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- A good robot vacuum cleans floors with little work from you, clearing debris with a button push.
- We tested 27 robot vacuums and consulted three experts to find the best options for different needs.
- The Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum is the best robot vac; it cleans well, mops, and has a helpful app.
- Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and reviews home products.
A robot vacuum can remove the small but time-consuming task of vacuuming from your never-ending to-do list. However, you’ll want one that’s powerful, relatively quiet, and doesn’t require constant attention.
That’s why I’ve tested 27 robot vacuums to find the best ones and consulted health experts and engineers on how to use them properly. A robot vac needs maintenance like any other small appliance, so while using it takes just a press of a button, all our experts stressed the importance of regularly cleaning brushes and filters, and running the vac when no one is in the room to keep the indoor air quality clean and avoid resuspended particles. We get into details over here.
I tested each robot vac’s cleaning abilities along with its extra features and app. You can find the details of how we tested, what else we recommend, what we don’t recommend, how to shop for a robot vacuum, and more at the end of our guide.
Here are the best robot vacuums in 2021
- Best robot vacuum overall: Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum
- Best budget robot vacuum: Eufy RoboVac 15C Max Robot Vacuum
- Best robot vacuum with a mop: Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI Robot Vacuum
- Best robot vacuum for hardwood floors: iRobot Roomba s9+ Robot Vacuum
- Best robot vacuum for carpet: iRobot Roomba i3+ Robot Vacuum
- Best robot vacuum for pet hair: Bissell SpinWave Robot Vacuum
Our testing methodology
I’ve been reviewing vacuums for the past few years, writing numerous buying guides and reviews, so I leaned on my background when developing our testing methodology.
I also consulted three experts and took their advice and expertise into consideration — Dr. Luis Javier Peña-Hernández, a lung and sleep health specialist at the Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Disorders Institute of South Florida; Andrea Ferro, Ph.D., a professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Clarkson University and the current president of the American Association for Aerosol Research; and Jill Notini, the Vice President of Communication and Marketing for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
In addition to using each robot vacuum daily for at least several weeks, I tested each one for its suction on various types of flooring including corners, ability to maneuver around obstacles, noise, and special features.
Our testing methodology has gotten more comprehensive over the years, so for any models that I’d previously tested but didn’t have the vacuums on hand anymore, I extrapolated the data as best as possible based on previous testing and manufacturer info. Those vacuums are the iRobot Roomba i7+, Neato Botvac D7 Connected, Eufy 11S Max and 15C Max, and Roborock S4, S6, and E35.
Here are the main attributes we look for and how we test them
Size: I note the specs of the overall unit, main brush, and side brushes. This gives me an idea of how well a vacuum can clean floors and carpet — the larger the brushes, the more they can usually sweep up. The main brushes are often somewhere between 5 to 10 inches long and side brushes are usually 2 to 3 inches long. Of the vacs I’ve tested, only Roomba models have two main brushes; others just have one. I’ve noticed that longer brushes tend to facilitate faster cleaning. If this appeals to you, consider a unit with a longer brush, such as the Roomba s9+.
Carpet cleaning: I poured a tablespoon each of flour, coffee grounds, and kitty litter on 18-inch-square sections of carpeting. To make sure I had enough pet hair, I also collected pet hairs from my rat terrier and two cats to place on carpeting. I ran the vacuum on its most powerful mode for two cleaning cycles and compared before-and-after photos to estimate the percentage of each material picked up or left behind.
Hardwood floor cleaning: This is the same test as the carpet cleaning test but on hardwood flooring.
Corner cleaning: To test corner cleaning abilities, I poured a teaspoon of flour in an approximately 4-inch radius in a corner on hardwood and carpeting. I took pictures of the messes before and after running the robot vac for two cleaning cycles to compare how much flour was left over. I also measured how close to the corner the vac was able to reach.
Obstacle avoidance: You don’t want your robot vac to get stuck while it’s cleaning or when it’s returning to its charging dock, both of which force you to hunt it down while it’s sending you notifications or making annoying error sounds. I tested the vacuum in an approximately 500-square-foot room with several obstacles, including stairs, a 1-inch threshold to a kitchen, and a table with chairs.
Loudness: I used a sound meter to measure the decibel output of each of the robot vacuums from 12 inches away as they ran on the highest and lowest settings. For vacuums I no longer had in my possession for testing, I relied on manufactures’ info and my previous notes.
