concrete work, can earn solid salaries. 

The average construction worker's salary in the U.S. is about $36,376, and welders can make over $50,000.

Sewer inspector

amorn/Adobe male plumber engineer

Sewer inspectors delve into the depths of underground sewer systems to ensure they function smoothly.

Their job involves navigating through tight and often unpleasant spaces, inspecting pipes for damage, blockages, or leaks, and conducting repairs when necessary.

However, sewer inspectors play a vital role in maintaining urban infrastructure and preventing health hazards. This dirty job rewards workers for their dedication to keeping our cities clean and safe. The average sewer inspector salary in the U.S. is about $48,758.

Bottom line

VR Studio/Adobe two officers wearing gas masks

Dirty jobs may not be everyone's first choice, but they provide essential services and can boost your bank account

For those willing to embrace the challenges and physical demands, these careers can provide financial stability and even the opportunity for advancement.

Are you considering a high-paying job or career? If so, consider the dirty jobs above for high earning potential.

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Author Details

Adam Palasciano

Adam Palasciano is a personal finance-obsessed and money-savvy individual who loves to hash out content on all things saving money. He specializes in writing millennial-friendly personal finance content, covering topics ranging from trending financial news, debt, credit cards, cryptocurrency, and more.