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Nobody enjoys doing household chores, which is why there’s been a proliferation of smart home devices that make it possible to avoid doing them completely. You can now even get “smart valves”, which automatically water your plants 5 Smart Devices To Help Manage Your Garden 5 Smart Devices To Help Manage Your Garden Turns out, a smart garden is completely possible, thanks to the devices we are going to take a look at today. Read More .

It doesn’t stop there. Vacuuming, for example, is a job increasingly being borne by robotic vacuum cleaners. These traverse your home by their own accord, sucking up all the dust and debris in their path. You’re probably familiar with (and have lusted over) the iconic iRobot Roomba iRobot Roomba 760 Review and Giveaway iRobot Roomba 760 Review and Giveaway Who doesn't like a clean house? Actually, let me rephrase that - who doesn't like a self-cleaning house? Imagine a world where you needn't lift a finger to sweep or mop your floor. We'll be... Read More , which has been on the market for almost 15 years now.

The appeal of these devices is undeniable. But they’re not for everyone. You should think long and hard before buying one. Here’s why.

House Owners Beware: They Don’t Do Stairs

Yep. 15 years of development, and they can’t climb stairs. That’s not for lack of trying; getting robots to climb stairs is a pretty big challenge, and save for a couple of pre-production prototypes, nobody has been able to pull it off without making serious compromises with maneuverability and form-factor.

This means that unless you own an apartment, you’re going to have a vacuum cleaner on hand for the stairs which, it could be argued, fundamentally defeats the purpose of owning a robotic vacuum cleaner.

As a side note, it’s worth adding that while no Roombas have the ability to climb stairs, many of the newer models ship with sensors that allow them to clean the upper flights of houses without cascading down a flight of stairs.


This is probably for the best, especially when you consider that the cheapest ones cost around $300.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Have Less Suction

If you read a review of a Roomba in the technology press or an Amazon comments section, you’ll see one common complaint – robotic vacuum cleaners aren’t terribly powerful at sucking up dirt. This is a no-brainer. They’re much smaller than normal vacuum cleaners, and rather than depending on a mains power source, they have to use (and conserve) a battery pack.

Advocates of robotic vacuum cleaners argue that this isn’t a problem, since robotic vacuum cleaners are designed to run more frequently than you would ordinarily vacuum a home. While you might drag out your Dyson every three days or so, you could potentially schedule your Roomba to run multiple times a day.


But I’m not terribly convinced by this. I own both a dog, and a top-of-the-line Dyson DC40 vacuum cleaner, which cost £200 (around $400 in the US) brand new. When my dog sheds fur, my vacuum struggles to capture every last strand. I have to go over the same spot again and again with a measure of forcefulness. I struggle to see how a much weaker robotic vacuum cleaner would cope.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Struggle With Clutter

Let’s clear up one myth about robotic vacuums. They only suck up dust and debris. They won’t pick up your dirty laundry, or move that stack of books on your floor. For them to be truly effective, you need to proactively ensure that your floor is clear.

While this won’t be a barrier for some people, it certainly will for some college students I know.

Robot Vacuum Cleaners Require Maintenance

Robot vacuum cleaners aren’t totally hands-off. You still need to perform regular maintenance in order to keep them working properly and to prevent them from breaking.

Take the Roomba, for example. In a 2013 article, CNET recommended users remove and clean the brushes and the bearings once a week, and to remove the chassis and remove any internal debris once a month. That’s a lot of work.

I imagine it could be quite scary too, especially if the user isn’t mechanically inclined. It goes without saying that the average vacuum cleaner doesn’t require the same level of maintenance.

Robot Vacuums Are Expensive

Finally, let’s cut to the chase. Robotic vacuum cleaners are still extremely expensive, and are out of the price range for many people. This is strange, given that they are a mature technology that has existed on the market for over 15 years. Doubly so when you consider that there are a plethora of Shenzhen-made knockoffs that have flooded eBay, the Amazon marketplaces, and Ali Express AliExpress Is Cheap, But Is It Safe to Shop There? AliExpress Is Cheap, But Is It Safe to Shop There? Is it safe to shop with Aliexpress? Are there any security vulnerabilities you should know about? Is it secure? And are you more likely to be the victim of fraud or counterfeiting on Aliexpress? Read More .

