Need to know
- Robot vacs can be a great help at home, but cost more than stick or barrel vacs on average
- Our lab experts have tested 23 popular models for hard floors, carpets, pet hair, corners and more
- Join CHOICE to access full reviews of robot, stick and barrel vacs
Getting someone else to do your dirty work is a dream we all share, so it's no surprise robot vacs are all the rage right now. Despite a buggy birth, 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 vacs for years and their cleaning performance has definitely improved a lot," says CHOICE expert Kim Gilmour. "At the same time, many are 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 researchKim Gilmour, CHOICE expert
Before you jump on the bot bandwagon, here's our expert take on the advantages and disadvantages so you can decide if a bot is best for your budget and home.
Pro: 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 following con).
Most models can be controlled and scheduled with a smartphone app, which displays a map of your home and will also send you (amusing) error alerts if your bot's in trouble. Some even empty themselves and come with a mop function or webcam, so you can watch it clean remotely, or chase your pets.
Exterminate dust! Most bots feature app control.
"I don't have to vacuum anymore!" explains CHOICE staffer, Saimi. "Even before, I didn't vacuum as often as our robot vac now does, so we have clean floors a lot more of the time."
"Our robot vac has definitely saved me a lot of time," says fellow convert, Emily.
"I used to vacuum daily due to my dust-mite allergies, and it does it now. I also like how it vacuums in an orderly way, covering as much area as possible. If I vacuum, I'm not as precise."
Best of all, it frees you up to relax, read a book or clean the bathroom.
Con: They don't clean as well as other vacuum types
Now for the bad news. If you're counting on your robot to terminate 100% of dust and debris around your home, you might be disappointed.
Our rigorous lab tests have found robot vacs generally clean worse than traditional vacuums such as stick and barrel models. 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 clean worse than traditional vacuums
Based on current reviews, our test data (from our buying guide) shows bots usually perform very well on hard floors, but can really struggle with carpet, corners and pet hair.
|Cleaning test scores||Average||Range|
|Hard floor (%)||87||33-99|
|Pet hair (%)||55||20-90|
|Corners and edges (%)||62||20-80|
It's not surprising: 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 receptacle is smaller and their brushes don't agitate surfaces as much as a hand-driven head might.
In our tests, some robot vacs scored less than 10% for carpet cleaning and barely picked up anything. And while the overall hard floor average is high, don't assume every bot will nail it – a Kogan model rated just 33% in our latest test.
So can a robot vacuum replace a normal vacuum?
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 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. "Mine does an adequate job, but doesn't quite get into the corners, and I still need to vacuum over rugs or carpets," says Emily.
"My robot vac still doesn't do as good a clean as our 'real' vacuum cleaner," says Corinna, who owns two robots. "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."
Pro: They can clean hard-to-reach places
With their lower profile, bots are better than standard vacs at reaching tricky spots like under the bed or couch. Well, unless you're into lifting heavy furniture and/or limbo.
Peek-a-boo: robots are great for hard-to-reach places.
"[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."
And their automated approach also makes them great for those who may struggle with using a traditional vacuum due to injury or disability.
"I'm an invalidity retiree and find the typical action of handheld vacuuming aggravates my neck and hand injuries," says CHOICE community member, Michael. "I bought a Roomba 500 series 10 years ago and it has been invaluable."
Con: 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.
Pro: They come with handy features such as time scheduling, app control and more
Sure, they may not clean as well, but robot vacs do boast a smart range of features that will make your standard stick or barrel feel prehistoric.
The app's map shows your bot's cleaning progress.
Most models let you 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 its progress and set up cleaning zones or 'virtual walls' to bar your bot 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."
Con: Robot vacuums can be very expensive
Not surprisingly, outsourcing your vacuuming doesn't come cheap. All this automation and functionality may sound fab and futuristic, but you'll be paying 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 34 models, prices range from $69 to $1199, with an average of $603.
By comparison, robot vacs we've tested cost between $179 and $2899 and average $1013, which is a $400 difference. (We should note too that the three cheapest bots performed terribly and scored 26% to 45% in our tests.)
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.
Con: They're 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), 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.
Robot vacs are more likely to just stop working altogether compared with other typesKim Gilmour
"According to our latest vacuum reliability survey, robot vacs are more likely to just stop working altogether compared with other types," she says. "Over a third of respondents had problems with them in the last year, particularly around battery and charging issues."
Robot vacs usually come with a shorter warranty than other vac types (typically one year, not two), which is another key factor to consider before you splash your cash. Of course, if you experience a major fault, you'll still be covered by Australian Consumer Law.
Pro: 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 via 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."
Some pets are entertained by robot vacs. Others, not so much.
Con: They can cause pet poo-namis and other chaos
While robot vacs can be handy with pets (and even entertain them), it can go terribly wrong. Like Erin's eye-opening incident with the pet food.
"Our robot mounted the cat's bowl, slurping up the contents and getting stuck on an angle. The vacuum was covered in wet cat food throughout. The cat was furious."
That's gross, but it's nothing compared with some horrible (yet hilarious) stories shared online. Like dog owner Jesse Newton's graphic Facebook post about the 'Pooptastrophe' that occurred when his unattended Roomba ran riot through his pup's poo overnight.
In a scene resembling a "Jackson Pollock poop painting", it systemically smeared faeces over his floors, furniture, his favourite rug and even his four-year-old son. You have been warned.