So, you want a robot that cleans your house? Maybe you just aren’t sure what makes a good robot a good robot. You’ve come to the right place!
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the key things to look for. Not all robots are created equal.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Factors to Consider
The following are some of the key factors I’ve identified over the years. I’ve purchased dozens of robots over the years and – in hindsight – these are the important factors I look for:
1) Maintenance Requirements
Part of the reason we buy robot vacuums is to save time. Right?
The thing is, robot vacuums still require some regular maintenance. The newer the robot, the less maintenance is generally requirement. Certain improvements in technology (filtration, extractors, etc…) lessen the load as well as improvements like automatic re-charging (return to base) have greatly reduced the amount of physical human contact required.
However, even the latest robots do need some attention now and again. They still need to be emptied when the bin is full and filters, batter packs (and other small parts) do need to be replaced over time The point I’m trying to make is that you need to be reasonable with your expectations.
Keep in mind the market for replacement parts. Established brands like iRobot and Neato have a strong secondary market (more so for iRobot). You don’t need to send your robot back to the manufacturer. It’s usually as simple as purchasing the part online and watching a video/following written instructions on how to replace.
2) Auto-Scheduling Features
For some robot vacuums it’s as easy as pushing “start” and letting it work it’s magic. However, for more advanced users, many of the more robust robots offer auto-scheduling features.
Once you set your robot’s schedule (daily, weekly, ever other day, etc…) and input the specific time to start, it will automatically run. This is ideal if you don’t have the time and/or are out of the house during the day.
3) Battery Charge and Power Requirements
Robots run on batteries. Batteries need to be re-charged. Because of this, it’s an important place to look to judge the quality of a robot vacuum.
Any decent robot will have a minimum run-time of about 60 minutes, after which it will need to return to base (or be manually returned to base by the owner). Here’s how I categorize it:
- <60 minutes = generally unacceptable
- 60 minutes = lower end, budget models
- 60-80 minutes = average cycle, mid-range
- 80-90+ minutes = high end, top of the line
More recent robots ALSO have the ability to automatically “return to the charging base” when the battery is low. The latest robots can even return to base, recharge, and resume right where they left off. So, this is generally the hierarchy:
- Robots that run until they die and need to be manually placed on their charging base
- Robots that can detect a low battery and will return to to base automatically, but will have to start over cleaning
- Robots that can detect a low battery, return to base, AND auto-resume where they left off.
As with everything, the higher-end (generally newer) robots will have BOTH longer battery life and return to base functionality. As you move down the value chain, things start to change.
4) Cleaning Performance
This is an obvious one and perhaps the most important feature. In short, how well does the robot actually clean?
At the high end, you have robots that come very close (if not matching) the cleaning power of a traditional vacuum operated by a human. At the higher end, you are looking at the Roomba 980, Botvac Connected, Botvac D80, Roomba 880, and Samsung PowerBot.
At the low end, you have robots that are meant for light maintenance cleaning. You will probably still have to do a traditional vacuuming run once in a while, so don’t throw out your old vacuum just yet. The Bissell SmartClean or the Neato XV-21 is a good example of this.
At the mid range, you have robots that are capable of offering a great clean, but sometimes struggle with particular surfaces or corners, when compared to upright vacuums. A good example, the Roomba 770 (full review).
The most important thing is to be clear about your own objectives. Don’t just think about the sticker price, think about your time “saved” not vacuuming.
Sometimes it makes sense to squeeze the budget a bit further in this context.
5) Dust Bin Size
Unfortunately, dust bins still need to be emptied by humans. They haven’t yet figured out a way to cost-effectively build a self-emptying robot vacuum. It’s definitely a pipe dream of mine…
As such, you’ll want to look at how larger a particular robot’s bin is before you buy. For smaller houses and apartments, or houses with minimal dirt/dander, you may not need to empty after every cycle. I personally find that it takes about 3-4 full cycles of my 1900 square foot house before I need to empty my Roomba 980, for example.
Don’t be discouraged necessarily by robots whose bins fill up quickly (but are still comparable to others). This is a sign that the little robot is probably more efficient at collecting dirt that it’s peers.
6) Size of House/Apartment
This brings us to size. Size matters!
The newer robots are generally better suited to larger homes due to longer battery life, automatic recharging, larger dust bins, and better navigation. For example, a Roomba 620 (full review) might be just fine for a 3 bedroom apartment, even if it’s cleaning pattern is less efficient. Whereas, that same robot might be found “dead” in between the guest bedroom and 3rd playroom of a McMansion.
Both the Neato (Botvac) and Roomba have a variety of boundary marking accessories that can also help a robot navigate larger areas. For the Roomba it’s “virtual wall lighthouses” and the Botvac has special boundary marking tape. In some cases you can leverage a mid-range robot (say a Roomba 770) by purchasing a few extra lighthouses to enable a more efficient cleaning pattern.
7) Wifi App Control
WiFi control is all the rage these days. The ability to control your robot from your smartphone app is a dream that has finally come true. As of now, the only two robots that offer app control are the Roomba 980 (see my review) and the Botvac Connected (full review).
The ability to control your robot from a different WiFi network means you have live updates, system monitoring and control at your fingertips.
Another workaround for older Roomba devices (500 and 600 series) is the Thinking Cleaner Faceplate (check it out). This is a simple attachable “plate” that makes your older robot into a “smart” robot with WiFi connectivity. Keep in mind, this is an after-market solution, not necessarily endorsed by iRobot. As of yet, there is nothing similar for older Neato’s.
8) Pricing Considerations
You CAN find robots for less than $300, but they are generally cheaper knock-offs of the real thing or designed for light cleaning maintenance (not deep cleans). The Bissell SmartClean is a good example of fitting in the latter category.
There’s always a trade-off in terms of value. The best deals are often for last year’s models. They are still modern enough to have many of the best (and latest) features, but are missing just a few of the cutting edge ones. Still, you can save a significant amount. The Roomba 870 is a good example of this kind of value.
What’s the Best Robot for You?
Still not sure?
Now that we’ve identified the important criteria, you can take my interactive quiz below to help narrow your search to a specific robot.