How to land the best robot vacuum
Not many people love spending their well-earned weekends and precious after-work hours lugging around a vacuum cleaner. A reliable robot vacuum can free up time to spend with loved ones or enjoy your favourite hobbies. In this 2020 guide, we help you understand which features to look for in a robot vacuum cleaner, and how to find a compatible match with your home and lifestyle - whether that involves finding the best robot vacuum for pet hair, a self-emptying robot vacuum or the best robot vacuum for carpet.
Are robotic vacuums worth it?
While robot vacuums can be expensive, the benefits can far outweigh the initial cost.
On hardwood and tile floors, as well as regular carpets, robot vacuums can work as well as a standard stick or barrel vacuum. They have powerful suction and clean open areas effectively. The biggest benefit? You won't have to lift a finger.
Reviews showed that the #1 reason Australians bought a robot vacuum cleaner was convenience. A good robot vacuum rewarded reviewers with clean floors, which made their lives easier by eliminating a daily chore. Pet owners in particular liked that they saved a considerable amount of time they would normally spend picking up dog and cat hair.
Consider buying a robot vacuum cleaner if you:
- Love having clean floors, without having to do the physical labour
- Work throughout the week and don't want to vacuum when you get home at night
- Have pets and have to vacuum more often to pick up animal fur
- Your house or apartment has even floors, as a robot vacuum can cover your entire home without supervision
- Your family brings dirt and dust into the house, and you want an easy way to clean it up.
Can a robot vacuum cleaner replace my normal vacuum cleaner?
Unfortunately, you won't be able to throw away your existing vacuum after buying a robot vacuum cleaner. Robot vacuum cleaners are handy, but some tasks are better left to a traditional vacuum cleaner. So, in short, you'll still have to vacuum - but much less frequently than you usually do.
Best uses for a robot vacuum cleaner:
- Open-plan rooms with a lot of floor space
- Rooms with heavy foot traffic that accumulate dirt, dust, or crumbs
- Carpets that need regular cleaning because they're common living areas
- Sucking up pet hair, especially in hard-to-reach places
- Cleaning while you're at work or otherwise out of the house.
Best uses for a traditional vacuum cleaner (stick, barrel, or handheld):
- Cluttered areas that require precision vacuuming, especially if you have cables or cords lying around. Robot vacuum cleaners like to eat cords, and they can easily damage them
- Thin, narrow areas, and corners where a robot vacuum cannot fit
- Any vacuuming that is off the floor (couch cushions, stairs, skirtings, ledges, etc.)
- Dark carpets that robot vacuums often mistake as stairs or drop-offs and won't vacuum
- Areas that need a lot of visual inspection and heavy-handed vacuuming to ensure they are clean
- Recreation vehicles, campers, boats, etc. that don't have enough flat space to use a robot vacuum cleaner
According to reviewers, the best vacuuming strategy was to let their robot vacuum handle daily vacuuming across a wide area. Users would then touch up weekly with a stick or barrel vacuum in the areas the robot vacuum couldn't reach.
Factors to consider when buying a robot vacuum cleaner
It's helpful to think about the purposes you're buying a robot vacuum cleaner for. Having a basic understanding of these purposes, as well as the following buying considerations, will help you know what to look for when you’re reading product info or .
Whether you have hardwood floors, carpet, or tiles
Most robot vacuum products will specify whether the model is suitable for carpet, hardwood and/or tiles. However, we noticed from reading reviews that while some robot vacuum cleaners were advertised as friendly for hardwood floors, some users reported that their new robot vacuums scratched their floors.
Most robot vacuums will work on tiles and carpet. Rugs may be difficult to manouevre around for cheap robot vacuums, especially if they're thick, shaggy, or have tassels. If you exclusively have tile or vinyl floors in your home, a robot vacuum and mop combination could be handy. However while some combined models are highly effective in vacuuming, reviewers noticed that the added mop function wasn’t nearly as effective.
When reading reviews, also take note of comments about the robot vacuum's transition from carpet to tiles, vinyl or hardwood floors. While many robot vacuums transition smoothly, others may get stuck or even spit out an error message.
Image credit: Samsung
Room mapping with a robot vacuum
Robot vacuums are designed with a self-navigation system that allows them to map a cleaning route – ideally without intervention. Your robot vacuum cleaner will work the most effectively when it maps your house correctly, which might take a few attempts in the beginning, but operate more smoothly as it gets ‘used to’ its surroundings.
