How to buy the best robot vacuum cleaner
Do these household helpers really live up to the hype?
Can a robot replace your vacuum cleaner?
It's the dream of any time-poor person to be able to sit down and relax while an artificially intelligent device cleans the house, but are robot vacuums good enough to replace your regular barrel or stick vac?
- What do I need to know about robot vacuums?
- How much should I pay?
- What features do I need to look for?
Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test robot vacuums.
What you need to know
- Despite sophisticated technology – navigation software, stair detection, cameras to detect dirt – robot vacuum cleaners are still comparatively poor at removing dirt from carpet.
- Robot vacuums can't generate the suction of a standard vacuum and while they can leave the carpet looking clean, below the surface a lot of dirt is left behind. Over time, this can damage the pile.
- For most homes, especially homes with carpeted floors, we can't recommend any robot vacuum as a complete replacement for a regular barrel, upright or stick vacuum.
- In our tests, we've found robot vacs can pick up a reasonable amount of fluff (such as pet hair) along with some dirt, but also seem to push the remaining dirt even deeper into the carpet pile.
- Most of the models we've tested are very good at cleaning hard floors – albeit not always in the corners and edges.
- For a house with mostly hard floors, most of the tested robot vacuum cleaners will do a reasonable job of keeping the floors clean when run on a daily basis, though a more thorough cleaning with a standard vacuum (or a broom) will still be needed occasionally.
- In a home with carpeted floors, a robot vac is fine for a tidy-up, but the carpet will need a regular going-over with a standard vac to get most of the dirt out.
How much should I pay?
- The models in our latest test range in price from $129 to $1799.
Features to look for
- This feature, now standard across almost all models, helps the robot sense when it has reached a ledge or step so it can back off and avoid a damaging tumble.
- An accessory used to create an invisible barrier, for blocking off open doorways or other areas you don't want the robot to enter.
- This handy function will allow you to set times of the day or week to run the robot – for instance, you could set it to run only while you're away at work.
- When the battery charge is low the robot vac finds its way back to the charger and docks automatically. All the tested models do this.
- Robot vacuums are generally quieter than standard vacs, but some have an annoying high-pitched whistle and others make a mechanical grinding noise. This may be less important if the robot mainly runs while you're out of the house, but these two sounds may be loud enough to annoy neighbours or pets.
- Most models come with a remote control to change the settings or direct the vacuum around the room. But if the robot needs too much overseeing by its owner, you might find that using a regular vacuum cleaner is the more effective (and cheaper) way to go.