At the top of the market is the iRobot Roomba 980, which costs just shy of $900. In terms of cleaning performance, this generally matches other Roombas, but this has increased mobile connectivity, and drastically improved navigation.

iRobot Roomba 980 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner iRobot Roomba 980 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner iAdapt 2.0 Navigation with Visual Localization enables Roomba to navigate and clean an entire level of your home Buy Now At Amazon $799.00

The cheapest Roomba you’ll get is the 620, which costs around $300. This offers essentially the same functionality, but with some minor omissions. There’s no scheduling function, for example, and it won’t tell you when the dust bin is full and requires emptying. You have to check manually.

iRobot Roomba 620 Vacuum iRobot Roomba 620 Vacuum Compatible with all floor types Buy Now At Amazon $288.50

British household name Dyson has also entered the robotic vacuum cleaner fray with the Dyson 360 Eye. Their offering is a high-end affair, and costs more than $1,200. It also seemingly has solved the performance issues inherent with many rival robotic vacuums, but at a cost of size. It’s so big and heavy, it has to propel itself through tank tracks. This significantly enlarged size means that it struggles to get underneath furniture.

Then there are the non-name brand robotic vacuum cleaners 6 Top Robot Vacuums You May Be Able To Afford 6 Top Robot Vacuums You May Be Able To Afford These days, you can find robot vacuums for less than $200, making them great for yourself or a good gift for a techie friend. Read More . The Performance Brands MARK-8 is a great example of a device that has an enticing price, but disappointing user reviews.

Performance Brands MARK-8 Vacuum Cleaning Robot for Pets and Allergies Performance Brands MARK-8 Vacuum Cleaning Robot for Pets and Allergies With strong suction power the MARK-8 robot vacuum cleaner possesses superb cleaning capabilities for picking up pet hair, dirt, dust and more. Buy Now At Amazon $232.75

When you scrape the bottom of the barrel, you come across things like $23 O-Cedar O-Duster Robotic Floor Cleaner. This is basically a lint cloth attached to a motor and a collision detector. Avoid these like the plague.

O-Cedar O-Duster Robotic Floor Cleaner O-Cedar O-Duster Robotic Floor Cleaner Changes direction when objects and walls are detected Buy Now At Amazon $23.99

Robot Vacuums Don’t Necessarily Have To Suck

If this sounds like I’m overtly negative about robotic vacuums, think again. For some people, they represent a worthwhile purchase. These people probably have deep pockets, and live in apartments. They probably aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty, and replacing the occasional brush or ball-bearing.

But if you live in a house, and if you’re content with your current vacuum, you might want to think twice before you get a robot vacuum cleaner. Their value proposition just isn’t all that strong.

Do you own a robotic vacuum cleaner? Love it? Hate it? Tell me in the comments below.

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  1. Ian Hagen
    April 14, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    I'm a bit disappointed by the article. The writer makes it clear that s/he never used a robotic vacuum cleaner and yet jumps to several conclusions based merely on guessing.

  2. Brian Seybert
    April 5, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Thanks for the information on robot vacuum cleaners. I live alone with one small dog in a single level home. Although I am mechanical this doesn't look like something worth the investment especially when you indicated it has been on the market for at least 15 years!!! I am sure it is fun to watch until you need to clean the bearings or other mechanical parts that need to be serviced. Think for now I will continue to use my old faithful Kenmore vacuum that's never let me down. Thanks for saving me: $800.00

  3. pattaa
    March 31, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    This article stinks.

  4. Mark
    March 26, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    We have a single story house, 3 dogs, and tile floors throughout. We love that it does the tedious work. I clean the rotors about every 3 months and its no big deal. This article is misleading in a way.

  5. Ben
    January 16, 2017 at 1:46 am

    Why can't someone bring out a full sized machine? These toys are underpowered, require constant emptying and are unreliable. I would pay $3K for a descent one if it existed.

    • Saurabh
      March 2, 2017 at 7:28 am

      Because a full sized machine wouldn't fit under sofas, tables, chairs etc.

      A manual vac is constantly titled vertical or horizontal by the operator to fit under these spaces.

      For a full sized self operating robot vac to do that, it would have to get into the expensive world of balancing gyroscopes to be able to self tilt, cameras or sensors + collision prevention software to make sure it didn't knock anything over when tilting, massively increased battery usage for all the times time it tilts and adjusts etc. ... it's a much more complicated engineering problem than simply a small but weak vacuum disc that slides under everything.