Map navigation works by using navigation sensors. These usually include optical sensors, which judge the distance to a wall, along with features like anti-drop or cliff sensors and obstacle detection. The quality of navigation sensors may be particularly important if you live in a multi-storey house or have plenty of furniture for your robot vacuum to navigate around.
This is determined by how powerful and reliable a robot vacuum’s motor is. While barrel and stick vacuums generally have stronger suction power, a good robot vacuum is sufficient for quickly cleaning up dirt, dust, crumbs and short pet hair. Many reviewers were happy with the suction power of their robot vacuums for these purposes.
It's common for robot vacuums to change the level of suction depending on the surface (e.g. carpet or tiles), which can be done automatically or after you adjust the settings. A robovac with a variety of cleaning modes can also offer more suction for specific purposes, for example the Samsung Powerbot X70’s power pet cleaning mode for pet hair.
A robot vacuum’s battery life will largely determine its running time. Most robot vacuums can last up to , during which they’re able to clean an entire home. Battery life matters more if you have a large home.
For two-storey houses or relatively large areas with plenty of ‘obstacles’ to navigate around such as furniture, a robot vacuum with a short running time might die in the middle of a cleaning session, and travel back to the docking station for charging before completing the cycle.
Some reviewers commented that their vacuums reset after returning to the docking station. This meant the robovac started at the beginning of its cleaning cycle instead of picking up where it left off, taking even more time.
This might not be a problem, but if your priority is getting a quick clean, you’re about to have guests over, or you prefer to supervise your robot vacuum (especially at the start), then insufficient battery life could quickly prove inconvenient.
Ability to handle obstacles, long pet hair and getting stuck
Reviews showed that robovac users with wide open rooms and minimal rugs or clutter experienced the best results. For families with more items on the floor, more management was required to use their robot vacuum cleaner. Items included cables, children's or pet's toys, throw rugs, stools and tables.
Robot vacuums are often effective at avoiding obstacles so they don't bump into them. However, the safe space a robovac keeps around obstacles means it cleans less surface area if a space is cluttered. Manual vacuuming is then needed in these areas.
Robot vacuums can also struggle with picking up excessive or long pet hair, which can clog the brushes and jam up the wheels. If you have a lot of pet hair, you could be rescuing your robot vacuum often. For some families simply clearing away potential obstacles will solve the problem. For others, the amount of clutter on the floor can prompt them to question whether a robot vacuum cleaner will actually save them time.
Sometimes robot vacuum cleaners get stuck because there’s not enough space for them to continue moving. You can keep your robot vacuum from getting stuck under furniture like chairs or beds by blocking off the area.
Cleaning, filters and dustbin size
Robot vacuum cleaners are smaller than regular vacuums, and this impacts the size of the dustbin. The dustbin can fill up quickly and the amount of dirt they suck up was surprising for many reviewers. Once the dustbin becomes full, the vacuum will stop its cleaning cycle. This means only part of your house may be vacuumed when you come home.
You can also get a self-emptying robot vacuum. This handy feature means that instead of your robovac switching off when its dust bin is full, it’ll head to the docking station and empty the contents into the container. Otherwise, you’ll need to manually clean your dust bin, brushes, and any washable filters including washable manually, to ensure cleaning performamce remains optimal.
Robot vacuums can be operated with a or a smartphone app over a WiFi connection. Some models offer a choice between the two. With , you can turn your robovac on remotely, which is handy if you have last minute guests or if you’d like the floors cleaned before you return home from work.
It can also improve navigation, as you can save and adjust floor maps using your app. Consider the robovac brand’s compatibility with your phone – some iPhone users had trouble installing the app required to operate the .
Robovacs with Wi-Fi connectivity are also more likely to have an in-built voice assistant such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, letting you issue voice commands like ‘start cleaning!’ Robot vacuums with Wi-Fi connectivity are more expensive than non-Wi-Fi models, so consider if you really need the extra functionality first.
If you're planning to buy your robot vacuum in store, research which specific brands stores carry before venturing to the shops. Many of the larger retailers carry robot vacuum cleaners, but only stock a few brands or models.
Also make sure to inspect the coverage of the warranty before buying. Some negative reviews commented that parts wore out quickly but were not covered under warranty, making them expensive or not practical to replace.
Overall, the best robot vacuum cleaner for you is going to depend on a number of factors that revolve around your lifestyle, cleaning preferences and your home’s design. These include the type of floor surface you have, the size of your home compared to a robot vacuum’s battery power, and whether you prefer the simplicity of a remote control operated robovac or the convenience of an app and Wi-Fi operated model. We hope that this guide helps you select a robotic vacuum cleaner that’s designed with the functionality and features best suited to you. Click here to .