Is a Robot Vacuum Worth It? Our Real-Life Experience
I’ll never forget first learning about robot vacuums. My brother-in-law got one ages ago; and I remember thinking: “Really, it’s too hard to vacuum our own floors now?” This was clearly before I had a large-ish house and multiple kids and a busier life, because we now own a robot vacuum and it’s one of my very favorite things ever. That said, robot vacuums are not inexpensive; so you may have found yourself wondering if they are worth the cost and/or if they really get the job done. Today, I want to share our real-life experiences and highlight some things you should consider when investing in a robot vacuum for your own home!
Why We Got a Robot Vacuum
I am very far from a “clean freak,” but I have always had a thing about dirty floors under my bare feet. I hate the feeling of crumbs, dirt, dust, sand (or anything!); which is why I actually wear shoes pretty much 100% of the time (yes, even inside our home). Even with shoes on though, a few years ago our floors became a particular nuisance to me.
First, the darker, hardwood floors in our VA home showed crumbs much easier than the lighter floors in our previous homes. So while I’m sure we’ve always had dirt and crumbs on our floors, I never noticed them as much as I did in our VA home. And second, we added a third child to our family; which I swear caused crumbs to seemingly accumulate on our floors at an exponential rate.
Over time, the food/crumb situation really started to bother me. As much as I worked to pick up our house and keep it tidy, the state of my floors made it feel like no matter how clean everything else was, the house still looked (and felt) a mess. And as much as I wished I had enough time, energy, and will in my day to vacuum my floors nightly, I just didn’t.
So when Greg asked me what I wanted for Christmas one year, I said…honestly, completely jokingly…”a little elf to come clean my floors every night.” And there under our tree on Christmas morning…was a bot vacuum!
Which Robot Vacuum We Have
We have the iRobot Roomba s9+ (9550) Robot Vacuum; which admittedly, is not the cheapest or highest-rated robot vacuum on the market. Greg specifically wanted a Roomba vacuum. Not just because it’s a well-established manufacturer in the robot vacuum industry; but also because of their specific mapping technology developed with MIT. When we are shopping for electronics, our general philosophy is to get the best and newest model that we can afford at the time (since electronics become outdated so quickly), and the Roomba s9+ was the perfect match of all these criteria.
We completely love this vacuum, but this post isn’t about our specific vacuum.
One look at the descriptions, prices, and reviews of the “best robot vacuums” available on the market today will show you there is incredible breadth and variety. And since robot vacuums are not an insignificant investment, I obviously can’t purchase several and compare them (I’ll let the big, fancy consumer reports sites do that!)
But what I can comment on are the specific features our vacuum has, why we like them (or not), and how they work for our home and lifestyle. It is my hope that these insights help inform your own decision making process when/if you ever decide to invest in a robot vacuum of your own!
Pros of Using a Robot Vacuum
It Vacuums For You
Okay, let’s get this (quite obvious) perk out of the way. A robot vacuum vacuums your floors for you…without you having to do (pretty much) anything. I am going out of my way to highlight this because, at least for me, this is the most life-changing aspect of owning a robot vacuum.
I went from constantly trying to squeeze in a quick vacuum whenever I could (which was never) to my floors being vacuumed every single night. I now come downstairs to clean floors every single morning, and the change to my mood and overall feelings toward my home changed dramatically because of it. Taking this one thing off my plate reduces my overall stress level and makes keeping up with our daily household chores much more manageable.
Our robot vacuum is controlled entirely by an app on our mobile device via wi-fi (which I think true for most current models). Not only does this make it a snap to set up your robot vacuum, but it also allows you to start, pause, or end a cleaning (from anywhere in the home) with a simple tap of a button.
Our app also sends really helpful notifications, such as when a job is completed, if a job can’t be completed, when the bin needs to be emptied, when the filters need to be changed, when the robot is stuck, etc. These notifications are especially helpful because in time, you will grow used to your vacuuming just being done. So when something actually goes wrong, it’s nice to get a quick heads up so you can fix it!
Upon setting up our robot vacuum, one of its first tasks was to “map” the house to use for navigation. Mapping the house means the vacuum (and all its little sensors and computers) systematically move across every inch of your floors, detecting (primarily) walls, but also furniture, rugs, drop offs, and other features. These smart maps allow your robot to perform cleaning tasks more efficiently, as well as enable you to designate (and therefor assign) certain areas of the house to be cleaned.
Our robot detected (with near-perfect results) the layout of our main floor. We were then able to go in and label each room accordingly. With each room labeled, we can “instruct” the robot to only clean the kitchen, or only clean the dining room, or clean the entire first floor. Although the mapping process can be quite lengthy, it’s incredibly important to the ultimate running and efficiency of using your vacuum.
Our robot+app also allows for scheduling, so cleaning our floors is seriously about as hands-free as possible. You can create a variety of specific jobs based on when you want certain cleanings done. Currently, our schedule is as follows:
- Monday – Thursday & Saturday – Dining room & kitchen only
- Sunday – Entire first floor
We don’t have the vacuum run on Friday nights because we usually do Pizza & Movie Night (so there is little mess, plus we want to be able to hear our movie). On Sundays, we do the entire first floor to recover from the weekend and get ready for the week ahead.
Although 98% of the cleaning our robot vacuum does is pre-scheduled, you can also start a “New Job” at any time. So if we need to run the vacuum in the dining room following an afternoon party or in the kitchen after an impromptu baking session, we can pick a room on the app and start the cleaning immediately.
When we first got our robot vacuum, I’ll admit I was pretty captivated watching it work. It’s quite remarkable how it maneuvers around furniture and walls, senses extra-dirty areas, and even weasels its way into tight spots (like small alcoves around and under furniture and even between the spindles on our railing). I can say, without a doubt, that it vacuums areas I would never be able to (or bother with) using a standard vacuum.
