First look: iRobot Scooba 390

Automated floor mopping sounds great, but can the iRobot Scooba 390 really take over this chore?
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01.iRobot Scooba 390

The iRobot Scooba 390

Price: $989


2 stars out of 5

Robot vacuum cleaners are an increasingly popular solution to floor cleaning, although our tests show they actually aren't much good at cleaning carpet. But what about floor washing?

The iRobot Scooba claims to be the automated answer to that question. It has a rotating brush and a tank of water and cleaning solution, and a built-in squeegee/vacuum to suck up the dirty water (into a separate tank, so the used water doesn't go back onto the floor). It works on tiles, linoleum and sealed hardwood, and like its Roomba vacuum-cleaning cousin, it automatically avoids stairs and drop-offs. It’s even claimed to remove up to 98% of common bacteria from floors. It’s not completely sentient, of course; you need to remove any clutter, large debris and rugs from the area to be cleaned.

Ease of use

The Scooba is easy to use. Charge it, fill the cleaning tank with water and the supplied cleaning solution, turn it on and press the “clean” button. Afterwards, empty the dirty water, rinse the tanks, and clean the filter, vacuum port, cleaning head and brush. It’s fairly noisy when running (70-74dB, about the same as a typical vacuum cleaner).


The Scooba is supposed to pick up dust and grit as well as scrub the floor, so that you don’t need to pre-vacuum. We put this to the test by sprinkling a modest amount of sand over a moderately dirty linoleum floor and letting it go to work. While the Scooba did a decent job of scrubbing the lino – a paper towel wiped over the floor came up clean afterwards, and the water from the dirty water tank was almost black – it was hopeless at picking up the sand. It only collected 30% of the grit and smeared the rest around the floor, leaving wet sandy patches, mainly around the edges and corners. The floor remained wet for about 90 minutes after the test and looked very untidy.

CHOICE verdict

While the iRobot Scooba is easy to use and can clean a dirty floor fairly well, for a proper clean you'll need to first sweep or vacuum any grit or loose dirt. Used regularly it can keep a hard floor reasonably clean.

If you have a lot of hard flooring that regularly gets grubby but not gritty, the Scooba could be a timesaver for you. However, given its price and limitations, we aren't convinced it’s a worthwhile buy for most households.



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