From Popular Mechanics
Growing up, our vision of the future was filled with flying cars and robots that did our work for us. While the airborne vehicles of the Jetsons have yet to materialize, robot vacuums have arrived. No, they don’t look like George’s Rosie. Ranging in cost from a bit under $200 to over $1,000, these wafer-shaped, dirt sucking automatons come with a wide range of features and technology, like bump-n-go navigation and LIDAR floor plan mapping. Some models can mop, too. We called in a range of popular models to see how well they work and which ones do so best. If you’ve ever wondered if a robot vacuum is right for you, read on.
Check out quick info below on the top-performing robot vacuums from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews.
What You Need to Know About Robot Vacuums
Keep Your Regular Vacuum
First, let’s get this out of the way: You’re probably not getting rid of your current vacuum. In most homes there will still be some places a robot won’t reach, like in between narrowly spaced furniture legs. And there are some types of dirt/debris that can overwhelm the vacuum filter—these small machines have, not surprisingly, small filters. Fine dust, fireplace ash, flour, corn starch, and powders, even in moderate quantities, can clog a filter and affect performance. If you drop a bag of flour in the kitchen, it might be best to scoop up the majority of it and let your robot finish the job. (FYI, we found the most efficient way to clean the small filters was to use our shop vac with a pointy crevice tool.)
A robot vacuum can absolutely make life easier, cutting down on the time spent cleaning. Set up on a schedule, it can help the house look and stay cleaner on a day-to-day basis. So when the time comes for you to clean, there’s only some touch-up required. Of course, if there are no kids or pets, that may not even be necessary.
As we tested these vacuums, colleagues and friends invariably asked if we tested them with dog poop. There are plenty of videos online documenting the ensuing devastation when a robot vacuum trundles over a pile. Except for one of them, we did not. Until recently, there wasn’t a model that we’ve found capable of identifying pet accidents. But the Roborock below launched this spring, and it features such a dedicated pet mess avoidance system. Other companies have promoted the fact they’re developing this feature, but only Roborock has made it to market so far.
Things to Watch Out For
When using a robot vacuum for the first time, stick around to monitor what it’s doing. There are a few things to keep an eye on. Shoe laces, strings, carpet fringe, and thin or lightweight clothing can all get pulled into the brushes or rollers. Some units have sensors that will stop them when the brushes meet resistance, and some will even reverse, spitting out whatever they pulled in. But to avoid damage to the vacuum and whatever it might try to suck up, the area to be vacuumed should be kept clear. Additionally, be aware of pet food, water bowls, plant stands, or other things that might tip over until it’s clear how a vacuum will interact with them. Lastly, if kids have toys with small parts, like LEGO blocks, a robot vacuum could suck them up just as easily as a full-size unit. Many models have features to create exclusion zones that they’ll leave untouched; make use of them or employ your own strategy to avoid these things.
How We Tested
Our team of test editors has researched, evaluated, and tested all of these robot vacuums. We consider features, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience with robotic vacuums to determine the best options. To get a firsthand gauge for their performance, we set up three separate 8 x 8-foot concrete areas and covered one with low/medium pile carpet, one with laminate, and left the other bare but set up obstacles. To simulate different types and sizes of dirt and debris, we spread five grams of flour, five grams of sawdust, 15 grams of rice, and 20 grams of kidney beans in each area before setting the vacuums loose. We then emptied each model and cleaned their filters before moving to the next area. We observed the vacuums cleaning each area and judged them on speed, how well they picked up the debris, and how they dealt with obstacles.
For the one model with pet accident avoidance, we threw down both novelty rubber poop and cut-up cigar segments. And any with mopping capabilities were tasked with cleaning up light muddy foot prints on a laminate floor. We then took the vacuums home to see how they performed in less controlled settings and review app functionality.