Brushes: I noted the lengths of the main and side brushes as they’ll likely indicate performance in our cleaning tests.
Robot vacuums work using a combination of suction and brushes. There are two types of brushes on robot vacuums: the side brush and the main brush. Units have either one or two side brushes that are about 3 inches in diameter and protrude from the forward portion of the vac. They move in a circular motion, get into corners, and feed debris to the main brush. There appears to be little difference in the performance of vacuums with two side brushes versus those with one.
The main brush is between five and ten inches long, located under the unit, and is made of a rubber-like material. The vacuum sucks debris into the main brush which spins to feed the materials into the dustbin. Of the vacs I’ve tested, only Roomba models have two main brushes. Other models just have one. I’ve noticed that longer brushes tend to facilitate faster cleaning. If this appeals to you, consider a unit with a longer brush, such as the Roomba s9+.
Extras: I note if the vacuums included extras such as filters and side brush replacements, mop attachments, a cleaning tool, and more.
Special features: All of the vacuums featured some method for scheduling and returning to their charging dock on their own, so those weren’t useful differentiators. Auto-dirt disposal, voice control, and home surveillance aren’t universal, so you may want to consider if those are important. (There’s more information on those and other features here.)
The best robot vacuum overall
The Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum performs well on carpet and hardwood and in corners. It can map your space for more efficient cleaning and mops floors for extra convenience.
Pros: Excellent on hardwood and in corners, good on carpeting, does not get stuck, has mopping capabilities, can be scheduled and set no-go zones in the app, Alexa compatible
Cons: Gets loud on the highest suction setting, larger than most vacuums making it hard to get into tight spots
The Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum performed well in every test we put it through. On carpeting, it picked up more than 90% of the flour, coffee grounds, kitty litter, and pet hair I laid out. On hardwood, it did even better picking up everything except a little flour. The S6 gets within half an inch of corners — the deepest of all the vacuums we tested.
The vacuum also rarely gets stuck. It even somehow managed to keep going despite a floor strewn with Nerf darts after an epic battle with my kids.
The Roborock S6’s mop function worked well and I appreciated that the water flow is adjustable so you’re not creating mini puddles.
The Roborock app lets you schedule sessions, adjust the suction power, and set how many passes the unit completes in a certain space. After a few runs, the S6 will have enough data to make a map of your home so you can set no-go zones.
Including scheduling, setup took about 15 minutes. All you need to do is charge the vacuum on the dock, pair the vac with the app, and you’re ready to go.
It was loud; I recorded it at 70 decibels (dB) on high suction, which is similar to city traffic. However, it does sport a quiet mode, which is only around 56 dB.
Originally $649.99Save 18%
Originally $599.99Save 0%
The best budget robot vacuum
With its sub-$200 price, the Eufy RoboVac 15C Max Robot Vacuum offers an impressive suite of features, including smart connectivity, and performs well picking up most debris on carpeting and hardwood.
Pros: Good performance on carpeting and hardwood, doesn’t get stuck easily, quiet, supported by an app, Alexa and
compatible, fits into small spaces
Cons: Did poorly in corner cleaning tests and picking up flour on carpeting, app doesn’t let you set no-go zones
Of the vacuums that cost under $250, the Eufy RoboVac 15C Max Robot Vacuum had the best overall performance in our tests.
On both carpeting and hardwood, it picked up all of the coffee grounds, kitty litter, and pet hair we laid out. With flour, it had a harder, time leaving 10% of the flour on hardwood and a disappointing 40% of the flour on the carpeting.
Another area where the unit showed poor performance was in corners. It only came within about 3 inches of the hardwood corner, and though it came within an inch of the carpeted corner, it didn’t pick up much of the flour.
On the plus side, the RoboVac 15C Max only got stuck during its cleaning cycles about a quarter of the time, which is impressive in my messy home. Also, it’s the quietest of the units we tested registering 60 decibels on its highest suction power.
Beyond quickly testing to make sure it worked, I didn’t use the controller because the vacuum pairs with your phone and is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant. Unfortunately, the app (available for iOS and Android) doesn’t allow you to set up no-go zones or virtual barriers.
Additionally, setup and connecting to the app were seamless experiences, taking a total of 10 minutes. The vacuum also has a small footprint, so it can squeeze into tight spaces.
Originally $279.99Save 37%
The best robot vacuum with a mop
The Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo Pro Mopping System thoroughly cleans floors as opposed to pushing a wet cloth around. When paired with the Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI Robot Vacuum, the two make easy work of time-consuming chores.
