5Are Roombas & robot vacuums in general worth it?
When they first came out, robotic vacuums were an easy technology to say “no” to. They were expensive and not much more convenient than vacuuming yourself.
But has the technology improved enough to make them worth buying today?
|3 Reasons a Roomba Robot Vacuum is Worth It||3 Reasons a Roomba Robot Vacuum is NOT Worth It|
|Roombas have great navigation and clean very well||Robot vacuums can be expensive|
|Excellent battery life and autonomy||You will still need a handheld vacuum|
|Mobile apps with lots of control features||Robot vacuums come with privacy concerns|
The answer is a firm yes. Before explaining how they’ve improved, it might help to know what problems the early robovacuums had, since this can help you to spot a capable product from a less capable one.
Early robot vacuums and their major problems
Robotic vacuums seemed great at first. The first robotic vacuum cleaner – Electrolux’s aptly named Trilobite – debuted in 1996, but ultimately failed to take off in the consumer market.
In contrast, iRobot’s iconic Roomba vacuum cleaner got off to a good start when it was released in 2002. And from there, dozens of other companies created their own version of the handy household gadget.
The concept became more popular after 2002, and consumers flocked to the technology because it promised to take care of one of the most mundane household tasks.
The intelligent little robot slowly but surely makes its way through your home, doing its best to pick up dust, dirt and pet hair along the way.
Early robot vacuums offered hands-free cleaning, except the owner sometimes had to empty the robot’s trash cans. Heck, they’d even automatically return to their dock to recharge once the cleaning was done.
Early robovacuums came with a feature that allowed user to manually program robots to run on a set schedule to keep the floors in a home clean.
And if there was an area you didn’t want them hanging around in (like near your pet’s food bowls), some even came with two “border fences” that would prevent the robot from cleaning certain areas.
But let’s be honest here.
Yes, the early vacuum models could clean floors, but did they really do a good job? Older robot vacuums had a clumsy cleaning style, casually hitting your walls, couch, dining table, knick-knacks, bar cart, feet, and anything else it found without much thought.
Sometimes this even resulted in things being knocked down from tables, ultimately creating a bigger mess.
Early robovacuums also lacked a predictable cleaning pattern, and simply wandered around your house for an hour or so.
Because of this, they often let unvacuumed patches around the house – a complaint you’ll likely hear from anyone who owns or has owned an older robot vacuum.
Early robots often got stuck in corners, under furniture or occasionally did a Jeronimo from the top of the stairs.
And although they promised to return to their dock when they were done cleaning, they often couldn’t find it and couldn’t recharge. You would have to find and return the robot to the charging station yourself.
Even worse, the trash bins on these older robot vacuums were small and filled up instantly. You’d empty it and then see the “empty me” symbol flashing furiously moments later.
Early models trapped hair in the brushes, and you’d have to use scissors and who knows what else trying to get it all out. What if you had pets? What a nightmare.
Overall, early models were not exactly the luxurious no-touch experience we were promised.
Finally, since you no longer had to pull out your bulky vacuum cleaner, you gave up a lot of control over the quality of the cleanup.
Overall, early versions of robot vacuums did a so-so job at cleaning floors, while navigation and control was (mostly) non-existent.
You were even limited to a single group of zoning strips. Sure, your floors would technically be vacuumed, and most (but not all) pet hair, dirt and debris would be cleaned up.
These little smart vacuums were undeniably a big step forward in technology, but they left a lot to be desired.
3 reasons a Roomba Robot Vacuum is worth it
Like with all new technologies, the early versions didn’t really work that well. Sure, you could expect a basic, older robot vacuum cleaner to more or less do what it was supposed to.
However, robot vacuums have been around for a while. Performance and navigation should be better now, right? And modern robovacuums should come with more functionality.
So, has it happened? Have today’s robot vacuums gotten any better?
In short, yes! Today’s robotic vacuums offer significantly improved and refined performance, have many new creative and really useful features, and even have mobile apps that give you even more functionality and remote control. They are also smaller and thinner, while not sacrificing power.
1. Roombas have great navigation and clean well
Overall, cleaning and navigation are the areas that have seen the biggest (and most welcome) improvements.
The newest vacuums have much-improved brushes that make them cleaners to be reckoned with on any surface, from uneven stones floors to soft carpets. They are also vastly better at vacuuming up pet hair.
Overall, newer models can clean more, navigate around thick carpets or obstacles and generally avoid getting stuck. What a relief!
In terms of navigation, instead of the tedious bump-and-knock method, the new vacuums use much more advanced navigation techniques such as LiDAR (light detection and ranging), lasers, cameras, algorithms and smart maps (or smart zoning) to provide a basis for creating the floor plan layout of your home.