The suction on our robot vacuum is incredibly strong, and it’s amazing what it can pull into its brush rollers. It has no issue picking up chunks of food and dirt; and other items like LEGO bricks, shoe laces, power cords, pieces of paper, and small toys can and will get pulled in if they are left on the floor. Our robot can “sense” if an area is particular dirty, and will move over the area multiple times in order to pick up everything.
This super strong suction can also be a “Con,” so be sure to read more on this below.
Our first floor has a step down for half of the house; the family room and living room are “sunken” about 6″ from the kitchen, dining room, office, and foyer. As such, it was really important that our robot vacuum have “Drop Off Detection.” This means the robot can sense where the step-down is…and therefor stops and turns around. In our almost 2 years of using our vacuum, we’ve never once had our vacuum tumble down the step!
Most robot vacuums these days, including ours, have a self-emptying feature. This means that once it’s done with its cleaning mode, the vacuum returns to its dock and empties all the debris immediately into the attached dustbin (the tall, vertical portion of the setup). This contributes to the very “hands off” nature of owning a robot vacuum…especially since it takes a very long time to fill up the dust bin (like months).
When the robot vacuum returns to its docking station (or “Home”), it automatically recharges. Because the vacuum is essentially charging all day, we’ve never run out of battery life and it’s always been ready to go whenever we’ve needed it!
Cons of Using a Robot Vacuum
Again, I can only speak for our specific robot vacuum, the iRobot Roomba s9+ (9550). These may or may not be an issue on different models, so do your research on the features that really matter to you!
Single Floor Use
We have our robot vacuum setup and docked in the dining room on our first floor. And because of the step-down in our floor plan, it cannot and does not ever vacuum our family room, playroom or anywhere upstairs.
We can (theoretically) set up the vacuum to map and run these other areas, but it would not be able to complete the jobs on an automatic schedule. This would require us to pick up the robot vacuum, carry it up the stairs, and place it into these rooms…then fetch it once it’s done and return it to its docking station back on the first floor.
We ultimately determined this was too much of a nuisance for us (since we primarily just needed hands-free cleaning of our kitchen and dining room), so we still vacuum these (carpeted) areas with our standard upright vacuum. But if you are looking for a one-vacuum-fits-all solution, this might be something to think about.
Yes, It Can Get Stuck
When you read reviews of robot vacuums, a lot of them complain about the vacuum getting stuck. Yes…every now and then, our robot vacuum gets stuck. In our case, it is very rarely stuck in corners or under furniture. Rather, it is typically because something…usually a toy…was left on the floor. Because of that super suction I described above, too-big items get pulled in and then prevent the roller brushes from moving the vacuum forward. Once we clear the rollers, the vacuum can usually finish the scheduled job.
Bare Floors Help
We’ve learned that for the vacuum to run without issue, it is very helpful to have things “out of the way.” As such, we always do a quick pickup of any shoes, bags, or toys that are on the floor before the scheduled job begins. We also put chairs and stools up on the tables/counter so the vacuum can run without any obstacles.
It Doesn’t Like the Dark
The other situation our robot vacuum cleaner seems to get stuck in or stops for no apparent reason is if the room is completely dark. This usually only happens if it goes to complete a scheduled job when we aren’t home. Our guess is that the vacuum’s sensors and cameras need some light in order to function properly. When this happens, we usually come home to find the vacuum stopped in the middle of the floor, so we just re-start the job or send it home for the night.
It Is Noisy
For me personally, almost all of these Cons are no big deal if it means I get clean floors when I come downstairs every morning. But I will say, the one I find the most “nuisance” is the noise level. Our robot vacuum is very loud. On most nights, we are upstairs doing our bath and bed routine with the little boys, so we don’t really hear it. But if we are trying to watch TV, have a conversation, or make a phone call, it’s practically impossible while the vacuum is running. I’ve started seeing newer models advertising a “noise-less” feature that you might want to explore if this is important to you.
Robot Vacuum Features I Can’t Comment On
Finally, there are a few robot vacuum features I can’t quite touch on because we didn’t encounter them with our specific house or our specific vacuum. That said, these might apply to you, so be aware of them when researching which vacuum is right for your home!
- Carpet Versus Hardwood – We only use our robot vacuum on hard floors and very low-pile carpet; so I cannot speak to the suction power on thicker rugs or wall-to-wall carpet.
- Moving Over Thresholds or Door Jams – Our floors are 100% smooth, with no transitions between rooms. As such, our robot did not have to go over door jams or thresholds. However, having watched it with rugs and doormats, I doubt they would have been an issue.
- Mopping Features – Our robot is not currently outfitted with the compatible “mopping” attachment, so I do not know how well this particular cleaning function works.
- Pets – We do not have pets; so I cannot testify to how the these vacuum cleaners handle pet hair.
- Voice Commands – We do not use any voice control services (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Siri, Hey Google, etc), so I do not know how well starting a robot vac with your voice works.
Once upon a time, I was completely skeptical about the value of a robot vacuum. Honestly, I just couldn’t envision a scenario in which I couldn’t do my own vacuuming. But now with a busy life and messy household, I have to admit our robot vacuum is one of my very favorite household investments.
Is a robot vacuum necessary to clean your floors? No; it is very much a “nice to have,” luxury cleaning product. But can it be a complete time and sanity saver for busy households? Without a doubt. Having clean floors to start every day not only boosts my mood (significantly!) but also gives me the time, energy, and motivation to deal with the other households tasks we can’t (yet!) automate!
Do you have a robot vacuum?!? I’d really love to hear about your experiences! Feel free to share in the comments below.