Pros: Excellent performance on carpeting and hardwood, automatically empties the dustbin, HD video surveillance, impressive deep-cleaning mop attachment, quiet operation
Cons: Got stuck on the threshold in our tests, doesn’t get deep into corners
The Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo Pro Mopping System attachment is the best mopping system I’ve tested. The 480-vibrations-per-minute scrubbing motion offers a deep clean. It made the powerful Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI Robot Vacuum even better.
The 240mL water tank was large enough to complete at least two passes over the 500-square-foot test floor. With the app, you can choose from four water-flow levels to reach a balance of moistness and quick drying, and two mopping patterns. The deep scrubbing option provides a thorough cleaning, and the quick scrubbing is for routine mopping. And, I appreciated that it automatically avoids carpeting.
As for the robot vac itself, the Ozmo T8 AIVI has HD video and a microphone so you can watch your pets or check for open windows and doors from your phone. I didn’t find the home surveillance features particularly useful, but they could be handy if you’re concerned about security.
The more useful feature is the auto-empty station that automatically empties the dustbin after cleaning sessions. You just replace the disposable pouch every month or two.
On both carpeting and hardwood, the Ozmo T8 AIVI was among the best at removing the debris types we tested. Plus, it remains fairly quiet at just 67 dB on the highest cleaning setting and 58 dB on Quiet mode.
However, the vac consistently got stuck on a 1-inch lip between rooms. It also wasn’t able to come within 2 inches of corners.
Setup was seamless. I plugged in the dock to charge the vacuum, connected the app, updated the firmware, and set a schedule for cleaning. After two cleanings, the vac created a map of my layout so I could set no-go zones to keep the T8 AIVI away from sensitive areas.
Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo Pro Mopping System
Ecovcas Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI Robot Vacuum
The best robot vacuum for hardwood floors
The D-shaped iRobot Roomba s9+ Robot Vacuum did the best in our hardwood floor tests and features a self-emptying dustbin, an impressive app that lets you set no-go zones, and large main brushes that pick up debris on the first pass.
Pros: Cleans well on hardwood flooring, good performance on carpeting, rarely gets stuck, comes with a charging dock that empties the dustbin, large main brushes, has a useful app with virtual no-go zones
Cons: Loud, poor performance in carpeted corners
As iRobot’s top-of-the-line model, the Roomba s9+ Robot Vacuum is packed with features. It empties itself and is supported by an app that allows you to effortlessly schedule cleanings, set no-go zones, and customize your cleaning experience, including pairing it with the iRobot Braava Jet M6 (sold separately) to mop after it finishes its vacuum cycle.
In testing, the Roomba s9+ performed the best of any robot vac on hardwood flooring. After the cleaning cycle, there was only a trace of flour left. Its D-shaped design came within an inch and a half of the corner, picking up everything it could reach. On carpeting, the performance was still solid with only about 10% of the flour left, 5% of the kitty litter, and no coffee grounds or pet hairs to be found after testing. The unit didn’t get stuck in our testing area either.
At 77 dB (about as loud as a busy city street) on high suction power, the s9+ was by far the loudest model we tested, and even in quiet mode, the vacuum is not unnoticeable.
Additionally, the vac got within an inch of the carpeted corner, but it left behind about 70% of the flour, which suggests it doesn’t do as well picking up fine debris on carpeting, especially in areas the main brushes have trouble reaching.
Installation was easy, but it took about 25 minutes. Most of that time was spent installing firmware updates after connecting to the app.
The best robot vacuum for carpet
With its strong suction and large main brushes that adjust to stay in contact with your carpeting, the iRobot Roomba i3+ Robot Vacuum is a great solution for carpeted homes.
Pros: Excellent performance on carpeting, cleans well on hardwood, pairs with the app and Alexa, comes with an automatic dirt disposal base, doesn’t get stuck easily
Cons: Loud, virtual wall barriers cost extra, not impressive in corners
The iRobot Roomba i3+ Robot Vacuum is iRobot’s most affordable option with automatic dirt disposal, which empties the vac’s dustbin automatically. You just replace the disposable dust bag every month or two.
In our carpet tests, the i3+ picked up all of the coffee grounds, kitty litter, and pet hairs we laid out, and left behind only about 5% of the flour — the best performance of all the robot vacs we tested. In corners, it came within an inch of the wall but left behind about half the flour.
