Need to know
- Robot vacuums can be a great help at home, but they cost more than stick or barrel vacuums on average and are used in a very different way
- We test 26 robot vacuums from leading brands such as Ecovacs, Dyson, Roborock, Eufy, iRobot and more, giving them each a CHOICE Expert Rating for performance on carpet and hard floors, cleaning corners and edges, removing pet hair and more
- Join CHOICE to access full reviews of robot vacuums, stick vacuums and barrel vacuums to help you decide which clean machine is right for you
Getting someone else to do your dirty work is a dream we all share, so it's no surprise that robot vacuums, which are billed as being able to zoom around your house collecting dust and dirt while you sit back on the couch with a cuppa, continue to be a popular appliance. These bots have evolved in leaps and bounds over time to become a futuristic solution to cleaner floors with a load of smart features on offer.
"CHOICE has been testing robot vacuums for years and their cleaning performance, as well as the various features they offer, have developed a lot during this time," says CHOICE expert Kim Gilmour.
"At the same time, robot vacuums are generally expensive and our tests show they still have a number of issues and limitations. So it's vital to do your research to see if they'll suit your household and cleaning needs."
Many still have a number of issues and limitations, so it's vital to do your researchCHOICE household expert Kim Gilmour
Some of the newer, high end models now include features such as self-emptying functions (so you don't have to empty their dust bins yourself) and some will also mop your floors for you – all contributing to their appeal as handy home helpers.
But before you jump on the bot bandwagon, there are a few pros and cons you should be aware of. Here's our expert take so you can decide if a robot vacuum is the best option for your budget and home.
1. They clean for you!
This point is so huge, it should be worth two pros, really. Running on rechargeable batteries, robot vacs use a combination of cameras and sensors to scan and clean your home so you don't have to. (Well, mostly – see the cons below.)
Most models can be controlled and scheduled with a smartphone app, which displays a map of your home and will also send you (sometimes amusing) error alerts if your bot's in trouble. Some empty themselves and come with a mop function or webcam, so you can watch it clean remotely, or chase your pets.
CHOICE expert Matthew Tung puts a range of robot vacuums to the test in the CHOICE labs.
We spoke to some CHOICE staff members who swear by their robot vacuums.
"We have two young children so we have the maximum amount of dirt and the minimum amount of time to clean," says robot vac convert and CHOICE staff member, Grace. "We run our robot vacuum almost every day to get the bulk of the daily debris off the floor. While it may not remove 100% of the dirt, it keeps the house reasonably clean with zero effort, so for us it's a no brainer."
"I couldn't live without my robot vacuum," says fellow fan and CHOICE staff member, Ivone. "Before I had a robot vacuum, I'd spend hours and hours vacuuming and mopping the floors each week. I have one with a mopping function and once a week it does a complete vacuum and mop of my entire house based on the zones we've mapped out on the app. It also gets to those places that I can't access myself, such as under beds and sofas."
Many models also have mopping functions
Around half of the robot vacuums that crawl their way around the CHOICE small appliances lab these days also have mopping capabilities. Most use a microfibre pad, moistened using a small water tank at the base of the unit.
The way it moves around your floor will vary depending on the model and your desired settings, but you can usually control the volume of water that's released and sometimes combine it with a vacuum action, too.
We were pleasantly surprised by how well some of the robot vacuums removed stains from hard floors using the mopping function
CHOICE experts now test how well this feature functions on relevant models. We were pleasantly surprised by how well some of the robot vacuums removed stains from hard floors using the mopping function and we think some of these models would be good for top-up maintenance cleaning, especially for high traffic areas.
But they aren't a replacement for a dedicated mop, bucket and good old elbow grease. Care should also be taken if you have a mixture of rugs or carpet as well as hard floors – a model that spreads dirt on your carpet can cause more problems than it solves. Check out our robot vacuum reviews for specific results on mopping functions.
2. They can clean hard-to-reach places
Robot vacuums can be better than standard vacs at cleaning hard-to-reach spots such as under the bed or sofa. This makes them useful for people who have mobility issues or if you just don't want to spend your time lifting or moving heavy furniture to clean the floor underneath.
"[My robot] is the best thing I have ever got," CHOICE reader Graeme told us on our Facebook page. "With two dogs and four people, it works a lot. It has to be emptied, but saves my back. I love it."
Robots are great for hard-to-reach places.
