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Are Robot Vacuums Worth a Shot? Buying Advice For First Time Buyers

By Stacy Schanks 2 comments

The appeal of a machine that takes the hassle of cleaning the floors of your home off your hands is pretty significant, whether you’re a natural neat-freak or a little more relaxed. Robot vacuums can simplify your housekeeping routine and lighten the load (of dirt and dust on your floors). But do they live up to the hype? How do robot vacuums work? What are its limitations? Here's a round up of everything you should know when it comes to buying your first robotic vac. 

How do Robot Vacuums Navigate Your house? 

Almost all robotic Vacuums offer manual control of the robot via Wi-Fi or your smart home system. This enables you to customize your vacuum’s cleaning routine, map out obstacles, and even give commands via voice-enabled devices.

They run in patterns across your floor to ensure they are getting every nook and cranny. You can check the progress of their cleaning cycle on the app and see where they’ve already cleaned as they work.

A great example of the mapping features is from the ECOVACS DEEBOT 901. it knows your home while it cleans it thanks to its smart Navi mapping and navigation technology. It can scan and map your home to give you customizable cleaning choices: With the visual map in ECOVACS App, you can draw virtual boundaries, choose cleaning modes and assign cleaning areas, finding the best way to clean.

robotic vacuum mapping technology

Once the DEEBOT 900 knows your home, the robot will scan and map your home which allows it to orient itself and plan an efficient cleaning path. Therefore, DEEBOT 900 provides you customized options while finishing the cleaning tasks efficiently.

Other notable robot vacuums with great mapping technology
  • Proscenic 820S Robot Vacuum Cleaner
  • Robocist 850 Robot Vacuum
  • iRobot® Roomba® 960 

>Multipurpose Sensors: The Eyes of the Robot Vacuum

Among the biggest developments in robotic vacuum technology is in the ability to avoid obstacles like stairs entirely on their own. This power comes from infrared sensors and artificial intelligence software.

These sensors perform multiple jobs. Cliff sensors keep the machine from falling downstairs by constantly measuring the distance between the robot and the floor. A sudden increase in the distance tells the robot that it is approaching a drop and to move away from it.

Most models include bump sensors, optical encoders that tell the vacuum how far it has traveled, and wall sensors. These assist the machine in navigating your house. The AI software is programmed with “behaviors” that tell it how to react when it encounters certain situations.

robot vacuums sensors

These behaviors are surprisingly simple and are most robots are equipped with a set of a typical sequence of behaviors when it gets stuck such as: backing up, rotating, moving slowly to free itself, before it gives up and starts alarming you relentlessly to be rescued.

A cool illustration of robotic vacuums in action is from the Roomba Art Gallery 

Roomba Art Cleaning Pattern

Roomba Long Exposure/ Artist: Chris Bartle

The artists behind these stick LED lights on Roombas in dark rooms and use long-exposure photos to capture the result, creating a trail of light that shows how the vacuum moved around the room.

Sophisticated models may also have scanners that detect dust and high traffic areas where there is more mess to clean.

Battery life

Robotic vacuums run on a rechargeable battery system. If their battery is low, the vacuum can pause cleaning to return to their charging station. They resume where they left off once the battery is charged.

The iRobot Roomba (650 or 655) returns to its charging station automatically after each cleaning cycle to ensure it stays charged.

iRobot Roomba i7+ charging dock

Source: Kārlis Dambrāns 

Cleaning Power For Those Tough Spots

Just as your stand-up vacuum can be adjusted to clean either carpet and hard flooring, so to can a robot vacuum. Most feature the ability to change suction and other cleaning functions to adapt to different floor surfaces, either automatically or manually. They may also have a spot mode for more concentrated cleaning on a small area (cleaning up a spill, for example), include options for single- and double-passes of a room, or offer an option to focus just on cleaning along the wall edges and baseboards.

Samsung POWERbot’s sensors automatically detect the level of power needed for different types of surfaces. Other models require that you change the suction tool manually.

In either case, you have the option of a customized cleaning depending on the flooring in your home. Manufacturers recommend that your robotic vacuum be a supplement to running your standing hand-propelled vacuum, taking care of messes in between.

And for those hard to reach corners? Virtually every robotic vacuum on the market contain bristles that stick out on one side and rotate in a circle. This "helicopter" movement is what helps them reach corners and flat walls.

robot vacuum brushes

Source: Kārlis Dambrāns 

They work best for light maintenance and helping clean up hard-to-reach places that your upright vacuum might not fit under easily.

Can robotic vacuums work on stairs?

Simple answer: no. Or at least, not yet. The mechanics of getting that hard-working little machine up the stairs are a bit complex. Robots that can climb stairs do exist, but they’re expensive and produced by companies developing technology specifically for problematic terrain. That capability hasn’t been adapted for the use of household helpers just yet. For now, you’ll still have to tackle stairs with your upright vacuum.

Robot Vacuums Can Be Pricey 

The good news is that the price range of these machines is adapting along with the technology, which makes them more affordable. While some models are still priced higher, above $1,000, there are more accessible options available (as low as $50).

And there are deals on higher-priced models, especially during the holidays. Options like the ECOVACS DEEBOT 901 and ECOVACS OZMO 601 are in the sub-$150 to $200 range and offer great features.

The biggest difference between a $100 vacuum and a $1,000+ vacuum is the precision and accuracy of the onboard sensors that it uses to navigate your house.

Are robot vacuums worth it?

A robot vacuum can be a great addition to your house. With the wide variety and range of options, there is a model available to suit anyone’s needs.

They work best for routine, light maintenance to supplement your regular cleaning and getting into hard-to-reach, or easily forgotten places, like under some furniture or in corners.

Robot vacuums offer set-it-and-forget-it convenience or manual control. The latest models take care of many of the pesky little things for themselves, like making sure they stay charged or dumping their canister.

They may be unable to work on stairs just yet, but with the lower-priced vacuums available on the market, you could afford one for each floor of a multi-story home. These machines are more independent and capable than they’ve ever been and are worth a shot for anyone looking for a little help around the house.


At A Glance

The OZMO 601 integrates an innovative electronic mopping system with high-performance three-stage vacuum cleaning. Best used on hard surface floors Can NOT clean medium, thick or shag carpets Can NOT charge when the mop is attached Should NOT be used to clean wet liquids


  • Daryl

    The advantage of the robovacs is that you can run them daily without any extra work. I find that they only they only pick up a quarter of a standard vac during a single run, especially on laminate, tile flooring. But if you think about, it at this daily rate, over the course of a week they will end up picking up more than a standard vacuum, so it’s a great invention for people who really minimize and automate their cleaning.

  • Dorothy Merritt

    I love my Roomba. I’ve got the one with the base that empties itself. If you have dogs don’t let it run unless put the dogs out or put them in a another room. I lost two that way.

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