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How we test robot vacuums

Take a look behind the CHOICE lab doors to see how we test robot vacs

CHOICE tester Matthew Tung checking dust canister in a robot vacuum
Last updated: 12 June 2024

Robot vacs are popular and come with many features including self-cleaning capabilities, mapping and floor mopping. But they still need to make improvements in some areas, so you may not want to part with your regular mop and vacuum just yet.

The CHOICE labs put robot vacuums through their paces to see which ones are best at cleaning your floors, as well as being easy to set up and use.

Here, we'll tell you how we put robot vacs through their paces to give you the results that help you choose what to buy.

Our expert testers

Our test coordinators Matthew Tung and Adrian Lini are passionate about determining a product's technical performance. 

Matthew has worked at CHOICE since 2011, testing a wide range of products in the CHOICE labs from strollers to electric blankets, as well as stick vacuums. He also sits on Australian Standards committees. 

Adrian tests many small appliances including espresso machines, toasters and carpet shampooers.

How we choose what we test

With so many manufacturers jumping on the robot vacuum bandwagon, what makes us choose one robot vacuum to test over another? As with most of our product testing, our aim is to test the most popular models on the market and what you're most likely to see in the retailers.

We survey manufacturers to find out about their range of models, we check market sales information and we also check for any member requests to test specific models. 

From this information we put together a final list that goes to our buyers. They then buy each product from retailers, just as a regular consumer would. We do this so we can be sure they're the same as any consumer would find them and not 'tweaked' in any way.

robot vacuum removing sand from floor

Robot vacuums may miss certain parts of the floor, even after repeated mapping.

pet hair test_web

We test how well the robot vacuums remove pet hair from carpet.

robot vacuum going over tassels

We comment on whether the robot vacuum tangles with tasselled rugs.

How we test robot vacuums

Dirt removal from hard floors

Our experts scatter a measured amount of sand evenly over a vinyl floor area and lets the robot run for 25 minutes, or until the vacuum completes its cleaning cycle, measuring the dirt pick-up at intervals throughout. 

They place objects (like chairs and a bench) in the room to make the set-up look similar to a home. With regular barrel vacuums, they pre-load the dust collector with dust, but robot vacs have a very small dirt receptacle which is normally emptied after a cleaning session, so these aren't pre-loaded.

Dirt removal from carpet

Sand is sprinkled evenly onto a section of carpet and the robot runs for a set period of time on the carpeted area. The sand collected is weighed and recorded.

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 they can get to pick up the dirt.

Pet hair removal

Cat hair is embedded into the carpet and the vacuum is allowed to run for six minutes. Our testers rate the vacuums based on how much cat hair is left behind after the test (this is a visual assessment).

Object avoidance

We comment on whether the robot vacuum hits items as it's trying to map its way around. We also see if it gets caught in a tasselled rug or if it can go over them.

Ease of use

While robot vacuums are generally very easy to use and operate, the increasing reliance on apps and connecting the machine to your home network means we started factoring this into our scores in 2023. The ease of use assessment includes:

  • ease of emptying the dirt receptacle (models with self-emptying functions tend to score better for this)
  • whether the app is easy to use, with clearly labelled functions (we also log what information you need to provide to get the app up and running)
  • ease of connecting the robot and app to your home network
robot vacuum mopping up stains on a laminate floor

Robot vacuum removing stains from a laminate floor.

Mopping test

Most of the robot vacuums that come through the CHOICE lab now have mopping capability, so we've introduced a mopping score (for models tested after September 2023). Our members also want to know how they perform at this, as they may want a robot vacuum with a mopping function.

Our experts assess how easy the mops are to program and prepare, and how easy the mopping pads are to wash.

When testing performance, they spread several common stains around laminate floorboards including coffee, red wine, a mud mixture, soy sauce and jam.

They then give the robot the best possible chance to do its job by selecting the most intense cleaning and water flow settings and rating how well the stains are removed.

mopping test_web

Robot vacuums can mop as well, so we now test how well they can remove stains and avoid carpet.

Another part of this test is to see how well the robot avoids carpet (if it mops carpet, this can cause stains). Some robot vacuums don't have automatic carpet avoidance capability while mopping, and in those cases we follow the manufacturer instructions on how to set a defined cleaning area that will avoid the carpet.

Some newer models can even lift their mopping pads up if they encounter carpet so you don't need to specify a 'no-go' area for the robot. If the mop makes things dirtier by getting on carpet and spreading soil around, a penalty may be applied to the overall mopping score.

Test criteria explained

For models tested after 2023, the CHOICE Expert Rating (our overall score) is made up of performance (90% of the CHOICE Expert Rating) and ease of use (10%).The performance rating is made up of:

  • hard floor dirt pick-up (40%)
  • dirt removal from carpet (30%)
  • cleaning corners and edges (15%)
  • pet hair removal (15%).

Mopping scores (where applicable) don't form part of the CHOICE Expert Rating.

Our test lab

The CHOICE small appliances lab is up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools for our expert testers to bring you the right results.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.