This helps the robot know where static objects like walls, furniture and stairs are located. On top of that, they’re much better at detecting where dynamic obstacles are, such as toys, pets or yourself.
2. Excellent battery life and autonomy
Many newer robot vacuums have excellent battery life, exceeding 90 minutes per charge, with some even going as high as 120 minutes. In short, you don’t have to worry about the battery power if your home has a lot of square footage,
Many robots automatically return to their recharging station if the battery runs out before the cleaning is complete; once charged, they’ll return to the exact spot they left off and continue cleaning the rest of your home.
Some even have the ability to automatically empty their trash into a larger bin in their dock when charging. While this is usually available as an expensive add-on, it is a total game changer.
This way, they are always ready for a deep clean and you don’t have to run after them to empty the garbage can. It’s a huge improvement to a robo-vacuum’s ease of use and solves a huge annoyance since a robotic vacuum that can empty itself can 100% vacuum an entire home.
3. Mobile apps with lots of control features
One of the best features of the new robot vacuums are the accompanying mobile apps, which unlock even more features and functionality.
While each company’s app varies a bit in the way it works, they all offer roughly the same features.
Most allow you to set virtual boundaries and no-go zones that allow you to divide your home into rooms or zones, and even tell the vacuum a specific area to avoid, such as the bundle of cords under your home office desk.
With some models, you’re even able to tell the robot to vacuum a specific room or area with voice commands; for example: “Hey Google, ask Roomba to vacuum the living room.”
In fact, it’s all this hands-off functionality that makes robot vacuums so appealing and worthwhile.
All you’ll have to do is take a moment to set the schedule, empty the trash bin every so often and make sure your pets and kids are out of the way and that’s it. What’s not to love?
3 reasons a Roomba Robot Vacuum is NOT worth it
Like any other technology, there are a few drawbacks to robot vacuums that you should be aware of before buying.
1. Robot vacuums can be expensive
The first thing everyone probably thinks of is the price of a robot vacuum.
Yes, it’s true that they are more expensive than traditional vacuums, but there are also a wide variety of budget robovacuums that can do most of the stuff the high-end versions are capable of.
That said, the prices of high-end models can go well beyond the top end for even the best traditional vacuum cleaners, as they often include more high-end technology and an excellent selection of useful features.
In the end, it all comes down to what needs you have, and what feature set you’re looking for. You get what you pay for.
We’ve found the sweet spot to be between $350 and $700; which offers you the most features, such as excellent navigation, battery life, mobile app features, and hybrid functionality, without blowing your budget.
2. You will still need a handheld vacuum
It’s also worth noting that you might still need a handheld or small vacuum to clean stairs or other areas that your robot vacuum may miss.
It’s also possible that your robovacuum will make a bigger mess if it also encounters poop or pee that your pet has left in the house, although newer models can use AI to detect and prevent such a mess.
And of course, you don’t really use a robot vacuum cleaner to clean your car or between the cushions of your sofa.
3. Robot vacuums come with privacy concerns
Another concern is privacy. Since some newer models use cameras to map the layout of your home and connect to the Internet, it’s understandable to wonder if the data collected by your robot vacuum (such as the layout and contents of your home) is collected along with the dust and dirt.
Many companies have configured vacuums to store as much data as possible locally on the vacuum itself and to minimize what is sent to their online server.
However, robovacuums with companion apps don’t offer much additional security. You won’t see two-factor authentication here, but hopefully these companies will add it soon.
Some vacuums can still collect simpler metadata, such as how often you use your vacuum when you use it and the square footage of your home. And like any other Internet-connected device, there is always the possibility that it could be hacked by anyone who get some dirt on you (pun intended).
The easiest solution in this case is of course not to choose a vacuum cleaner that requires connectivity.
This is the right choice if you are worried about hackers or companies getting access to your data. You’ll miss some of those useful connected features, but your privacy will be safe.
If you want a connected vacuum cleaner, choose one from a reputable brand, like iRobot, Samsung or Ecovacs.
These companies have the resources to properly ensure and manage data privacy; they’re more likely to use encryption and release regular software updates to protect your vacuum, the app and your data.
And hey, if you want to be extra cautious you can blind your robot vacuum with a DIY lens cap when not in use.
Should you buy a robot vacuum cleaner?
Today’s robot vacuums are way more powerful and feature-rich than they were a decade ago, and we strongly believe it’s worth buying one for the home.
Their navigation and performance are vastly improved, and some can even empty their trash cans or wipe your floors. They’re very capable of quickly vacuuming up the house, one of life’s least exciting tasks so it’s hard to argue with that.
