Vacuum cleaners have gone a long way, and today, you can schedule the cleaning session and let a robot vacuum do everything for you while you’re working or taking a nap.
But if you want to make the most of it, you should learn how to choose the best robot vacuum.
To make things easy, we put together this buying guide to help you find the best machine for your home.
Things to Consider
The most important thing to consider before buying a robot vacuum is to consider your home layout – something most people fail to do.
However, some robots work best in smaller homes, while others perform better in larger open spaces. If your home has a challenging layout with lots of turns, multiple rooms, and stairs, you may need a smart robot vacuum that uses intelligent mapping.
However, if your home layout is fairly basic and only has one floor, you can save some money and get a more basic model.
Robot vacuums use two types of navigation, each with its pros and cons:
- Infrared Sensors: Work pretty much like the sensors you see in thriller movies. Infrared beams map the area and direct the robot around obstacles. The technology is relatively inexpensive, but the machine may miss certain objects and surfaces in your home. On the bright side, these robot vacuums can clean your home in all light conditions.
- Optical Navigation: Uses small cameras mounted either on top or the edges of the unit. These robot vacuums can map your spaces more efficiently and miss fewer objects and surfaces. However, because they use contrasts and landmarks to decipher where they are, they won’t work in pitch-black environments.
Some of the best robot vacuums use a combination of infrared and optical sensors. These models provide advanced mapping and excellent coverage in all rooms, but they are costly.
Most robot vacuums can work on various types of surfaces, including hard floors and carpets or rugs. However, as you may know already, different floors require different kinds of brushes and suction power.
If you only have hard floors (hardwood, tiles, linoleum, or resin), a robot vacuum with moderate suction power and regular brush rolls may perform just fine and save you some money.
However, if your home has many carpeted areas or if you have lots of rugs, you should invest in a machine with:
- Big Wheels: Make the transition from hard to carpeted floors easier.
- High Suction Power: A higher suction power is needed to dislodge dirt and grime embedded in carpets and rugs.
- Self-cleaning brush rolls: Prevent debris, hair, and carpet fibers from clogging the brushes.
The main specification to look at when assessing your robot vacuum’s suction power is the airflow, typically shown in cubic feet per minute (CFM).
This number will tell you how much air goes from the head to the bin in one minute. Most domestic robot vacuums have an airflow between 50 and 100 CFM, sometimes more.
However, don’t just assume that higher suction power is better.
It would be best to consider the types of floors you have to assess the optimal suction power for your home.
- If you have hard floors, look for a robot vacuum with a suction power of 90 CFM or below. Anything higher will create too much air movement at floor level, pushing debris towards the corners and edges of the room – areas that most robot vacuums have trouble cleaning. On the other hand, a lower suction power will create the proper air movement, drawing the dust and debris into the nozzle.
- If you have carpeted floors or lots of rugs, look for a robot vacuum with a suction power of 100 CFM or higher. Higher suction power is needed to dislodge debris and dust from carpets. The higher suction power also works well for getting rid of mold spores and other allergens.
Most robot vacuum cleaners feature multiple cleaning modes that make it a breeze to deal with all kinds of messes. The least you should want include:
- Auto: Useful for general cleaning, the robot vacuum sets this mode after the machine has mapped your home.
- Spot cleaning: This allows the vacuum to focus on a particularly dirty zone. It is handy if you only have a few small rugs that need particular attention.
- Turbo: Increased suction power allows the robot vacuum to deal with challenging messes. Households with small kids and pets may benefit the most from this option.
- Edge cleaning: Helps clean the edges and corners more thoroughly. When this mode is enabled, the robot vacuum usually runs along the room’s perimeter, cleaning along the floor edges.
- Quiet mode: Most robot vacuums are relatively silent, but if you want to run them at night, the quiet mode will come in handy.
- Mop mode: Some robot vacuums also have mop functions, providing wet cleaning for your floors after they’ve vacuumed. They are ideal for homes with hard floors but not suitable if you have a mix of hard floors and carpets unless the robot can detect the various surfaces and turn on mopping when transitioning to a carpeted area.
Furniture clearance and size
Another essential thing to check before buying is the size of the robot vacuum, especially its height. Knowing the machine’s dimension is vital to clean it in tight spaces and under the furniture.
Some robot vacuums are thin enough to go under sofas and armchairs, so that’s something to consider.
Perhaps the main disadvantage of robot vacuums is the small bin size, usually under 0.6 liters. If you live alone or with a partner and only have hard floors, such a small bin might be enough for cleaning your whole house.
However, if you have a larger home, carpets, and kids or pets, the container will quickly fill up.
If you don’t want to empty the bin every 10 minutes, getting a robot vacuum with a dustbin larger than 0.6 liters is ideal. Although these models are usually more expensive, they are worth it.
Automatic dirt disposal
Automatic dirt disposal is a sweet alternative to a small dustbin, especially when a robot vacuum with a large bin is too tall to go under your low-hanging furniture.
