Robot vacuum cleaners: Our buying guide

Carefree Homeowner And His Robot VacuumWhen I visited a group of friends recently – one of whom we take great pleasure in teasing about his uncleanliness – I noticed an unassuming little robot vacuum cleaner sitting in the corner of their apartment living room. It was about the size of an oversized wok and just as tall.

“He’s great,” my friend remarked, “you just set the time when you want him to clean, and he ends up back at the power dock by the time you get home.”

Him. Like it was a puppy or something. If I were paranoid, I would immediately think ‘this is how the robot uprising begins’! But it’s apparently not a cause for concern. According to a manufacturer in the US, more than half of the owners of a certain model named their new robot vacuum cleaner.

This perhaps gives an interesting insight into how easy it could potentially be to incorporate a robot vacuum cleaner into your home. However, the larger and more important question looms: what can robotic vacuum cleaners offer us? Are these clever devices the way of the future, or are they a passing fad? Let’s take a closer look.

Table of Contents

What are automatic vacuums cleaners?


To state it plainly, a robot vacuum cleans your floors and carpets without you having to direct it. The big convenience factor of robotic vacuums is their autonomous operation and range of cleaning. The path the robot follows when vacuuming is determined by an inbuilt algorithm that attempts to achieve complete floor coverage (though this varies by manufacturer).

They are equipped with infrared sensors, which they use to scan their surroundings and determine the location of obstacles. They’re also outfitted with ‘cliff sensors’ on their underside, that constantly check for sudden drops – such as the tops of staircases – that could potentially damage the robot. The automatic vacuum cleaner uses these sensors to adjust its course through your home.

Robotic vacuums are also compact appliances that are usually no more than 10cm high, meaning they can easily clean underneath chairs, couches or other low-standing furniture.

How much do robot vacuum cleaners cost?


Pricing varies for these types of automatic vacuum cleaners, with some budget models costing less than $100 and some higher-end models priced in excess of $1,000. The cost difference comes down to factors such as build quality, battery life, efficiency of movement and other features, as well as a degree of ‘brand power’.

LG, Samsung, Vax, Roomba, and Hoover are just some of the well known manufacturers presently producing robot vacuums.

What are some features to look for?


Robot Vacuum FeaturesRobotic vacuum cleaners aren’t necessarily designed to replace your upright model, but rather operate in tandem with it. Why? Well, they simply cannot rival a conventional model in terms of power. As disappointing as this news may be, we can tell you that robot vacuums can make your existing cleaning duties much less onerous through regular spot cleaning – and that may be worth the price.

  • Sensors make it super intelligent: Robot vacuum cleaners have on-board processors and infrared sensors. Together, these are efficient in both calculating how big the room they need to clean is, and remembering where they shouldn’t go.
  • They look after themselves: The sensors can lock onto the vacuum cleaner’s charging station, which allows the cleaner to find its way back unabated when it’s running low on batteries. It can do the same when it needs to empty its waste basket.
  • Scheduled cleaning: As mentioned earlier, you can schedule your new robot vacuum cleaner to clean rooms of your house or apartment while you’re away. This is one of the key appeals of purchasing this type of appliance.
  • Vacuum power: Simply put, the more powerful the vacuum cleaner is, the better it will be at sucking up debris. Interestingly, the difference in price between vacuum cleaners is usually due to the efficiency of their navigation; size and power tends not to vary much to preserve mobility and battery life. If power is your priority, you’re better off simply buying a cheaper model.

What are some of the disadvantages?


Sure, we love the idea of these appliances. But like any purchase, they aren’t without one or two faults.

  • They can get stuck: Robotics have come a long way in the last fifty years. However, even the pinnacle of scientific genius cannot circumvent a poorly placed shoe or shopping bag. The algorithms that these vacuums use to navigate aren’t perfect, and even the best of models will occasionally be found stuck against a seemingly trivial obstacle.
  • They’re limited to certain surfaces: The small wheels and propulsion motor of robotic vacuums means they’re limited to flat, stable surfaces such as wood, tiles and short carpet. Robot vacuums will often get stuck on surfaces such as shaggy carpets or piled up rugs and blankets, meaning you’ll need to ensure there’s a clear path for your robot to clean.
  • Low capacity and power: The small size of robot vacuums means they are necessarily lacking in suction and capacity compared to a larger vacuum, with even the largest devices having a capacity of only a few litres. If you’re looking for more capability in this area, you may have to buy yourself a conventional vacuum cleaner with a proper impeller motor (few robot vacuums have one of these).

Where are robot vacuum cleaners headed in the future?


We now rely on computer-based technology for our entertainment, transport, and now cleaning; it seems likely that autonomous cleaning robots will become far more commonplace in the future; though whether you decide to name yours is entirely up to you.

Don’t believe us? We looked into the future of these types of devices and found some interesting results.

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