There are great robot vacuum options for every budget and range of functions. Whether you live in a small apartment in New York City or on a sprawling estate, you can easily find a robot vacuum perfect for your home’s cleaning needs.
While some high-end models can be quite expensive, there is a wide selection available to you and we can’t recommend them enough.
Robot vacuums are complex devices that present themselves as all-rounders – but not every robot is suitable for every home.
Which robot vacuum should you buy?
Below are some tips to find the best robot vacuum that fits your needs:
Along with fine-grained sand, hair is one of the most difficult types of dirt for vacuum robot to remove. It often gets wedged in a corner, binds electrostatically to textiles and wraps itself around brush rollers.
There is no perfect solution to the problem yet, but there are many good approaches. Current Roombas use rubber rollers that prevent pet hair from wrapping around them.
However, the overall cleaning performance of the rubber rollers isn’t as good compared to real brushes.
On the other hand, powerful brushes sweep up a lot, but they must be cleaned and maintained to remove hair that gets entangled in the brush.
Some robots, on the other hand, rely on brushless vacuum nozzles – there’s no need to clean anything yourself and on hard floors this can work well, but are near useless for carpets since without a brush they can’t dislodge the dirt so it can be vacuumed up.
A vacuum robot is especially worthwhile in larger homes. After all, who wants to vacuum three rooms or more on a regular basis?
For anything larger than a one-room apartment, it’s best to get one of the more high-end robot vacuums, meaning $500 or more.
This is because only devices with sophisticated sensors (for example laser or camera) achieve complete coverage of large areas.
On the other hand, if the only thing you need to clean is a room or two, then robovacuums at the $200-400 price range offer sufficient features and power.
Complexity of the apartment
A complex home makes life difficult for the robot. The more doorsteps, chairs, corners, cables and furniture you have, the more likely it is that the robot will get lost or stuck and require you to manually unstuck the robot.
In addition, complex floor plans significantly increase cleaning time. What can then happen is that the robovacuum has to return to the station for battery recharge.
Depending on how complex your home is, it’s very possible your house might not be suitable for a cleaning robot.
Climbing suction robots
Some robots can climb heights that can be 1 inch (2.5cm) high and more. This is great if your apartment is full of doorsteps, but it can also lead to problems.
For example, the robot might think it can climb scales, shoes and stuff and push them up against the wall.
In these sort of situations, you’ll need robovacuums that allow you to create “no-go zones” which will protect various objects from being moved around by the robot.
Height of the robot
It’s annoying, but necessary: Measure the height of your furniture and check whether the robot of your choice could get stuck under it, or not get under it at all.
Remember that furniture can bend or break, so measure in as many places as possible.
Corners: the big weakness of robot vacuums
There’s only one device that will clean neatly in a corner: a rag. But even compared to a traditional vacuum cleaner, a robot vacuum does a pretty bad job at vacuuming corners.
A side brush can help to whirl up dust balls and sweep them under the main nozzle. However, no robot will be able to completely remove all the dirt there. Even the best robot vacuums, such as the iRobot Roomba s9+, struggle a lot at cleaning corners.
The mopping feature isn’t that good
Many robovacuums come with a mopping function, where you attach a damp moth to the underside of the robot and let it wipe your floors.
While not quite useless, this feature is closer to a gimmick than a real utility. Even pure mopping robots offer little added value compared to a vacuuming robot, but require much more cleaning effort.
Maybe something will change in the next few years, but so far you should rather invest in a comfortable damp mop, steam mop and continue to do it yourself if you want the floor to shine.
A newer feature of modern robot vacuums is that they can store multiple floor plans. With a saved floor plan, a robot can usually vacuum through the entire floor faster than if it had to find its way around each it cleans. This is especially handy for multiple floors.
No-go zones and virtual walls
Older, more primitive models of robovacuums still come bundled up with accessories that allow you to cordon off feeding bowls, individual rooms or other places where the robot is not allowed to clean.
This usually includes magnetic strips that the device recognizes when it drives over them, or battery-powered light barriers.
Newer, more modern models make this no longer necessary. Trough advanced software, lidar, lasers and internal positioning features you can tell a robot vacuum which places are ok to clean, and which are no-go zones.
Many mid-priced and even some inexpensive models let you designate or block zones, or draw lines that the robot is never allowed to cross.
Laser or camera?
There are currently two popular and reliable navigation types, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.
One type is the laser tower: at the top of the robot there is a small tower under which there is a laser for distance measurement.
This allows the robot to very accurately detect the distance to obstacles and navigate reliably around them. However, these robots are a bit taller, so they’ll struggle going under some types of furniture such as couches or some types of bed.
