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Robot Vacuum Buying Guide: What You Need to Know

Keeping a house clean is hard work. Why not employ a robot to help?

There are myriad robot vacuums available at a variety of prices that can help you with the tedious chore of cleaning your floors. Whether you've got carpet or hardwood, or a corral of pets, there's a robot vacuum to suit your needs. These machines also come with plenty of extra features — some of which make them nearly as efficient at cleaning as a standard, upright vacuum. And if coming home to a spotless abode is your primary concern, you can choose a robot vacuum with Wi-Fi connectivity.

We've compiled the following guide for those of you who are stuck on how to start shopping for a robot vacuum. And if you want the short end of it, here are some quick tips to start you off.

Quick Tips

  1. Start by surveying your house. Is there hardwood or carpet? Do you have pets, and does your cat kick her litter out of the box? These are factors to consider when shopping around for a robot vacuum for the first time.
  2. Decide on your budget. You can spend as little as $200 or as much as $1,000. However, be prepared to do without some popular features in models in the lower price tiers — like tractioned brush rollers and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  3. Do you want an app with that? Many robot vacuum models use companion apps that make it easier to control and schedule the robot vacuum. Some models can even map out where they've cleaned.
  4. Some models clean better than others. Not all robot vacuums clean the same. Some are better at picking up pet hair off carpets, while others might perform better on hardwood or vinyl.
  5. Battery life is a factor to consider here, too. Usually, the bigger the battery, the better the cleaning job, especially if you have a larger home. But it's OK if you'd rather save some money by choosing a model that has to park itself and recharge in the middle of a session.

Why do you want a robot vacuum

This is the future, and we have robots doing it all: Cars that drive themselves, drones that navigate the sky and robot vacuums that find their way around furniture. A robot vacuum keeps things relatively clean and saves you the hassle of scheduling a maid service or nagging your kids to do their chores.

A robot vacuum doesn't replace an upright vacuum or a deep housecleaning, but it does help pick up things like food crumbs, cat litter, hair of all types, dust bunnies and every other dense particle we leave behind on the floors when we're living in a house. They're suited for office spaces, too, because the last thing you want to worry about when you're on deadline is why the floor is covered in sprinkles. Many robot vacuums can be scheduled to run as often as once a day or several times a week, and some are available with companion apps. If you're concerned about allergies or dust, you can also find models with built-in HEPA filters.

MORE: Best Robot Vacuums

How big is your house?

First things first: Consider how big your house is before you start browsing the Amazon aisles. Some robot vacuums, like the iLife V3s Pro, work better in small environments like apartments and townhomes, while models like the iRobot Roomba i7 are better-suited for spaces of up to 2,000 square feet with multiple rooms. Your pick will mainly depend on the size of your dwelling.

You'll also want to figure out how much room you have under the furniture for the robot vacuum to pass through. Robot vacuums like the Dyson 360 Eye are more than 4 inches tall, so it can't fit under as many dressers and beds as other models. At just under 3 inches tall, the Eufy Robovac 11s, for example, has an easier time navigating through tight spaces.

Do you have carpets or hardwood?

Most robot vacuum models can easily handle cleaning both carpets and hardwood, but some are better at cleaning one or the other. Higher-end robot vacuums such as the Roomba i7 can accommodate rapid surface changes by ramping up power whenever carpet is detected, and then throttling back down when it senses hardwood. Rugs should also factor into your buying decision. You might find that lower-end models will get caught up in tassels.

If you're just looking for hardwood maintenance, you can go as cheap as the $159 iLife V3s Pro, as it does very well with cleaning pet hair off hardwood floors. If your floors are vinyl and tile, and you're hoping for some mopping help, there's the iRobot Braava Jet, which is specifically made for wetting and washing floors. We've tried robot vacuums that can both vacuum and mop, but found they do neither task particularly well.

Do you have dogs or cats?

Thankfully, many manufacturers make robot vacuums that are suited for cleaning up after pets. Models like the Samsung Powerbot R7070, Neato Botvac Connected and iLife V3s Pro can pick up dog fur and cat hair with relative ease — all three models scored the best in our robot vacuum lab tests. And if you suffer from allergies, these robot vacuums have HEPA filters to help eliminate allergens that are hanging in the air.

Of course, the downside to having a robot vacuum clean up after your pets is that you'll also have to make sure you plan for frequent maintenance. Things like the roller brush, side brushes and HEPA filters will eventually wear out and need replacing. And even if you just want a robot vacuum to help with kitties that scoot their litter over the side, you'll need to remember to empty out the dustbin frequently so that it doesn't overflow. Look for dustbins larger than 600 milliliters if you only want to worry about emptying it out every few cleanings or so. Smaller bins are more likely to fill up after just one cleaning.

Did you want Wi-Fi connectivity?

The internet is a glorious thing that helps keep us connected, not only to other people but also to our appliances. When you look at the iRobot Roomba i7 or the Shark Ion R85, for example, you'll see that they all offer companion app control. Many of the app feature sets differ, however, which means they often deliver different user experiences. 

If a robot vacuum has app capabilities, it often means that it also offers Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant integration. If it does, you can enable its voice-command capabilities by saying,  "Start cleaning!" and the vacuum will get going.

If you don't mind eschewing Wi-Fi connectivity in favor of saving a little cash, many entry-level robot vacuums come with remote controls that run on alkaline batteries and are simple to use. Even the app-connected Samsung Powerbot R7070 comes with an additional remote in the box, just in case you don't want to bother with setting up an app.

Battery life only matters if your house is really big

Here's the thing about battery life on a robot vacuum: It only matters to some extent. Most of the robot vacuums we tested lasted throughout an entire cleaning session without needing a charge.

On average, a robot vacuum can clean for up to an hour and a half, with some high-end models lasting a full two hours. Some vacuums will even navigate back to their base stations, charge up and then finish cleaning to get the deed done.

Settle on a budget

Robot vacuums are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes and at varying prices. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the more you spend, the more features you get. But there are good robot vacuums available at every price.

What you get for less than $300

Low- to mid-end robot vacs will offer long cleaning times, large dustbins and low profiles, but, to save you a few bucks, they often forego such things as Wi-Fi connectivity and sophisticated navigation. Our top pick under $200 is the iLife V3s Pro, which is just $159, but was one of the best cleaners of all the robot vacuums we tested. 

If you're looking for something with smart home connectivity, the Shark Ion R85 is your best bet. It costs about $200, does a great job cleaning, and works with Alexa and Google Home.

What you get for less than $700

If you like the idea of a robot vacuum that can adequately navigate your labyrinthine house, you'll have to pay more. Devices like the Neato Botvac D4 and Roomba i7 have more sophisticated sensors for mapping their environments, which means they can clean your house faster and more efficiently, and let you do things such as create virtual walls and tell the robot to clean specific rooms. 

What you get for more than $800

Good help doesn't come cheap. There are relatively few robot vacuums in this price range, and most people won't need the features that come in this bracket. Our top pick in this bracket is the iRobot Roomba i7+, which is essentially the i7, but comes with a Clean Base that not only recharges the vacuum, but sucks the dirt out of it into a larger storage bin, so you don't have to empty out the robot after every cleaning.