The modern home is equipped with many high-tech devices designed to make everyday living simpler and automate common tasks. We’ve got smart TVs that make it easy to find every streaming option. Smart appliances take the hassle out of cooking, washing and drying clothes, and making coffee. And smart thermostats, bulbs, and security cameras make it practically effortless to control indoor air comfort, illuminate our interiors, and protect our loved ones.
Yet, the broom, dustpan, and old-fashioned vacuum cleaner remain oft-used staples in many closets and pantries—groan-inducing reminders that some chores remain tedious low-tech endeavors that require manual labor. But it doesn’t have to be this way: robotic vacuum cleaners, around since the mid-1990s, can make floor cleaning a snap, and for a lot less than many homeowners expect nowadays.
“Robotic vacuums have come a long way. The latest iterations have stronger suction, better edge-cleaning capabilities, and improved programming. And you no longer have to spend $1,000 to get great performance,” says Haniya Rae, home and appliance reporter with Consumer Reports in New York.
A robotic vacuum cleaner today can set you back as little as around $180.
If you have a large home with multiple floors and require heavier duty cleaning, it’s wise to spend a bit more and pay $400 and up for more powerful suction and better cleaning from trusted brands like iRobot, Eufy, Roborock, ECOVACS, and Shark IQ.
Hooman Shahidi, vice president of Product Management for iRobot, makers of Roomba robotic vacs, says there are four primary areas where these devices have improved: cleaning efficacy, navigation technology, hands-free cleaning features like self-emptying and voice commands, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
“Whereas older generations could clean two or three adjacent rooms, new robots are capable of cleaning an entire level of the home, remembering where they are, and building a map as they go,” explains Shahidi. “Once the robot learns the room names, users can direct the robot to clean specific rooms, by name, and set up keep-out zones for preventing the robot from accessing unwanted areas. Our robot vacuums also use dozens of sensors and technologies, including ‘cliff detection’ sensors that avoid stairs and other drop-offs, and pump sensors to identify obstacles.”
Although today’s robo vacs boast advanced technologies like these, they still operate on a basic old-school principle.
“Robotic vacuums have a small motor that propels them around the house on wheels, turning brushes or rollers that kick up debris as suction pulls it into an internal dustbin no bigger than a quart of milk,” Rae notes.
But these automated wonders can’t do everything, of course.
They only clean up dirt and loose debris. Sticky messes on the floor won’t be cleaned unless your robot vacuum cleaner has a mop function. Most robot cleaners are round in shape, so they won’t clean right up into the corners of rooms, and they are not as powerful as upright or canister vacuum cleaners in the same price range. This means they won’t do an incredibly deep clean of your rugs and carpets, but they can clean much more frequently and keep all surfaces dirt and grit-free.
In other words, at best they can serve as a companion to your regular vacuum and help keep your floors a little cleaner in between uses of your upright or canister model, according to Rae.
“However, robotic vacuums offer many advantages over traditional vacuums, including the ability to schedule daily cleaning jobs and clean and difficult-to-reach areas, such as under beds and couches,” Shahidi points out. “They also free up additional time that allows customers to do more important things, like tackling other chores or spending time with friends and family.”
Just keep in mind that a little prep and regular maintenance are required.
“Before yours begins its work, you’ll need to secure any loose cords and pick up socks, food, or anything else that might get caught in the brush or roller. If you’d like the vacuum to skip an area of your home, such as a playroom, you can close the door to create a physical barrier,” recommends Rae.
For best performance and a longer lifespan, you’ll also have to clean out the unit and its brushes/rollers/parts carefully every few days or as needed when there’s a clog or malfunction.