It performed better on hardwood floors, picking up all of the coffee grounds and pet hair, and only left behind 5% of the kitty litter and about 10% of the flour. The robot vac didn’t get stuck during its cleaning sessions.
Whereas some robot vacuums sense carpeting and boost suction, the i3+ provides consistently strong suction, and when it detects excess dirt, it automatically performs multiple passes.
Setup is a breeze only taking about 10 minutes, including connecting to the user-friendly app. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t allow you to set up no-go zones, so you have to buy virtual wall barriers. The barriers work as advertised, but at around $40 each, I prefer using common household objects to keep the Roomba out of areas I want to protect.
The other negative with the i3+ is how loud it is. My sound meter recorded 68 dB, and you can’t adjust the suction power for a quieter clean.
Originally $599.99Save 10%
Originally $599.99Save 8%
The best robot vacuum for pet hair
The Bissell SpinWave Robot Vacuum picked up all the pet hair on carpet in our tests and has a great assortment of mop attachments and accessories. The company is also committed to helping homeless pets and helps them find loving homes.
Pros: Excellent job on hardwood and corners, picked up all of the pet hair in our tests, great mop attachment and accessories, app connectivity, small size, quiet operation
Cons: Can’t set up no-go zones, gets stuck easily
The Bissell SpinWave Robot Vacuum is created specifically for pet hair and has a 5.75-inch tangle-resistant main brush, a useful mop attachment, and powerful suction. Specs aside, a portion of each sale also goes to the Bissell Pet Foundation, which is committed to finding loving homes for pets.
The Bissell SpinWave picked up all of the cat and dog hair we laid out on carpeting and hardwood. Additionally, on the hardwood, it only left a trace of kitty litter and flour. In corners, it came within 2 inches and picked up more than 60% of the flour on both the carpet and hardwood.
It’s also among the quietest vacs we tested – 58 decibels on quiet mode (slightly quieter than a normal conversation) and 65 on high suction. If you have particularly skittish pets, the low-decibel output is less likely to startle your fur friends.
The vacuum’s extras are useful to any pet parent, including a mop tank attachment, spinning mop pads, and a trial-size bottle of cleaning formula. Plus, you receive a cleaning tool that helps remove hairs from the brushes and clean the filter.
In testing, the mop attachment worked seamlessly. You just fill the tank with water and some of the cleaning formula and attach it to the vacuum in place of the dustbin. The mop pads spin to scrub away stuck-on debris while avoiding carpeting.
The SpinWave has a quick setup that took five minutes, including installing the app and connecting the unit.
The biggest limitation is it consistently got stuck on the 1-inch threshold between rooms.
What else we tested
We’ve tested 27 robot vacuums and counting, here are the ones that didn’t make our top picks.
What else we recommend and why
Roborock S7: I tested the new Roborock with the optional auto-empty dock ($299.99), which looks awesome, is super convenient, and performed flawlessly. The vac itself has powerful suction and avoided getting stuck in our tests. The mop scrubs at up to 3,000 cycles per minute, which translated to one of the top performances in our mop test. However, it didn’t do well vacuuming in corners and operated loudly. It came close but did not perform well enough to unseat any of our top picks. Still, if the Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo T8 AIVI isn’t available, this is a worthy substitute.
Ecovacs U2 Pro: This vac did excellent cleaning hardwood and carpeting and rarely got stuck. The U2 Pro also comes with a mop attachment, which didn’t do a good job of cleaning up dried Tang on linoleum. Despite good performance, it couldn’t compete with our current top picks and was too expensive for consideration as our best budget pick. Other negatives include loud operation, poor corner cleaning, and boundary strips for setting no-go zones that are sold separately.
ILife A10: If setting no-go zones is important to you, then the A10 might be a good option. After it maps your house, you can set up virtual barriers in the app. This model also does an outstanding job of cleaning hardwood and carpet. But, there are plenty of cons: The A10 barely picked up any flour in carpeted corners, it runs loudly, and it gets stuck easily.
Proscenic M7 Pro: I enjoy the automation afforded by self-empty charging docks, and the M7 Pro has one that works well. You can also set no-go zones in the app. Plus, the vac didn’t get stuck easily and performed well on carpeting and hard flooring. Yet, it had trouble cleaning corners and was loud. Plus, with a height of 4 inches, it doesn’t fit under low-clearance furniture.
