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Why you need a robot vac
Granted, robot vacuums have been around for years, but it’s only until quite recently that the technology has improved enough to make the robot vac a genuinely viable alternative to the humble vacuum cleaner.
Of course, a standard vacuum cleaner will always be a useful addition to any household’s cleaning armoury, but in the main, a robot vac alone will effectively keep a house well swept on a continual basis while you go about your daily routine.
This includes areas that are difficult to reach with a standard vac, like under beds and sofas. Although you may need to initially sync the vac to your wi-fi for full functionality, all robot vacs are a breeze to use. Simply tap start and retreat.
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How does a robot vac work?
All a robot vac needs is a slim, unobtrusive mains-powered charging/docking station sited next to a wall to function correctly. Simply switch on the vac and it will head off across the floor, using its bank of sensors – and sometimes a camera or two – to help it negotiate around obstacles like furniture and toys.
When you first set your new robot vac on its way, you may be alarmed by the haphazard nature of its cleaning. This is a normal process the robot undergoes while it maps the room it’s in.
Although some models seem to use a more erratic room mapping process than others, they all get the job done eventually. The secret is not to watch it and just let it do its thing. When the robot vac has finished cleaning – or when the battery is running out of juice – it will return to its base station for a full recharge in readiness for the next outing. And so on and so forth.
There’s an app for that
The vast majority of robot vacs work in conjunction with a phone app that provides access to a plethora of settings, including scheduling (every day or individual days), the vac’s cleaning history, plus maintenance tips and notifications. You can also start the vac, stop it and command it to return to base while sitting on the sofa sipping a G&T.
How to get the most out of your robot vac
Before you jump into the robot vac arena, we should point out a number of key considerations that may affect how well it performs. Depending on how dusty your home is, you may need to empty the robot vac’s dustbin on a daily basis and, if you have pets, possibly once or even twice during a single vacuuming session.
This is because all robot vacs have small dust collectors – around half a litre – that can fill up very quickly (you will normally receive a phone notification or a shout from the machine when this happens).
Another thing to consider is the amount of clutter you have on the floor. Although many modern robot vacs are equipped with sensors and cameras to detect and avoid obstacles like furniture legs and toys, they will nearly all tangle themselves on loose wires, shoelaces and some items of loose clothing.
Therefore, the more simple the room’s configuration the more efficient the cleaning process – open plan properties are far and away the most suitable layouts for a robot vac. Similarly, hard floors are unanimously the best surface for robot vacs though many will happily tackle low to medium pile carpets.
Be aware that even the best robot vacs will miss a small section of floor from time to time and their spinning side bristles won’t reach into corners very well. Some of the cleverest machines can detect heights like stairs and other drop offs but with some cheaper models you will need to draw a prohibited zone on the phone app – or simply block off the danger area with a household item.
Key specs: Dimensions: 34cm x 9.2cm; Weight: 4.92kgs; Bin capacity: 0.6 litres; Running time: 60 mins
iRobot produces a wide range of highly regarded robot vacuum cleaners that have garnered a wealth of positive reviews from both users and pros. The Roomba falls into the company’s budget category and is considered one of the very best low-priced robot vacs on the market.
The Roomba measures 34cm x 9.2cm and comes with an average-sized 0.6-litre dustbin (replete with full bin indicator) and iAdapt Responsive Navigation for efficient navigation around obstacles; this includes cliff-detection sensors to stop it falling down stairs.
Being from the cheaper end of the market, the Roomba isn’t equipped with a camera so it does tend to gently bump into furnishings more often. Nevertheless, its low profile (just 9.2cm tall) means it will happily venture into hard-to-reach areas like under sofas and beds, though it is advisable to remove any loose wires or you can almost certainly expect a tangle to occur.
As is the case with most robot vacuum cleaners, the Roomba works best on hard floors though it also tackles carpets up to medium pile very well; it will automatically detect the type of flooring and adjust suction power accordingly.
