We review seven robot vacuum cleaners, priced between $199 and $1299.
Through our rigorous testing, we reveal which robot vacuum cleaners:
- perform the best at picking dirt off a hard floor, corners and edges
- remove the most dirt and pet hair from carpet, and
- are the least noisy.
On this page:
Can a robot vac replace my regular vacuum cleaner?
Few cleaning products have sparked as much interest as the robot vac. 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.
Some owners even name their robots or dress them up in custom coverings. Unfortunately, despite sophisticated technology – navigation software, stair detection, cameras to detect dirt, and the ability to find their own way back to their charging station – 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 cleaner.
Our test this year differs from our 2012 results in a number of ways, which means the results cannot be combined. However, you can still find some of the 2012 robot vacuum cleaners in some retailers.
For more information about vacuum cleaners, see Laundry and cleaning.
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Most robot vacuum cleaners will leave the carpet looking clean, even when there is actually still a fair bit of dirt left behind. We 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 deeper into the carpet pile. Most consumers have no way of measuring the amount of dirt actually in their carpet, so when seeing the fluff and dirt in the robot’s bin, and the superficially clean carpet, you’d be easily convinced that the robot vacuum cleaner does a much better job than is actually the case.
Nevertheless, robot vacuum cleaners can have their place. Most of the tested models are excellent at cleaning hard floors – albeit not always in the corners and edges – and one recommended is good at picking up pet hair 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. Even in a home with carpeted floors, a robot vacuum cleaner can at least keep the carpet looking clean, but the carpet will need regular going over with a standard vac to get most of the dirt out.
Robot vacuums are very easy to use and we didn’t score them for this. However some stopped once or twice during a cleaning cycle, possibly due to mistakenly thinking they had finished cleaning the area, and needed to be restarted manually.
Brands and models tested
- iRobot Roomba 630
LG Roboking VR5906LM
Samsung Navibot S SR8980
Neato Pet and Allergy Vacuum XV-21
Home Hero Robot Vacuum Cleaner M-688
Airflo Intelligence Robotic Cleaner AFV740
How we test
Dirt removal from hard floors and carpet Our tester, Peter Horvath, embeds sand evenly into a section of carpet and vacuums. The sand is weighed and recorded. With normal vacuums we pre-load the dust collector with dust, but robot vacs have a very small dirt receptacle capacity so we adapted the method by not pre-loading.
Cleaning corners and edges Sand is spread into a right-angled corner, and the robot vacuum cleaners are assessed to see how close to the corner each one is able to pick up dirt.
Pet hair removal Peter embeds cat hair into the carpet and, as with the dirt pick-up test, he allows the robot vacuum cleaner to perform for 15 minutes. He rates the results based on how much cat hair is left behind after the test.
Noise is measured at two metres. Even though most models produce similar sound readings, some emit a high-pitched whistle that can be irritating.
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