Warranty & Support
Best Robot Vacuums
How to Choose a Robot Vacuum
We spent more than 300 hours testing robotic vacuum cleaners, on multiple flooring surfaces and with different types of test messes purposely planted in their path, and the Neato Botvac Connected was our favorite. We tested all contenders both in our laboratory and in a home environment to see whether they could navigate around obstacles and keep on cleaning. Many of them did an impressive job on all tasks.
The most impressive was the Neato Botvac Connected, which had the magic combination of good suction and agility that means it is largely self-sufficient. That is really one of the top reasons to buy one of these things – having something clean for you, even if you are not around. The Botvac Connected was great at that, especially since you can control the whole operation from your phone, wherever you happen to be.
The Samsung POWERbot has a lot of power. It gathered more debris overall than any other vacuum. We forced each machine to roll over flour, sawdust, pet hair and kitty litter in addition to just the incidental messes at our test house. The Samsung was great at all of them, but it did have some trouble getting to the messes on its own. It would get stuck and need help to get going again, at times. Its suction was amazing, though.
The iRobot Roomba 980 is another great choice. It was virtually unstoppable on the obstacle course that was our test house. It was able to vacuum over or around every rug's edge and table leg. Nothing could make it stop vacuuming except a dead battery. Many lower-ranked units were always stopping at the slightest change of terrain.
The best value choice is the other iRobot we tested, the Roomba 650. This is an older product, but it is still widely available and very competitive. It did a great job on both our suction tests and at weaving around obstacles at the test house. You can buy it for less than $300.
Robot Vacuums: How We Tested
We built a vacuum cleaning track in our laboratory that allowed us to switch out different types of flooring easily so we could see how each vacuum cleaner adapted to different scenarios. We measured out equal amounts of breakfast cereal, sawdust and pet hair and sprinkled it on the track after laying down medium-pile carpeting. We measured, in grams, what each vacuum cleaner collected of each substance.
We then removed the carpeting and tested each vacuum on a wood floor with different debris – breakfast cereal, kitty litter and pet hair. We also laid down vinyl flooring on our test track and tested each vacuum cleaner on flour, sawdust, kitty litter and pet hair, again weighing how much each was able to extract from the vinyl flooring surface. We assigned a score for overall performance on carpeting and overall performance on both of the hard flooring surfaces – vinyl and wood. The ones that removed the most debris scored better.
Throughout the many hours of testing on the track we also made note of how well the vacuums performed generally. Some were better than others at getting debris out of corners or at returning to their base for charging, for instance. Some tended to spread the test messes around with their brushes or vents before cleaning them up, and some got more hair tangled in their brushes than in their dustbins. We incorporated information like this into our robot vacuum reviews.
We also tested each robot vacuum in a home to see how it would maneuver around obstacles and adapt to varied flooring types. We scored each unit on how easily it could get over thresholds between hardwood flooring and carpeting, and on whether it could navigate under and around dining room table legs, couch legs and chair legs. Those that needed human help to continue cleaning scored lower than those that kept moving through the home and cleaning regardless of the obstacles in the way. The best ones sensed an obstacle like a chair leg before even running into it and changed directions to avoid a collision.
We measured the decibels each robot vacuum produced and performed basic maintenance tasks like emptying the bin and cleaning the brushes to gauge how user-friendly each one is. Other ease-of-use scoring considerations included the quality and clarity of the display screen and whether or not we could understand the error codes.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Robot Vacuum
The best robot vacuum cleaners run for about two hours on a single charge, but all of the robot vacuums on our lineup run for at least one hour, depending on the task. Those with longer run times scored higher because you get more cleaning per charge. Those that charge fastest were given a higher rating because your house can get clean sooner.
We also noticed the way each one avoided drop-offs so we could tell which ones would steer away from stairways. The investment in one of these is fairly significant, so that could be important if you have a few levels in your home. You don't want it to crash down even a few stairs and lose most of its value.
We also looked at the type of brushes these vacuums use, such as side spinning brushes, which can help enormously in pushing debris toward the underbelly of the robot and then into its bin.
There are only a few in our lineup that include a smartphone or tablet app, which allows your robot to connect to your home Wi-Fi. You can then set up schedules and control your robot from your phone or tablet (iOS and Android) – even when you’re not home. This communication can be particularly helpful if, for example, you’re at work and find out you’re going to have some unexpected company that evening. You can "talk" to your little machine and have it perform another pass around your house before you get home.
Several robot vacuums on our list include a remote control, which means not having to chase down your pet vacuum during one of its cleanings if you want to change its schedule, or being able to manually control your bot.
Some robot cleaners have magnetic strips that you can place at doorways or areas that you’d rather not have your robot vacuum venture into. Others employ more technology and include virtual walls that you can set up to prevent your robot from traveling to danger zones.
If anything goes wrong with your robotic vacuum, you’re going to be glad that you have a warranty that covers defective parts. All of the units we reviewed include at least a one-year guarantee for the robot itself and some have a specific warranty for the battery. When you have questions that don’t seem to be covered by the manual, having access to a customer support team by phone, email or live chat can be essential. We found online tutorials helpful when we wanted to schedule the robot vacuums to deploy at the same time every day.
Even the best robot vacuum is not a replacement for your favorite upright. During some tests, we had two of these units making the rounds at the test house – for hours – and they did not get things as clean as one trip around the house with a good quality upright vacuum. Sometimes you don't have time to make that trip, though. The best robotic vacuums are still wonderful for their appointed task – maintenance. They may not get every last cat hair but they keep your floors from being ridiculously messy. You will be able to invite even the occasional unplanned guest into your home with confidence.