How we test robot vacuums

What happens behind the lab doors when we test robot vacs.

Dishing the dirt

If you think your stick vacuum is a convenient companion for a quick clean up, you're going to be pretty impressed with the idea of a robot vacuum cleaner. Ideal for any time-poor person, just set up your robot vac and it'll get the job done for you – or so the ads say. Robot vacuums are increasing in popularity but they still need to make improvements in some areas, so you may not want to part with your regular barrel or stick vac just yet.

Our expert tester has tested robot vacs from when they first hit the market, and has seen their rise in popularity. With each test, more manufacturers jump on the bandwagon in the aim to produce the best robot vac yet. Here we'll tell you how he puts robot vacs through their paces to give you the results that help you choose what to buy.

Our expert testers

Our expert tester Peter Horvath is the master of testing all general appliances. His expertise is not only with vacuum cleaners but also espresso machines, toasters and kettles and steam mops. But that's not all; his pet projects involve getting out of the CHOICE laboratory and heading out to the race track to test car tyres or heading to the Hunter Valley to test tents, gardening equipment and all other sorts of goodies.

How we choose what we test

With so many to choose from, 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 head out to the retailers and buy each product, just as a normal 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.

How we test

Dirt removal from hard floors

Peter scatters a measured amount of sand evenly over a vinyl floor area and lets the robot run for a set period of time, measuring the dirt pick-up at intervals throughout. He places objects (like chairs and a bench) in the room to make the set-up look similar to a home. With normal vacuums we 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 we don't pre-load them.

Dirt removal from carpet

Peter embeds sand evenly into a section of carpet and lets the robot run 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

Peter embeds cat hair into the carpet and, as with the dirt pick-up test, he allows the robot vacuum cleaner to run for 15 minutes. He rates the vacuums based on how much cat hair is left behind after the test. This is a visual assessment.

Ease of use

Robot vacuums are very easy to use and operate, so ease of use isn't scored. However, Peter will make comments about how easy it is to clean the dirt receptacle.

Test criteria explained

Overall score

The overall score is made up of:

  • Hard floor dirt pick-up (40%)
  • Dirt removal from carpet (30%)
  • Cleaning corners and edges (15%)
  • Pet hair removal (15%)

Our test lab

Our testing laboratory is up to date with the latest reference machines and calibrated measurement tools for our testers to bring you the right results.

Ready to buy?

Ready to buy a robot vacuum? Take a look at our results.

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