  6. PaulC
    January 3, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    The Roomba 980 so far is a wonderful machine. Automatically cleans the entire ground floor on a timer then goes back to recharge, a quick hop up the stairs and press the button and let it do all the rooms upstairs.

    For the stairs, it takes me 2 minutes with a hand-vacuum, but then I have the Dyson rechargeable so it's really easy.

    Having wooden floors, I also have the Roomba mopping robot, so on the floor with the bathroom, after the Roomba's finished, I set it off and it mops the floors upstairs and I drop the Roomba back on its charger downstairs.

    Then I set the mopper to do the ground floor. I don't have to do that every day, but my floors are amazingly clean.

    And the Roomba 980 gets hair and dirt out of a carpet that even the Dyson failed to do, so it's pretty darn good.

    All this may seem long-winded (along with this post) but in fact it takes a few minutes of the day and lets me get on with tons of other stuff in the meantime. As days go by, that time really adds up.

  7. Mike
    January 2, 2017 at 5:02 am

    my 980 dies all the time, well after the talking with Alex H via phone, he told me to reset the roomba 980 by taking the battery out, and then put it back in, and it did nothing, and said the supervisor said there still trying to figure this out. Well after we ended the call, I placed the 980 on home base and it was charging, and right away I hit clean and it started showing a full battery charge? and it cleaned until it stopped again, while the app said it was still running, even though the 980 was dead with a full charge. Then I had to the same thing as I stated before on this note, this time it cleaned the the floors. what is going on with this $900.00 machine. it wants to clean, then it doesn't. and every time it dies, with no lighted errors or clean light or battery light on, just sitting there dead. I loosing my patients with this very expensive item that only wants to work when it wants to. I surely hope you guys can figure out what is going on with this hi dollar machine. I'm really starting to think this was a big money waste.

  8. Dave Steele
    December 21, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    This article regarding robot cleaners is a bit off. I have the roomba 980 and that dang machine runs every day and cleans the daylights out of my place. I don't care if it doesn't do stairs. I know the limitations. However, 2 dogs and 2 cats produces a stomach churning amount of hair. I never realized how much stuff was still on the floor until the roomba purchase. I do not regret it. I loved it so much I bought one for each floor.

    I do not work for roomba. I am not paid for this post.

  9. Kirk
    December 5, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    Some of your information is pretty outdated. the video showing Roomba maintenance is for models they don't even make any more. Roomba's are great for people that cannot push or pull a vacuum, it is also good for people that are busy (everyone!). Roomba's also do a good to great job of cleaning since they do it much more often than anyone normally would. Let me add that almost all robotic vacuums other than Neato, Roomba, Samsung are garbage - and they won't suck (literally) and they will break down within a few months. Roombas are built like tanks, as for the old ones; other than a little extra cleaning most of them are still going strong!

  10. al
    July 16, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    For me the Roomba is a life changer. Honestly, I had a hard time getting off my butt to clean the house and with two cats, it was a mess usually. The roomba has turned my home semi respectable and I do very little.

    Also you mention "clutter" as though it's a lifestyle that people actually aspire to achieve. When I got my roomba yes it forced me to "de-clutter" parts of my home (I have 6200 square feet and use the roomba on the main floor where I have guests... about 2000 square feet of it.) So now, the life I live is considerably better organized in some ways... this is a plus, not a minus.

    Finally, yes... I have stairs and need the regular vacuum. In fact, I have a vacuum on each and every floor to avoid having to carry them up and down the stairs all the time. You don't have a home this size with only one vacuum. A regular vacuum is never far... here are some other places the roomba won't work for and I use the regular vacuum: Furniture, corners (Roomba's don't get into corners too well), persian rugs... and basically anyplace where the roomba won't go.

    A robotic vacuum is NOT a replacement for a normal vacuum... it's an enhancement and it does in fact save me hours upon hours of time.

  11. Bryan Wolfe
    June 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    I actually have the 980 and love it. No cat here, so I can't test for that. It's a great solution for a household that wants to floors cleaned on a regular basis. These isn't a good solution for someone who only vacuums 1-2 times a month.