Proscenic 850T: When it comes to cleaning hard flooring, the 850T is outstanding. It picked up almost all of the debris on hardwood in our testing, got deep into the corners, and got all of the grounds, hair, and litter on the carpet. However, it left 20% of the flour behind, got stuck easily, and runs loudly. Plus, in my long-term testing, the vac regularly disconnected from the app and required my attention to run on schedule.
Roborock S6 MaxV: For the most part, Roborock is doing a terrific job in the robot vac space. We recommend the S6 MaxV because of its excellent performance in our carpeting, hardwood, and corner tests. It also has video surveillance and a two-way microphone if you’re looking for additional home security, no-go zones, and a useful app. But it has the same large dimensions as the S4 and it kept getting stuck on the 1-inch lip leading into the kitchen of our testing course. It isn’t as loud as the S4, but louder than others we’ve tested.
iRobot Roomba i7+: The Roomba i7+ was the first robot vacuum to feature an automatic dirt disposal charging dock. Since then, iRobot has introduced two other models that improve upon the i7+. Though this Roomba has great high-end features, its performance doesn’t justify its price. It only did a satisfactory job on carpeting and hardwood, and it got stuck fairly often. If you find the i7+ on sale, we recommend picking it up. Otherwise, consider the s9+ or i3+ instead. Read our full review.
Eufy RoboVac G30 Edge: Eufy usually makes more affordable robot vacuums, so at this price, the G30 Edge is considered the company’s top-end model. The variety of extras — no-go zone strips, a user-friendly app, and Alexa and Google Home compatibility — make it worth the price, but you’ll have to compromise some power. It performed poorly on carpeting and in corners during our testing, and it was in the middle of the pack on hardwood. Despite the underwhelming performance, it remains a good value for the price.
What we don’t recommend and why
Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S: At one time, the RoboVac 11S was our budget pick, but after putting it through our testing alongside other affordable options, we no longer recommend it. The 11S doesn’t have Wi-Fi connectivity, which has become standard in the industry at every price point. The vac performed well on carpeting but left a lot of debris behind on hardwood and in corners. You’d be much better off with the Moosoo MT-720. Read our full review.
Proscenic M6 Pro: After testing two other Proscenic models that I recommend, I was surprised by how poorly the M6 Pro cleans. It left significant debris behind on carpeting and hard flooring and in corners. The vac also got stuck easily and ran loudly. Plus, the app is slow to respond to finger taps and commands.
Yeedi K650: The attractive price doesn’t make up for the fact that the Yeedi K650 does a poor job cleaning any surface. It also gets stuck often, is noisy, and doesn’t have many of the features we like, such as the ability to set no-go zones.
iRobot Roomba e5: This appears to be iRobot’s attempt to make a budget Roomba, but it’s the worst-performing Roomba I’ve come across in my years of testing. It didn’t come with any extras – not even an additional filter. You can schedule it easily in the app and it’s compatible with Alexa and Google Home, but you have to buy virtual wall barriers separately. Also, it gets stuck easily and doesn’t clean well on hardwood.
Neato Botvac D7 Connected: We’re dropping the Neato Botvac D7 Connected from our guide this time around because it’s relatively big, got stuck about half the time during our original testing, and it only comes with two extra filters and a magnetic barrier, which isn’t necessary since you can set no-go zones in the app. We think there are more affordable alternatives that perform better and are more feature-rich in our guide. Read our full review.
Eufy RoboVac 11S Max: The 11S Max is an update to the 11S, but we feel the original 11S is better. Ultimately though, if you’re spending this much, the 15C Max performed much better in our testing. The 11S Max did poorly on carpeting and hardwood and in corners. It also relies on a remote controller rather than app connectivity, which means you need to turn to and keep track of another device.
Roborock E35: At one point, we recommended the E35 as a good robot vac at this price, but since then, we have tested several others in this price range that outperform and have better features. The E35 doesn’t do well with hardwood or corners and is big and loud. Read our full review.
Roborock S5 Max: The S5 Max is loud, big, and it did poorly in corners and on carpeting in our tests.
What we’re testing next
We’re constantly testing new vacuums to update our guide. Below are a few models we are currently testing or will be testing soon:
LG CordZero ThinQ ($999.00): Whereas most robot vacuums are good for daily light cleanings, LG bills this CordZero ThinQ as “powerful enough to be your primary vacuum.” The vac has an inverter motor that adjusts to the debris levels and a large main brush that picks up more on the first pass. It also has cameras for obstacle detection and avoidance and home surveillance. The biggest negatives appear to be the expensive price and the 5.6-inch height, which may keep it from fitting under furniture.
