The first robotic vacuum cleaner, the Electrolux Trilobite, was released in 1996. Since then, many other brands have entered the fray. The market has responded well, buying $2.5 billion worth of robotic vacuum cleaners in 2019. It’s expected that the robotic vacuum market will grow to $3.7 billion by 2024.
From the numbers above, it’s clear that robotic vacuums will continue to be a central feature in many homes in the future. If you have never bought one before or want to replace the one you have with a more suitable one and wonder if there is anything you need to know before heading to the store, this article is for you.
1. Begin at Home
Like all other great journeys, the voyage to a great robotic vacuum should start at home. Surveying your home ensures that you get a vacuum cleaner suitable for the type of floors that you want to clean.
A robotic vacuum cleaner that will work well for hardwood floors will not necessarily be the best for cleaning a carpet.
Meghan McDonough and Florence Ion write for TomsGuide.com, a website that helps consumers decide what products to buy. They give an idea of the questions you need to answer before deciding which robotic vacuum cleaner to buy:
- Is your floor made from hardwood or carpet?
- If it’s made from carpet, how thick is the carpet?
- How many floors does your home have?
- Do you have pets, and if so, do they shed a lot?
You also need to consider the size of your home and if anyone in your house has allergies. Also, consider your schedule and select a robot you can program to work at specific times.
2. Spend More if You Can
A robotic vacuum can cost anything from a little less than $200 to almost $3,000. Brian Bennett from CNet.com indicates that he spent 120 hours testing 12 robotic cleaning vacuums. As you would expect, his results show that the more expensive the robot is, the better it becomes at doing its work.
Your entry-level robotic vacuum will clean the floor. However, the cheaper a machine is, the fewer features you can expect. The top-end robotic vacuums will come with some convenient features such as excellent navigation and connection to an app.
3. Focus on Suction Power for Great Performance
No matter how sophisticated a robotic vacuum cleaner is in terms of what it can do, it would not be very useful if it doesn’t have the power to suck most of the dirt on the floor. Even though it’s generally accepted that a robotic vacuum cleaner will not always have the suction power of a traditional vacuum cleaner, the good ones do a great job at picking up most of the dirt on different types of floors.
When choosing a robotic vacuum cleaner, you need to look for one that is smart enough to detect the type of floor it’s cleaning. When your machine can do this, it will increase its suction power depending on the type of floor it’s cleaning and the amount of dirt on the floor.
4. Check for Navigation Features
As robotic vacuum cleaners get more sophisticated, they learn to easily find their way around a space, ensuring that no corners are left untouched. Good navigation features also ensure that your machine can detect sharp edges and avoid tipping over.
McDonough and Ion advise that “Lower-end models gently bounce off of walls and furniture, cleaning in an unpredictable pattern.” They add that “Mid-range and high-end robot vacuums clean in a predictable pattern, typically aided by laser or optical sensors.”
5. Try One With a Self-Emptying Bin
You are buying a robotic vacuum because you want to do as little work as possible. Therefore, you want to look for a robot that can do as many processes as possible on its own, like emptying its bin.
It’s important to know that when manufacturers say that their robotic vacuums are self-emptying, they are not talking about the same thing. This means that some machines are better than others when it comes to emptying themselves.
Adrienne So, a consumer technology reviewer and writer for Wired.com, spent much time testing robotic vacuums. So indicates that she has tried every self-emptying robot available. From her efforts, she concludes that “while they do work, every other self-emptying bin takes some tinkering.”
With that in mind, should I worry about the self-cleaning feature when buying my robotic vacuum? For So, the answer is yes. However, she notes that you will need to be aware that “If you purchase the bin as an accessory, the robot sometimes has trouble settling itself properly on each of the multiple ports.”
You should also be prepared to “perform regular maintenance to make sure that the self-emptying chutes on both the station and the robot vacuum itself aren’t clogged,” says So.
6. Consider Battery Life
Robotic vacuums use battery power. They are designed to start their work from a docking station where they return once they have done their work. This docking station acts as a battery charger.
Different robotic vacuum cleaners have varying run times, based on how long the battery can last on a single charge. These robots are programmed to detect a low battery and return to the docking station to recharge. The sophisticated ones know where they left off and go to that spot once they are charged to start cleaning again.
ConsumerReports.org collects information from users of robotic vacuums and concludes that some vacuums stop cleaning after 40 minutes, and others might run for 2 hours.
Your robot’s battery life also depends on the type of floor it cleans. Susan Booth, a lead vacuum test engineer at Consumer Reports, says, “Robotics are best for uncluttered rooms with bare floors or low-pile rugs.”
Generally, the vacuum will use more energy when navigating thick carpets. Booth adds that “The thicker the pile, the more difficulty the robot has and the more battery power it uses, which means it may dock before it has cleaned the entire space.”
7. Choose a Smart Machine
As robotic vacuums become more common and sophisticated, even the basic ones are becoming smart-home enabled. This implies that they can be connected to your home Wi-Fi, allowing you to use an app on your smart device to control them.
Even though most basic robots will be smart-home enabled, functionality differs from one model to the next and from one price range to another. The most basic ones will allow you to start and stop the machine from a mobile app.
More advanced robotic vacuum cleaners can deliver a lot more. For example, the good ones will connect with Google Assistant or Alexa. They will collect data as they clean so that you can make better decisions. These features make it possible to program the robot to do work even if you are not home.
8. Shape and Size Matter
You have probably noticed that robotic vacuums come in different sizes and shapes. Regarding shape, the cleaning robots are usually D-shaped or O-shaped. This ensures that they can move around independently without getting stuck.
If you want to choose between the O-shaped and the D-shaped robot, determine what you want to do with corners. The D-shaped robot is better at cleaning as close to the corner as possible. It uses sensors to detect corners and send its flat edge and the brush installed on that edge to work those corners.
With regards to size, check the profile of your furniture. If you want a robot that will target the area under the bed or couches, you may need a vacuum cleaner with a height of 3 inches or less.
9. Keep the Traditional Vacuum Cleaner for Now
An important question is whether a robotic vacuum cleaner can replace the traditional ones. Although robots are becoming more sophisticated, it’s clear that a lot more work needs to be done to make them as efficient as the traditional vacuum cleaners or even better.
The old-fashioned broom and mop and regular vacuum cleaners still have a place in the home. Until we have a solution for cleaning the corners and navigating complicated spaces, it is advisable to have a backup plan.
We checked out what those using robotic vacuum cleaners have to say about the robots replacing the traditional vacuum cleaners. A Quora user asks a question, “Can a Roomba [a robotic vacuum cleaner brand] completely replace a vacuum cleaner and mop?” Another user answers, “nothing beats good old elbow grease. In my kitchen and bathroom, I use a floor vacuum, then a shop vac to get the edges well, wet mop with soap and bleach followed up by a steam mop.”
Bennett advises anyone buying a robotic vacuum cleaner that it’s important to manage expectations because “none of these machines can really replace a mop and human exertion on a hard floor, even if they are offering automatic dirt disposal and a mostly clean floor.”
Should I Get a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner?
Now that you know what a vacuum can do for you, it’s time to decide whether you will get one or not. If it’s hard to make the decision, Alex Colon and Angela Moscaritolo of PCMag.com have some advice. They say, “Depending on the size of your house, a robot vacuum can save you anywhere from minutes to hours of your time every week by taking care of a pretty thankless chore.”