This option is available on most last-generation robot vacuums. It consists of a dumper base where the robot vacuum dumps the dirt and grime in the bin whenever it is complete.
Note: Self-emptying is an expensive feature at once, but now it is seen in mid level reasonable price models.
Typically, this base also acts as a charging dock for self-charging robot vacuums.
The main disadvantage is the large footprint it occupies compared to a regular charging dock. If you live in a large home, this usually isn’t an issue. However, it may be too cumbersome for a smaller apartment or studio.
Battery Life & Battery Type
There is hardly anything more annoying than scheduling your robot vacuum to clean the house while you’re at work, only to turn home and find a dead vacuum in the middle of the living room.
To avoid this scenario, it is essential to check the battery life and the robot’s speed.
Lower-end robot vacuums have a battery life of around 60 minutes on hard floors; higher-end models exceed 90 and sometimes 120 minutes on hard floors.
In this time, most robot vacuums can clean an average American home, around 2,000 square feet.
However, things may change if you have carpeted floors. Due to the higher suction power needed to clean rugs and carpets, the battery life will be reduced. Typically, you can expect your robot vacuum to last anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on the original battery life.
In other words, if you have a bigger home, you should expect to charge it at least once throughout the cleaning process.
Note: If you want to schedule cleaning sessions when you’re out of home, you may want to invest in a self-charging robot vacuum.
This type of vacuum turns to its charging base on its own, docks until the battery is charged, then resumes cleaning where it left it. While this feature is fantastic, self-charging robot vacuums are typically expensive and probably not worth it if you live in a smaller home that can be cleaned on one battery charge.
Memory and square footage
Robot vacuums work by creating maps of your homes to optimize cleaning, but not all machines can memorize large floors. That’s why you should also assess the memory and maximum square footage the vacuum you like can remember.
Typically, essential robot vacuums can map and memorize around 2,000 square feet, sometimes a little more. This is the average size of an American home, and typically more than someone living in an apartment will ever need.
If you live in a larger home or you need a robot vacuum for your office building, know that some of the high-end models can memorize up to 10,000 square feet per floor.
Mapping and no-go zones
The mapping options are also essential to check alongside square footage, especially if you live in a multi-story home.
Indeed, essential vacuum cleaners may only have single-floor mapping abilities, which means you’ll have to reset the robot and let it map the floor from scratch each time you move it from one floor to another.
Not only will this become annoying, but most robot vacuums tend to improve efficiency in time, as they learn the area better.
Higher-end robot vacuums, on the other hand, have multi-story mapping capabilities and memorize several floor plans. They are ideal for multi-story homes as well as office buildings when used in more than one environment.
Note: No-go zones are sometimes termed as keep out zones.
Regarding the no-go zones, these are areas where you don’t want to grant your robot vacuum access. Limits can be set to prevent it from going in certain areas or tripping down the stairs. Barriers can range from magnetic ones on the basic models to customized app control on the top-end machines.
Talking about app control, if you’re the kind of person who uses Google Home or Alexa to order takeout, play music, and manage innovative home features, you might also want a robot vacuum you can control via a mobile app from a distance.
App control allows you to set cleaning schedules when you’re not at home or re-schedule a programmed session at any time and from anywhere. Most of the present robot vacuums even integrate with smart home devices, including Google Home and Alexa, and incorporate voice control features.
Smart features are always nice to have but not always essential.
Some of the most common smart features you may want to include multi-floor mapping, automatic carpet detection (turns of mop functions or increases suction power automatically), automatic stair detection (prevents the robot from falling even if you haven’t set no-go zones), and no Wi-Fi connectivity, which allows you to control the robot even if there is no Wi-Fi connection.
That said, if you live in a smaller, one-story apartment that has hard floors all over, you may save some money and enjoy the same cleaning efficiency even if you buy a cheaper model.
If you suffer from allergies or respiratory issues, you might want to get a HEPA robot vacuum. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are designed to trap most allergens, including pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, bacteria, and other particles as small as 0.3 microns.
Genuine HEPA filters manufactured to standards can remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles.
However, pay attention to HEPA-type filters, which may look authentic HEPA but are not manufactured to standard.
They may draw up the vacuum’s price because of false advertising. Still, they are essentially regular filters all non-HEPA vacuum cleaners use.
Last but not least, consider the noise level. The average noise level for robot vacuums is around 60-70 decibels, which is as loud or slightly louder than normal conversation.
By comparison, standard vacuum cleaners have a noise output of about 80 decibels.
However, at 70dB, the machine is still loud enough to disturb your sleep or neighbors if you live in a condo and want to run the vacuum early in the morning or late at night.
In any of these instances, you should focus on getting a silent robot vacuum – some have a noise output of only 50dB.
Want to find out more? Check out these resources:
Are robotic vacuums worth it? Find out robot vacuums’ main pros and cons to decide whether you should get one or stick to the traditional kind.
Robot vacuum usage tips: Learn how to make the most out of your robot vacuum.