3. They come with handy features such as time scheduling, app control and more
Sure, they may not clean as well as stick or barrel vacs, but robot vacs do boast a smart range of features that can make your standard vacuum feel prehistoric.
The app's map shows your bot's cleaning progress.
Almost all of the newer models allow you to program cleaning times via a smartphone app, so they can hit the floors when you're out. You can view a virtual map to track your bot's progress and set up cleaning zones or 'virtual walls' to bar it from certain areas. And if you really love cleaning, you can even check the vac's cleaning history or steer it manually.
"I am super impressed with my robot vac's smart features that allow me to carve my house into sections and vacuum only what I need to," says CHOICE Community member Scott.
"I can schedule vacuums, I can set the vacuum to a silent mode or a 'strong' mode and I can even highlight a section of the house that might need a bit more attention."
As part of our 'ease of use' score we rate each robot vacuum we test on how easy it is to connect the app and robot vacuum to your home Wi-Fi network in order to operate it and schedule your cleans. Other more expensive models now come with self-emptying docks, mopping functions and even air fresheners. Before splurging on a pricey model though, ensure you'll actually use the fancy features you're paying extra for.
4. They help keep pet hair under control
If it's raining cats' and dogs' fur on your floors, a good robot vac can be a godsend. But be warned: our lab tests have seen plenty of models that can't handle a hair ball at all, so do check our reviews first.
"We have two black and tan dachshunds and white tiles… [Our robot vac] cleans our house nine times a week and I am always astounded at how much it picks up!" CHOICE reader Pip told us on Facebook.
Community member Sue is also a fan: "With four dogs in the house, I can run the vacuum every two days, or even schedule it to run every night, and in the morning, it's as if the cleaning fairy has been in."
Do robot vacuums really work and are they worth it?
1. They don't clean as well as other vacuum types
Now for the bad news. As flagged by Grace, if you're counting on your robot to terminate 100% of dust and debris around your home, you might be disappointed. And whether or not a robot vacuum is suited to you will depend a lot on the type of floor you have and the layout of your home.
Our rigorous lab tests have found robot vacs generally don't clean as well as traditional barrel or stick vacuums. Of course, given that you're not the one doing the cleaning, you might be fine with that – and you can always schedule your robot more often to compensate.
Our rigorous lab tests have found robot vacs generally don't clean as well as traditional vacuums
Based on current reviews, our test data shows bots usually perform very well on hard floors (with no models scoring less than 77% in this aspect of the test), but can really struggle with carpet, corners and pet hair.
|Cleaning test scores||Average score||Score range|
|Corners and edges||59%||40–80%|
The results aren't surprising when you consider robot vacs' smaller motors can't generate as much suction as normal vacs to get deep into carpet or pick up as much pet hair. Plus, their dirt receptacle is smaller and their brushes don't agitate surfaces as much as a hand-driven head might.
In our most recent tests, five robot vacuums scored less than 25% for carpet cleaning, barely picking up anything when we put them to work on a sample carpet in our labs.
And while the average overall score for performance on hard floors is high, there is still a marked difference between the best and worst models: the Ecovacs Deebot U2 ($379) received the worst score of 77% on cleaning hard floors and although our testers noted that this model is still 'good' at cleaning hard floors, there are models we tested at a similar price point that perform much better in this regard.
If you're spending hundreds on an appliance that's specifically designed for cleaning hard floors, you'd probably want to be seeing a better bang for your buck.
2. They can be very expensive
All this automation and functionality may sound fab and futuristic, but robot vacuums don't come cheap. Turns out you need to pay more for the privilege of hands-free housekeeping! That said, they do vary wildly in price, and you'll have to decide whether to opt for a cheaper model or splurge on a pricier one.
In our current stick vac review of 56 models, prices range from $79 to $1499, with an average price of around $660.
By comparison, robot vacs we've tested cost between $379 and $2899, with an average price of around $1220, which is more than a $550 average price difference. (We should note too that the two cheapest bots in our test received poor scores of 47% and 57%.)
Whether a robot vac is worth it will depend on your budget, the size and layout of your home and how much you really, really hate vacuuming (and mopping).
3. They get stuck – a lot
Robot vacs might sound amazing, but sadly you can't 'set and forget' them just yet. Despite all their sensors and smarts, they're famous for getting into strife and sending an SOS to their human owners to rescue them.