Samsung JetBot 90 AI+ (price not yet available): Samsung just announced the release of an AI-based robot vac at the 2021 CES trade show and we’re looking forward to testing its smart-learning capabilities to avoid obstacles. It also has cameras and can be connected to the brand’s SmartThings hub for another layer of home security.
Samsung Electronics R7040 ($479.99): The R7040 was in a previous version of our guide based on positive reviews by other sites, but we weren’t able to get a unit in time to test in this round. We’re looking forward to seeing how its unique flat front-edge design works in corners.
Trifo Lucy ($499.99): In addition to powerful suction and an outstanding app, Lucy has HDR video, a two-way microphone, and the ability to detect noise and people in your home as part of a home security setup. I’m interested to test its vacuuming abilities alongside the home security features.
Why we don’t measure Pascal Pressure Unit
A robot vacuum’s suction power is measured in Pascal (Pa). Generally speaking, the higher the Pa, the better, but that’s a misleading metric of comparison.
When I talked to engineers at iRobot about a year ago, they told me that there are several ways to measure suction power, but there are no industry standards. They viewed the reported Pa measurements as essentially useless, hence why it’s nearly impossible to find suction power for iRobot vacs. It’s also difficult to find the Pa for Ecovacs, though Eufy and Roborock report the measurements for their models.
Due to the inconsistent reporting from manufacturers, we don’t include Pa as a part of our testing methodology and criteria.
How to shop for a robot vacuum
While using a robot vacuum is easy enough, shopping for one can be overwhelming. Here are the main aspects to look for when considering which one to buy.
Size: If you have furniture that’s hard to move or low-clearance pieces like sofas or bed frames, you’ll want to pay attention to the height of a robot vacuum; the other dimensions are usually within the range of reason for a normal household.
For example, I have several radiators in my house with a 3.5-inch clearance that slim vacuums can get under, while just-slim-enough models sometimes get stuck, and too-thick models bump up against and go elsewhere. If you want your robot vacuum to get under your low-clearance furniture, make sure you choose a model that is slim enough to do so.
Features: It’s important to think about what features you actually need. For instance, if you work from home and are rarely away, HD cameras aren’t useful since you can keep tabs on your home with your own eyes. If your floors are covered with carpet, you don’t need your robot vac to mop. I also almost never use voice control out of personal habit, but if you use Alexa or Google Assistant for everything, then compatibility with those services is a must.
Extras: You can easily purchase extra filters or brushes for robot vacs, but we think having them included with the unit is better. All of our top picks include useful extras like brushes or dirt disposal bags.
Price: Robot vacuums go on sale often, and the discounts are steepest during Amazon Prime Day,
. We expect most of the models we recommend in this guide to go on sale so it pays to wait until those sale days.
How to use a robot vacuum
Robot vacuums make keeping your house clean easier, but there’s still some regular maintenance needed to improve the performance and longevity as well as help your indoor air quality.
Run your robot vac when no one is around: Andrea Ferro, Ph.D., a professor at Clarkson University and president of AAAR, and Dr. Luis Javier Peña-Hernández, a lung and sleep health specialist at PCSI, both recommend running your robot vacuum in unoccupied areas. The robot vacs can kick dust, pollutants, and microbes back into the air as it vacuums floors, which can lead to subpar indoor air quality. “Every vacuum, including a robot vacuum, has the potential to release some dust, particles, and allergens back into the air, but the benefits still outweigh the risks,” said Peña-Hernández.
And run it regularly: Ferro and Peña-Hernández agree that you should run your robot vac at least once per week and more if you have pets and heavy-traffic areas. Ferro even suggests that daily cleaning isn’t a bad idea. I generally set my vacuums to run in the early morning before I wake up or when the level of my house where the vacuum is running will be unoccupied, especially since I live in a large house with three pets and no HVAC system.
Clean the dustbin and filter: If you’re regularly vacuuming your space, you’ll need to make sure to empty the dustbin and clean the filter. According to Peña-Hernández, you should clean the vacuum’s filter at least once a week, or twice a week if you have a pet.
