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How we test robot vacuums

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

robot vacuum cleaning under bed

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 testers have seen robot vacs evolve in functionality and capability over the years. 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

With 10 years of testing experience, our tester Matthew Tung is passionate about determining a product's technical performance. He tests a wide range of products in the CHOICE labs from cots and strollers to electric blankets, as well as standard corded vacuums. He also sits on Australian Standards committees.

 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

Matthew scatters 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. 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

Matthew sprinkles sand evenly onto 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

Matthew embeds cat hair into the carpet and allows the vacuum to run for six 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.

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.

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.