The idea of a robotic vacuum cleaner is pretty appealing. The homeowner gets to sit around or move on to other tasks while a handy, obedient robot cleans their floors. Few developments in vacuum cleaning technology have captured the attention of the public in a way that compares to these devices. Even with all of the excitement, this is relatively new technology and most people have little to no personal experience of these machines. That being the case, buyers don’t know whether they should purchase one of these devices or what to look for when they do.
Do they actually work?
At the end of the day, this is the question that really matters the most. A robot vacuum can be as cool and exciting as it wants to be, but if it doesn’t provide an effective solution for cleaning floors, it is essentially worthless. The short answer to this question is ‘yes’, however, there are a few ‘buts’. The first thing that you should know is that one of these machines is not going to replace your upright or cylinder vacuum. A robot vacuum is more of a ‘daily maintenance’ cleaning device, rather than your ‘go-to’ machine for floor cleaning.
A robot vacuum is much smaller than an upright or cylinder model, so it’s going to have a smaller motor for suction and a smaller dirt collection capacity. A good robotic model will clean floors, but it almost certainly won’t get as deep into carpets as your regular vacuum. It will get the floors looking clean and help you to maintain a good base level of regular cleanliness, but you’re still going to need to use your regular cleaner to remove all of the deep dirt and dust.
The potential buyer also needs to realise that the capabilities of these machines can vary greatly from one model to the next. Some models have much better functional capabilities, some machines are ‘smarter’, and some machines can work on hard floors and carpets while others are only good for one or the other.
In addition, you need to take on board that the robot vacuum can’t do it all by itself. You don’t just turn the power on and forget about it; the robot still needs the assistance of a human for a lot of things. Depending on the model, there are different programmable settings, a dirt canister that needs to be emptied and you may need to set up virtual boundaries for the machine.
So, to summarise, these machines do work and they do provide effective cleaning, but you need to have realistic expectations when you purchase. Don’t expect something that you can just set and forget and don’t think that it is going to handle all of your home floor care needs. That said, they are incredibly cool and every home should have one!
Amongst the range of robotic vacuums that are available, performance can vary dramatically, depending on the model that you get. In this section, we are not referring to whether the machine is smart enough to know where to clean, or when it is done cleaning, but instead, how well it picks-up dirt and debris and whether it can do certain jobs that you expect from a vacuum.
As with any vacuum, the motor power of the machine will affect the ability to clean. With robots, you’re going to get less power, but that does not necessarily mean poor cleaning. The power of a robot vacuum would probably be comparable to that of a handheld, but it will vary depending on the model that you buy.
When it comes to effective cleaning, the design of the vacuum matters. Some machines are only good for hard floors or carpets, while others are good for both. Check out whether the machine has brushes for getting into carpets. The design of the intake will also help to determine whether it provides effective suction. Power is good, but the design features will dictate how well the machine uses the power that it has.
Will it get into corners?
Some of these machines do not perform well at getting into the corners of rooms, but there are some models that have design features to help them clean corners effectively. This mostly has to do with the shape of the machine and the layout of the underside. Some machines do not fit well into corners and their intake may not reach the edge of the machine. However, there are design features that can overcome this problem so look out for manufacturer’s pre-sales info on this point.
Check out the video below from LG demonstrating how their Roboking model tackles corners. It’s clever stuff, and apparently particularly handy if some mischievous person has filled the corners of your room with M&Ms.
Will it get under furniture?
One of the great things about these robotic models is that they have a low profile that allows them to get into places that can be difficult with a regular vacuum. These machines will definitely get under tables and chairs with no problem. As for the rest of your furniture, it really depends on whether the vacuum has enough clearance. If you want it to get under the bed or any other piece of furniture, then you need to look at the different models individually and check the height of the machine.
You can see an example below featuring a machine called ‘bObi’
The quality of the battery is an important factor when it comes to robotic hoovers. A short battery life means that the vacuum will have less range and a longer charging time means that the vacuum will be out of commission for longer once the battery dies. These factors will be more important for some buyers than it will for others. If you only have it set to clean a single room or a small area, then it probably doesn’t need a long operating time. Similarly, if you only expect it to go out once a day to clean, then a long charging time will not be an issue either.