Roborock S6 MaxV
Navigation: LiDAR, plus vSLAM | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: 1 | Exclusion zones: Yes, virtual | Suction: 2,500 Pa | Run time: Up to 3 hours, claimed
Just released in June of 2020, the Roborock S6 MaxV is the first robot vac available with a poop avoidance system. That’s not what they call it, but that’s the bottom line. ReactiveAI obstacle avoidance can identify common obstacles based on learning developed using thousands of images. With our offices still closed, we weren’t able to run the S6 MaxV through our full battery of tests, although we thoroughly tested poop avoidance, mapping, and app functionality—rest assured no robot vacuums or carpets were harmed in this test.
The S6 MaxV navigates using a combination of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), vSLAM (visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), as well as infrared imaging in the dark. LiDAR is similar to RADAR, but uses a laser instead of radio waves to locate objects or features. With the vSLAM using images from the S6 MaxV’s two cameras to visually identify objects and features, the two systems together create sophisticated maps. When we set the robot vacuum loose in our test room, we watched via the app as it identified walls, obstacles like furniture, doorways, and smaller obstacles left on the floor. Once it created the map, it started to sweep through the room in an orderly, efficient fashion. It learns every time it vacuums, and we could see it was getting more efficient with subsequent cleanings. The S6 MaxV correctly identified both the novelty rubber poop and the cigars, avoided them, and left an icon showing the location on the map in the app.
The S6 MaxV can also mop. We found it equally as methodical mopping as it was vacuuming, and it vacuumed as it went, so there was less dirt to pick up. We tracked muddy footprints on our laminate floor, let them mostly dry, then directed the robot vac to mop the room. That’s a bit beyond what it was intended for, but it left no trace of the mud on the 8 x 8-foot section of floor.
The app, which we were able to pair with the vacuum and setup very easily, has a host of useful features. Through it, you can store up to four floor maps, create cleaning schedules, set which rooms are cleaned first, and identify no-go zones for vacuuming and mopping. In the course of mapping and cleaning, the S6 MaxV takes thousands of photos—all of which are processed and deleted locally. But if you have the “obstacle photos” setting turned on, those individual photos will be available in the app. Nothing else is duplicated, stored, or sent to the cloud.
If you have pets that occasionally have accidents or just leave shoes in the middle of the floor, the S6 MaxV will give you peace of mind when away. There won’t be any nasty surprises coming home to poop smeared on the carpet or laces wrapped in the vacuum brush.
iRobot Roomba i7+
Navigation: vSLAM | Brushes: 2 | Side brushes: 1 | Exclusion zones: Yes, virtual | Suction: 1,700 Pa | Run time: Up to 2 hours, claimed
The Roomba, from iRobot, was the first commercially viable robotic vacuum all the way back in 2002. With the current Roomba i7+, the company has remained at the forefront of autonomous vacuum technology and performance.
Navigating with vSLAM, the i7+ constantly logs unique landmarks in your home to understand where it’s been and where it hasn’t. It was also the fastest and most efficient model we tested, working very effectively and vacuuming in a pleasing, orderly fashion. With smart mapping turned on via the iRobot Home app, the i7+ learns the floor plan and builds a map so you can set it to schedule, prioritize, or skip rooms with Keep Out Zones. These don’t have to be entire rooms either, the app lets you zone off just about any area—dog bowls, a row of shoes in the mud room, or the fringed area rug.
In our test on 8 x 8-foot carpet, the i7+ sucked up sawdust, flour, rice, and kidney beans, completely, in 17 minutes. On laminate floors, it did equally well, although loose items like kidney beans tended to get scattered by the edge sweeper a little before they were picked up. When the battery gets low, the i7+ returns to its base for a recharge and to empty its bin into a disposable vacuum bag. When we checked its onboard bin after emptying, there was always just a little debris that didn’t make it into the base. However, we aren’t really complaining because it will continue to clean, empty, and clean again until the bag in the base is full—and that’s about the only time it needed our attention.
We were able to schedule/start vacuuming through the app, by pressing the button on top, or by voice command when the i7+ was linked to Alexa and Google Assistant. The app lets you monitor and interrupt scheduled cleaning, as well as initiate impromptu vacuuming.
