Few cleaning products have sparked as much interest as the robot vacuum. After all, it is the dream of any time-poor person to be able to sit down and relax while an artificially intelligent device cleans the house.
Robot vacs have become very popular in the past few years and many people swear by them. Some owners even name their robots or dress them up in custom coverings or teach their pets to ride them. They're pretty easy to use, and the novelty appeal is undeniable – but are they good enough to replace your regular barrel or bag vac?
Unfortunately, despite sophisticated technology – navigation software, stair detection, cameras to detect dirt – robot vacuum cleaners are still comparatively poor at the most common job of a vacuum cleaner: removing dirt from carpet. They simply can't generate the suction of a standard vacuum. They can leave the carpet looking clean, but below the surface a lot of dirt is left behind – and, over time, that can damage the pile. This means that for most homes, we can't recommend any robot vacuum as a replacement for your trusty drag-around model.
In our tests, we've found they can pick up a reasonable amount of fluff (such as pet hair) along with some dirt, but also seem to push the remaining dirt even deeper into the carpet pile. Most consumers have no way of measuring the amount of dirt actually in their carpet (which is vacuum performance across all kinds of vacs), so when you see the fluff and dirt in the robot's bin, and the superficially clean carpet, it looks like the robot vacuum cleaner does a much better job than is actually the case.
Most of the models we've tested are very good at cleaning hard floors – albeit not always in the corners and edges – and pet-hair pickup looks to be (slowly) improving, too. For a house with mostly hard floors, most of the tested robot vacuum cleaners will do a reasonable job of keeping the floors clean when run on a daily basis, though a more thorough cleaning with a standard vacuum (or a broom) will still be needed occasionally. In a home with carpeted floors, a robot vac is fine for a purely-cosmetic tidy-up, but the carpet will need a regular going-over with a standard vac to get most of the actual dirt out.
Looking for the best Robot Vacuum? Consider Some Features:
This feature, now standard across almost all models, helps the robot sense when it has reached a ledge or step so it can back off and avoid a damaging tumble.
An accessory used to create an invisible barrier, for blocking off open doorways or other areas you don't want the robot to enter.
This handy function will allow you to set times of the day or week to run the robot - for instance, you could set it to run only while you're away at work.
When the battery charge is low the robot finds its way back to the charger and docks automatically. All the tested models do this.
The robots are generally quieter than standard vacs, but some have an annoying high-pitched whistle and others make a mechanical grinding noise. This may be less important if the robot mainly runs while you're out of the house, but these two sounds may be loud enough to annoy neighbours or pets.
Most models come with a remote control to direct the vacuum around the room. But the question has to be asked, if you need to be there to direct the robot around the room, would it not be better for you to get up off the couch and clean with a normal vacuum cleaner?