They frequently get stuck – under furniture, on door thresholds or thick rugs – or get snagged on things including stray clothes, shoelaces, phone chargers and pet toys, which usually stops them in their tracks and requires some tricky de-tangling.
Appetite for obstruction: Bots will eat anything.
"I never leave it running when I go out because it sometimes gets stuck under things that it hasn't had problems with before," says CHOICE reader Marilyn, who got her bot from Aldi. "The mop function doesn't get used because it mops the carpet too!"
"Our robot vacs like to eat anything in their way," adds CHOICE Community member, Nat. "Our first managed to vacuum up a lizard that wasn't quick enough to get out the way, which was a huge mess to clean. Our second vac likes to mount the skirting board in order to eat our net curtains."
To avoid such choking hazards (and lizards), it's vital to do a thorough floor check first – and that can take some time. Admittedly, you'd have to do this if you were manually vacuuming too.
Expect to get a few notifications from your robot vac.
4. They can be less reliable and harder to fix
With its computer brain, sensors and app integration, a robot vac is a much more complex machine than your standard stick or barrel vac. Not only do they need more regular maintenance (cleaning out wheels and brushes, for example), you'll need to replace the battery every couple of years, and they can be harder and more expensive to fix.
According to our expert Kim, robot vacs are more likely to go rogue and break down than traditional vacs, and despite their high price point, the warranties are usually limited to just one or two years.
Robot vacs are more likely to just stop working altogether compared with other typesCHOICE household expert Kim Gilmour
"As many robot vacuums cost $1000 or more, you'd expect to get many years of life out of them. It's therefore disappointing that most robot vacuum manufacturers only offer one or two year warranties," says Kim. "Typically, consumable accessories like brushes, mop pads and filters won't be covered, nor will you be covered if your robot accidentally runs over something it shouldn't," she says.
"Some clauses in warranty terms seem unclear, such as iRobot's which 'will not cover faults due to normal wear and tear with reasonable use'."
When CHOICE surveyed robot vacuum owners about reliability in 2020, battery problems (such as the vacuum not charging) were a common complaint. If you're using your robot vac every day, expect the lithium-ion battery to eventually need replacing, which could cost up to $169 outside the warranty period. Other reliability-related issues included poor suction and the robot failing to work altogether.
Thankfully, if you experience a major fault, you'll still be covered by Australian Consumer Law.
5. You need to be aware of app support and updates
If you're considering different brands of robot vacuum, Kim recommends keeping an eye on how long the manufacturer will support app updates. You'll also need to keep your smartphone's operating system (Android or iOS) up to date, as app support may eventually be discontinued for older versions.
While robot vacuums can generally still clean without an app, you need the app to get full functionality such as scheduling, viewing maps, checking battery status, cleaning reports and setting power levels, as well as bug fixes. Be sure also to only buy robot vacuums from official Australian retailers as the apps from other retailers (if you buy online from overseas for example) may not work locally.
Kim also flags that as most new robot vacuums are operated via an app, you are required to hand over personal data in order to use the appliance. "You should be aware of the data they've collected on you and opt out of sharing more than what is needed," says Kim. "You'll be able to use them without apps but only for the most basic tasks. Most don't come with a physical remote anymore."
Based on their mixed results, our expert Kim doesn't recommend a robot vac as your home's only vacuum, so don't put your old barrel vac on eBay just yet.
"We've found robot vacuums are best for 'top-up' cleans in between more thorough laps with your stick or barrel model," says Kim. "Of course, it does depend on your home's layout and things like whether you have pets and hard floors or carpet or rugs."
'Not a replacement as such'
It's a finding echoed in owners' experiences on the ground.
"My robot vac still doesn't do as good a clean as our 'real' vacuum cleaner," says Corinna, who owns two robot vacs. "It's lousy on edges, as it can't get close enough, so sometimes we'll use a handheld vacuum if the cat fur and dust bunnies have escaped there. So, it's not a replacement as such."
Another bot owner, Audrey, says that although her robot vacuum "was the best thing I bought during the first lockdown", she still owns a stick cordless vacuum "that I use for spots the robot can't reach", as well as to vacuum up after the mess created by dinnertime with two littlies under the age of five.
"The bonus of the stick vacuum is that little hands can also help," says Audrey. "The robot vacuum scares them a bit, so I tend to run it when no one is home."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.