On top of that, reflective surfaces – such as a refrigerator with a stainless steel front – can confuse the navigation laser.
The alternative navigation system uses a front-facing camera.
Camera based navigations rely on “landmarks” such as pictures or shelves to orient themselves. The more landmarks in the field of vision, the better the robot navigates.
Poor lighting conditions rarely cause the robot to stop working completely, but it does become noticeably less accurate and more often travels over the same places several times.
Some more expensive robot vacuums now offer a combination of both sensors.
Obstacles: Lego bricks, cables and other things
Robovacuums don’t work if you have lots of small objects scattered on the floor, such as socks, Lego bricks, plastic wrapping etc.
When a robot sucks up junk like this it will get tangled in the brush or clog up the vacuum nozzle.
Lego bricks or smaller plastic toys are particularly terrifying. At best, the robot ignores them or chokes on them and stops working. In the worst case, a brick gets stuck in the brush and the robot drags a sharp plastic corner across your wooden flooring.
Washable filters & replaceable parts
Certain components in your robot vacuum will wear out sooner or later. That’s why it’s important it can be maintained as easily as possible.
First and foremost, the filters: with many models, you have to replace or wash them out regularly.
At some point though, even this method won’t help and a filter will need to be replaced, otherwise the robot’s vacuuming performance will drop so much it won’t be able to properly scoop up dirt.
Washable filters are even better, as they last much longer. In any case, however, you should make sure that you can buy additional filters for your model. The main brush, side brush and battery should also be available separately and be replaceable.
Every robot has stair or drop sensors that prevent it from making an unplanned floor change.
Usually, these sensors work very well and tend to be set to be overly cautious. However, the sensors are usually placed in the front of the robot.
If your robot ever has to travel long distances backwards because it got lost between chair legs or something, then you need to make sure the pathing is setup safely enough so the robot won’t fall from the top of the stairs, or that there’s some sort of cushioning if it does.
Charging station should be free standing
Almost all robots have a charging station. Ideally, it would be nice if you could place it somewhere out of sight, such as under the couch, bed or behind the door.
However, almost all instructions recommend at least one meter of free space to each side of the charging station so the robot has room to maneuver when docking or leaving the station.
It’s possible though that a shorter robot will still work even under a piece of furniture. As a precaution, though, be prepared for the fact that your robot could become invisible and forgotten somewhere around the house.
Best combination: robovacuum and cordless vacuum cleaner
As good as robot vacuums are, they won’t be able to properly clean every nook and cranny of your house. As such, you’ll still need a handheld vacuum of some sort to clean the places the robovacuum can’t reach.
After a lot of tests, we’ve come to the conclusion that vacuum robots and cordless vacuums make an excellent pair.
A good robot vacuum cleaner can already work wonders on hard floors and carpets, doing most of the work in your home without you having to do follow-up cleaning.
The exceptions are the spots behind open doors, under very flat furniture and other barely accessible areas.
This is where a cordless vacuum is perfect: you can quickly carry it to the problem area, it takes care of dust balls instantly, empties in a flash, and doesn’t need to be plugged in or unplugged. And the strength of cordless vacuums – thick carpets – perfectly complements this weakness in robots.
The downer of the Dream Team is only the price: For a recommendable device combination, such as Bosch Zooo ProAnimal and Roborock S5 Max, you pay around 600 dollars. But then you’ll really have an easy time cleaning up the house with minimal effort.
Which is the best vacuum robot?
The best vacuum robot in the test is the Ecovacs Deebot T9+ for around 800 dollars. It is a very good all-rounder that reliably vacuums and mops many rooms, is easy to operate and has a good dust pickup.
Which vacuum robot for dog hair?
A perfect vacuum robot for hair does not yet exist. Rubber rollers like on current Roomba and Roborock models are a good compromise. Strong against hair would also be the Roomba 681, but on that model hair easily wraps around the brush. If you only have hard floors, a strong-suction model without a roller could also be worthwhile.
How much do robotic vacuum cleaners cost?
Robot vacuums are available for as little as 100 dollars and can cost well over 1,000 dollars- depending on the equipment, vacuum power and range of features. Recommendable vacuum robots for one-room apartments are available for under 150 dollars. For larger apartments, you should pay at least 300 dollars. The best robotic vacuum, the Ecovacs Deebot T9+ usually sells for around 800 dollars.
Which robot vacuum cleaner is quiet?
Inexpensive vacuum robots are often quieter. Here, the suction motor is weaker, which makes the robot lighter, meaning it needs less power. Some particularly quiet robots: Ecovacs Deebot 710, Eufy RoboVac L70 Hybrid, iLife A8 and Rowenta RR6927.