  12. Howard Blair
    April 27, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    "This means that unless you own an apartment, you’re going to have a vacuum cleaner on hand for the stairs..."
    I guess you've never heard of a single-story house? No? Older people don't climb stairs very well, either.

    • Matthew Hughes
      April 30, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      I believe they're called bungalows.

      • fcd76218
        April 30, 2016 at 11:14 pm

        Or ranches.

  13. Clyde Byrd
    April 27, 2016 at 4:39 am

    This review misses a very big point. I have 2400 square feet of hardwood floor to vacuum. My Roomba saves a TON of work and does an excellent job and picks up more dirt that we every imagined that we produce.

    It can't do stair! OMG! That is a small issue when compared what it can do.

    • Laura Hammond
      February 27, 2017 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Matthew, you brought up a bunch of great points, they're all valid flaws to the current generation of robot vacuums, but Clyde makes a good point here.

      The Roomba (and other robotic vacuums) excel in keeping the floor clean in between your manual cleanings. While they can't completely replace your upright vacuum and some sweat, it really reduces the frequency with which you have to vacuum yourself.

      I think realizing this is the main reason why some people hate the Roomba while others can't imagine how they got by without them all these years.

      my blog:

  14. mur_phy
    April 19, 2016 at 6:24 am

    In addition to a Tristar which is likely the second best vacuum available, a central vacuum Filter Queen, a Dyson upright and a Dyson battery operated, we also make use of the Roomba and currently the two most used are the Roomba and the Dyson Battery. With a multi level home it is nice to have a tool that works in many places but also to have tools located in a variety of locations for quick and easy usage without having to drag any item too often up and down stairs.
    Was I surprised at the ability of the Roomba? Absolutely but the price was not major and it was worth the trial and it has proven to be a very decent product. Yes, the user has to move a few things around but that is the case with almost any vacuum. As Senior Citizens, we find the Roomba a nice addition to the arsenal of vacuum cleaners available to be used as required and have no regrets about the purchase.

  15. John
    April 18, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Our Neato works great for us, does the entire main floor every 3 days and always removes around a full hopper of dirt each time. Total cost of the robot and maintenance is most definitely less than my time and effort I'd be putting into vacuuming the floor every 3 days.

  16. Al Jimenez
    April 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Big Big Negative!!!: After having two of them I can say that batteries are another issue. If you forget to charge them they will degrade and are expensive to replace. These need to be NiCad batteries so are not the same as you laptop or phone batteries. They have a battery memory so if they are not drained properly and charge properly they will degrade fast.

  17. Marjorie Cunningham
    April 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    I've been contemplating a Roomba but am hoping it would be much more efficient than you say. That being said, I will most certainly take the first Household Helper Robot on the market, and if it can cook, so much the better. Bring them on, techies!

  18. makeUserOfReader
    April 16, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Several years ago, I bought a refurbished Neato. It has its pros and cons.

    As the article states, you have to clear the clutter for the robot. Neato is especially needy. Its wider than Roomba so you have to move out chairs and other large objects so that it can traverse the floor (one benefit to being wide is that cleans the floor faster). Neato also doesn't know its own height, so it can get itself stuck under furniture. Clearing the clutter and adjusting the magnetic strips (places not to go) so that Neato can perform its job reduces much of the time savings that is supposed to come with a robotic vacuum.

    One area where Neato excels is suction. The "Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Have Less Suction" does not apply to Neato. You can run it on a seemingly clean floor and you'll find lint and other micro particles in the filter. It cleans your floor to a degree beyond eyesight level. I don't have any measurable basis of proof, but I would estimate that it goes deeper than a vacuum cleaner.

  19. Peter
    April 16, 2016 at 4:17 am

    being a working father of 2, my wife also working, we don't have much time to clean the floor. iRobot Roomba has been an awesome helper. Coming home to a much cleaner floor feels great and it's not true that it has lesser suction. Have you seen the carpet of dust it manages to collect after each run? So kind of disagree on this, yes, it is more expensive but isn't time more important. more time to spend with family, less time on housework.

  20. fcd76218
    April 15, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    "Robot Vacuums Don’t Necessarily Have To Suck"
    Yes, they do. Otherwise they will not do their job of picking up the dirt. Ha, ha, ha!

  21. Woman
    April 15, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    I don't live in an apartment, we built our house, really. No stairs, but 3 dogs, my roomba does a great job, I have no complaints.