You’ll also need to replace the filter and brushes every few months. Manufacturers usually give guidelines in the vac’s user manual on how often you should replace these components, but a good sign that it’s time to replace your filters or brushes is if they appear to be damaged or if your vac just isn’t doing as good of a job of cleaning as it once did.
Fortunately, many models come with extra filters and brushes, but eventually, you’ll have to purchase replacements. Manufacturers usually link to their parts store in your robot vac’s app, but you can also usually find parts on Amazon so it’s worth shopping around. Just make sure that you are buying the right parts for your model.
Use it in addition to a traditional vacuum: Despite how far robot vacuums have come in the last decade, they won’t replace your stick and upright vacuums anytime soon.
Do you still need another vacuum if you have a robot vac?
While the dream is to set your robot vacuum on a schedule and have it do all the floor cleaning for you, it’s just not the reality at the moment. Robot vacuums don’t clean as much dirt and debris as upright vacuums. “I think you’d still need a stick or upright vacuum for spots that the robot vac can’t reach,” Ferro said.
Robot vacs function best as maintenance cleaners. Having them run a couple times a week will make your floors less gunky, especially if you have pets. But these vacuums also need babysitting. You need to clear their path of anything that might get tangled in their wheels, and some have trouble getting into or out of tight spaces. Their bins are fairly small, so you’ll need to empty them more regularly than an upright or stick version.
Even squarish robot vacuums — as opposed to round ones — aren’t perfect at getting into corners. Some are too tall to fit under certain types of furniture. They obviously avoid stairs, too. Upright vacuums typically come with attachments that are useful for cleaning things like drapes or furniture, which robot vacs can’t handle.
“Research indicates that robot vacuums are not meant to replace upright vacuums,” Peña-Hernández said. “That likely has to do with their smaller motor size. They’re good for touch-ups and in-between uses.”
When it comes to robot vacuums, expect maintenance not miracles.
How have robot vacuum cleaners improved?
Since iRobot’s first Roomba came on the market in the early 2000s, robot vacuum technology has improved a lot. You can now find square-ish models in addition to round ones, and the mapping technology is much better.
Cameras and optical sensors can help with obstacle recognition, and LiDAR-based navigation uses lasers to detect objects. These capabilities aren’t perfect, but vacuums are now more adept at finding their way back to charging docks than they were even a few years ago. Another new feature is self-emptying bins, which suck the debris out of the robot and into a canister in the charging dock.
Many robot vacuums are now smart, letting you start a cleaning session from an app or by asking a smart speaker. Some, like Roborock S6 Robot Vacuum, let you block off entire rooms in an app, so you don’t have to worry about them getting stuck on your kid’s clothing piles. With cameras and connectivity come some privacy concerns.
Some interesting features aren’t universal, such as auto-dirt disposal and home surveillance. To get more guidance on these features, I spoke with Jill Notini, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for AHAM.
A few of the new features she’s excited about — and that are found in many if not all of the models in our guide — include:
- Advanced navigation: “Many of today’s models have the ability to map a home and remember how to get around objects and stay out of tough spots. You can also program the robots to vacuum specific areas of the home.” You can also set no-go zones that the vacuum should avoid on your phone via the app.
- Mopping ability: “Robots are evolving into floor care multitaskers,” said Notini. “In addition to vacuuming, some models now have the ability to mop, both wet and dry.”
- Voice control: “Robotic vacuums can now respond to voice commands, either directly or through an outside system like Amazon Alexa.”
- Remote operation: “You can start, stop, or control your robotic vacuum with your mobile device.”
- Cameras: “Cameras have been incorporated into some models to help the robot map the room and allow you to get a robot’s eye view of cleaning and keep an eye on your house while you’re away.”
- Fall prevention: “Even with all of the new features and technological advances, robotic vacuums still have not gained the ability to climb stairs. Many models now utilize sensors to prevent themselves from taking a tumble down the stairs or off a higher level.” All of the robots in our testing were able to sense cliffs and avoid falling down stairs.
- Automatic dirt disposal: One of the most useful features that’s becoming more ubiquitous is the charging dock that automatically empties the vacuum’s dustbin. Even the largest bins need to be emptied with regular use so it’s a maintenance task you’ll need to perform once a week — at best. But with the self-emptying dock, the chore is no longer necessary. You just throw away and replace the disposable dust bag every month or two.
Can a robot vacuum prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus?
The novel coronavirus is most easily spread through face-to-face interactions and in close quarters, and if someone in your household has been sick — even if it’s not with COVID-19 — it’s recommended to clean and disinfect the area.