Features to consider
Being a robotic device, there are a lot of features that can be included (or not). Features will vary from one machine to the next, but below are list of some of the things that you might want to consider when making a decision.
This is a feature that almost all of the newer robotic vacuums tend to have. The machine will have sensors to detect when it is approaching a drop and stop the machine from tumbling down the stairs. While this does come with almost every model, there still could be some that don’t have it. If you have stairs in your home, then this is something that you’ll want to make sure that you have. If you live in a ground floor flat you’ve got nothing to worry about.
See this feature in action in the video below…
This is another feature that almost every model comes with. Instead of just making sure that it has covered every inch of the surface, the machine detects dirt and dust to make sure that it not only makes a pass, but that it also gets the entire area clean. Tidy!
A machine that is programmable will be more convenient than one that is not. Instead of waiting for you to get it started, you can schedule a ‘clean’ to occur at the same time every day or with some, you can even program each day differently (if you have nothing better to do with your time than program your new vacuum). This can be nice because you can schedule it to run when you are at work or when you are asleep to avoid falling over the thing and dropping your gin and tonic. That said, many people just like to watch them whirring away doing their thing, so it depends on you.
Some models come with what are known as ‘virtual walls’. These walls set boundaries for the robot to prevent the vacuum from going into places that you do not want it to go. Virtual walls are convenient because, if you don’t have them, then you may have to set up physical boundaries to keep the machine out of these areas.
As mentioned above, there are some models that are only made for hard floors and some models that are only made for carpets. However, there are some machines that have the ability to detect the change in flooring and adjust to cleaning the different surface. If you intend to use the vacuum for cleaning different floor types, then this is a feature that you are going to want to look for.
How Smart is the Robot?
This is a question that you are not going to ask of any other type of vacuum cleaner, but it is an important one for the robot models. What the machine has going on in regard to onboard memory, sensors and software will really makes a difference. Some machines are very simple, while others have tons of sensors and the ability to use the information it obtains to improve performance. Check out this Dyson model which has a 360° camera.
Consider the range of sensors that the machine has, and how it uses that information. Look into the navigation system and whether the machine actually has the ability to learn from its experiences of cleaning your home. Additionally, you’ll also want to consider whether it can find its way back to its home base for self-charging (see video below) and if it can detect when the dirt canister is full.
Price isn’t everything when you purchase a vacuum, but it is an important thing to consider. For robotic vacuums, you can find models that range from less than £50 all the way up to models that cost beyond £1,000. That is a major difference, so you need to set a price range and have realistic expectations for what you spend. Some of the cheaper models do provide decent cleaning capabilities, but they are going to have fewer features for convenience and performance. The mid-range to high-end models are usually much more advanced and they require less human assistance.
Additional factors to consider
Capacity – A robot model isn’t going to have the same large dirt capacity as a regular vacuum. Consider the size of the area that you want it to cover and remember that you are probably going to have to empty it regularly.
Storage – Some models do not really come with a storage solution while others may come with a home base for charging and storage. The models that know how to go home to the base when they are done provide the best option as you’ll not have to worry about charging the unit.
Remote Control – A remote is not an absolute necessity, but it is nice to have. The user can control many of the programmable settings from the remote and they can send a command to the machine to start cleaning whenever they need it to leap into action. With some models, you can even use the remote to direct the vacuum right to a mess (how wonderfully lazy is that?).
Noise – Most robotic vacuums do not emit nearly the same level of noise that you would expect from a regular vacuum, but they do still make some operating noise. If the machine is scheduled to run when you are not at home, then this won’t be an issue. Otherwise you may need to consider it. Ultimately though if it’s whizzing about and ruining your TV viewing you can always just turn it off.
Warranty – These are complex devices and things can go wrong from time to time. A long warranty is obviously desirable as it protects you against any defects in material or workmanship.
And finally, if you’re not yet convinced you need a robot vacuum cleaner, check out this video.