Eufy RoboVac 30C
Navigation: Bump and go | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: 2 | Exclusion zones: Yes, magnetic strips | Suction: 1,500 Pa | Run time: Up to 100 minutes, claimed
Eufy’s Robovac 30C uses a simple “bump-and-go” navigation technique, which is as random as it sounds. It heads in one direction then changes course when it knocks into something. Because of this, the 30C takes longer to clean than the others with mapping and advanced navigation features. With it costing one third to half the prices of those, though, that’s not unexpected.
When we the 30C loose in our carpeted, 8 x 8-foot test corral, it picked up all the flour, dried rice, beans, and sawdust we spread out in 20 minutes. However, it continued cleaning for another 31 minutes before we used the app to send it back to its charging base. It does this because it bases cleaning by time, as it doesn’t know how big a room is. It functioned similarly on laminate flooring, picking up the same material in 31 minutes, with just a slight bit of flour residue in one small spot. It’s important to note: We found that debris like rice or dried beans can scatter when a vacuum’s brushes hit them on hard floors, so cleaning often takes longer on these surfaces. When we tested the 30C around obstacles, the corners of a thick doormat gave it some trouble, but it managed to extricate itself. Surprisingly, despite the bump-and-go navigation, the 30C was fairly gentle around the legs of chairs.
The 30C comes with a remote control with which we were able use all features except scheduling. To do that, we had to download Eufy Home’s free app. Scheduling is pretty basic though—just select a day and a time. When the scheduled time arrives, the 30C starts in the most recent vacuuming mode. To set exclusion zones, you have to lay down the provided magnetic strip, which we found worked adequately. The Robovac 30C is a relatively inexpensive and effective, albeit simple, vacuum. It’s best for individual rooms or smaller homes due to the longer time it takes the bump-and-go navigation to clear an area.
―BEST FOR PET OWNERS―
Samsung Powerbot R7260 Plus
Navigation: | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: None | Exclusion zones: Yes, magnetic strips | Suction: Pa | Run time: Up to 1.5 hours, claimed
Samsung’s Powerbot, unlike other robot vacuums, is flat across the front instead of completely round. Inside the flat front, a rotating brush extends just about the full width of the vacuum—making it about twice as wide as any other robot vacuum. Which means it can reach square into corners without the need of the side brushes found on other models.
When we started testing in our 8 x 8-foot corrals, we noticed the Powerbot used a very specific corner strategy, when it followed a wall into a corner, it would back up while turning 45 degrees and then drive forward while turning another 45 degrees. Doing this, it vacuumed square into corners from both walls and was very effective. Other than the corners, the Powerbot worked its way through a space in a neat pattern, being sure to cover every inch of the floor. We did note that it had a lot of, well, power. It pushed on things it bumped into on hard floors more than the other vacuums—especially when backing up. This didn’t seem as bad on carpeted surfaces though. As far as cleaning the floors, the Powerbot did equally well on carpet and laminate surfaces, leaving just a stray bean on one and a couple of grains of rice on the other.
When we tested the Powerbot with obstacles like chairs and floor mats, it took a little more time around the chair legs. At one point, it seemed confused and couldn’t navigate out, but it eventually managed. It appears this might be due to the squared-off front of the vacuum, as it requires more delicate maneuvers to avoid catching the corner. We noted that as it passed over different surfaces, it adjusted suction power, bumping it up on carpet and down on hard floors.
Samsung provides a full function remote with the Powerbot, which we used to direct the vacuum to specific spots, as well as cycle through virtually all settings and features. We found setting cleaning schedules more flexible in the app, where you can set the days of the week individually, while the remote offers a one-time cleaning or daily cleaning. Additionally, it comes with a setting specifically for pet hair. That, with the powerful suction and it’s ability to get into corners, makes it a strong option for people with furry family members.
You Might Also Like