“Currently the CDC recommends that we take precautionary measures for vacuuming during the COVID-19 outbreak although there are no reported cases of COVID-19 associated with vacuuming,” Peña-Hernández said. “It recommends using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, opening outside doors and windows to increase air circulation, and not vacuuming areas with people in it.”
How do you clean a robot vac?
Though robot vacuums automate cleaning your floors, they are not completely hands-off. There are several care and maintenance steps you should take to ensure your vac operates properly for many years to come. Manufacturers provide clear instructions for how to clean and maintain your robot vacuum in the user manual or app.
Here are some general maintenance tasks:
- Empty the dustbin: Depending on how dirty your home is, you will want to empty your robot vacuum’s dustbin after every use. If you run your vac daily and don’t have pets, you can get away with doing this chore once a week.
- Clean the filter and dustbin: This is a weekly task. Cleaning the filter is important because the vacuum doesn’t clean as well when the filter is dirty. Most models’ filters and dustbins can be cleaned with water. I usually clean and thoroughly dry the dustbin while letting the filter air dry. While the filter is air drying, I insert the extra filter that most units come with. Whatever you do, make sure the filter and dustbin dry completely before you use them again.
- Clean front wheel, brushes, sensors, and charging contacts: You should do this every two to four weeks. Most robot vacuums come with a cleaning tool with a brush on one end and a cutting blade on the other. Use these to cut out hairs that are wrapped around the brushes and wheel and to brush away debris. Use a soft dry cloth to dust the sensors and charging contacts per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Additionally, after about two months of use, it’s time to replace the filter. The front caster wheel and brushes — both the main brush and side brushes — should be replaced every year or so.
Can you fix a robot vac?
This depends entirely on the problem. In my years of testing robot vacuums, I’ve probably run into every problem a robot vacuum can experience: falling down stairs (surprisingly uncommon), running through pet accidents, attempts at taking up crocheting, etc. I’ve learned that these machines are resilient.
That said, any attempt to fix a problem with your robot vacuum should start with consulting customer service. After I determined there was no chance I could clean the pet waste off my robot vacuum, I reached out to the manufacturer. And, even though the warranty specifically states these accidents aren’t covered, they still provided me with a replacement unit for free.
The most common problem I face is the vacuum finding my wife’s yarn and wrapping it around its wheels and brushes. When this happens, you can usually work the thread free if you’re patient. I usually just cut it free.
The best deals on robot vacuums from this guide
A robot vacuum can make a huge difference in your life by cleaning messes for you with the touch of a button, but they can be pricey — at least on the surface. Every week, we see discounts on robot vacuums, however, the product category is so saturated that it can be difficult to figure out which sales are worth your time.
Robot vacuum deals during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, however, are almost always worth your time. During these events, we’ve seen our top pick, the Roborock S6, drop by more than $200; our other picks also saw similar discounts.
Below, we’ve listed some of the best deals available now on the robot vacuums our team of expert reviewers recommends.
James is a Home & Kitchen Reporter for Insider Reviews, where he specializes in sleep, HVAC, and kitchen appliances.
He has tested more than 30 mattresses from startups like Casper and legacy brands like Tempur-Pedic, using his background in experimental psychology to develop objective tests and evaluate comfort, support, motion transfer, and more. He authors our guide to the best mattresses.
In addition to being Insider Reviews’ mattress expert, James has extensively covered robot vacuums, air conditioners, air purifiers, and more within the HVAC space. He’s tested more than 20 robot vacs from brands like iRobot and Roborock over the years and is no stranger to keeping his house at a chilly 60 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end all in the name of testing air conditioners.
He’s a multifaceted writer who has covered everything from health and fitness to consumer technology. His mission is to help people get the most value for their money by guiding them in making informed buying decisions.
James is currently based in Lansing, Michigan, where he lives in “The Barn Mansion,” a three-story Dutch colonial home, with his wife, two sons, two cats, and a rambunctious rat terrier.
When James isn’t testing products and writing for Insider, he’s helping to run a popular local Facebook group, Lansing Foodies.
See below for some of his work.
The best mattress for every type of sleeper in 2021, according to our rigorous testing
The 6 best robot vacuums we tested in 2021
The 6 best air conditioners we tested in 2021
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10 grilling essentials that chefs and pitmasters swear by for making the best BBQ
The 5 best mattress toppers we tested in 2021
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