The spinning side brush (a feature on most models) does an excellent job of flinging dust, hair and debris from skirting boards into its suction path though the deep recesses of room corners will likely be missed. You can safely expect a running time of around 60 minutes per session before it returns to base for a recharge.
If you don’t fancy the thought of having to use an app to control some facets of operation then this is the robot vac to go for. It was a cinch to use straight out of the box, not too loud in operation and, while its cleaning route did seem haphazard, it performed admirably well on all our test floor surfaces.
Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 30C
Key specs: Dimensions: 32.5cm x 7.25 cm; Weight: 2.7kgs; Bin capacity: 0.6 litres; Running time: 100 mins
Fancy seeing what all the robot vac fuss is about but don’t wish to fork out a small fortune on an introductory model? Step right this way. Yes, the Eufy’s cleaning path is as random as a table hockey puck but leave it alone for an hour or so (up to 100 minutes on medium suction mode and 40 minutes on high mode) and it should eventually cover the entire room surface before returning to its dock for a full recharge.
Although this unit comes with a cliff sensor, it’s also one of a very small minority to ship with two rolls of magnetic tape which you’re advised to place around areas you don’t want the Eufy to visit.
This is a bit clunky in our opinion since the whole point of a robot vac is full automation without the need for anything extra other than a charging base. Nevertheless, for the low asking price, this vac performed exceptionally well, even using its BoostIQ tech to increase and decrease the power depending on whether it was on carpet or hard floor.
At one point, it even managed to scramble over a quarter-inch threshold into the bathroom. Granted, this tester had to empty the typically small 0.6-litre dustbin twice during its first excursion but then there are two labradors and three cats in the house. In its favour, it’s shallower in stature than many of its competitors so it will easily shuffle under beds and most sofas.
Like many more expensive models, this vac can also be used with an app for basic functionality like remote control, schedule cleaning and general status stats. However, it only works on wi-fi systems with a 2.4Ghz frequency so unless you can change yours manually from the modern 5Ghz to 2.4Ghz, you may never be able to use the app. Mind, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker because this model works well enough using it manually.
At a shade under £220, this is a good starter model that performs well across the board.
iRobot Roomba i7+ (i7558)
Key specs: Dimensions: 35cm x 9.2 cm; Weight: 3.3kgs; Bin capacity: 0.46 litres; Running time: 75 mins
As mentioned previously, all robot vacs have very small dust collectors which need to be emptied on a fairly regular basis.
This is an especially big issue if you have cats and dogs (specifically shedding breeds like the German shepherd, Labrador and golden retriever) because the robot’s tiny bin will soon fill up with bundles of hair, possibly within just 10 minutes.
Well here comes an innovative rescue package comprising a separate, much larger suction bin that attaches to the robot vac’s charging station.
Rather ingeniously, whenever the Roomba i7’s smaller-than-average 0.46-litre dust collector reaches capacity, the machine trundles back to the charging base where all floor matter is automatically sucked into the larger bin.
Once the job’s complete, the i7+ leaves the dock and carries on cleaning. This is a great innovation that we hope to see other manufacturers adopting.
Other great features include a sensitive touch sensor, a forward-facing iAdapt localisation camera and a virtual obstacle sensor to prevent the vac from venturing into your pet’s sleeping area.
Like most high-end robot vacs, the i7+ is also equipped with a cliff detect sensor and a decent high-efficiency filter that captures 99% of pollen, dust mites and most pet allergens.
Suction is excellent, especially the deep cleaning setting which works very well on a thicker pile carpet. Granted, the Roomba i7+’s side brush did miss some edges and corners in our test – a drawback with most robot vacs – but in the main it performed superbly well.
A round of applause, too, for the developers of the iRobot Home app which makes it very easy to programme schedules and command the i7+ to clean specific rooms on different days. But for pet owners especially, it’s the inventive bin-emptying system that really clinches the deal.
Dyson 360 Heurist
Key specs: Dimensions: 23cm x 12cm; Weight: 2.5kgs; Bin capacity: 0.33 litres; Running time: 75 mins
If you’re after a robot vac that sucks like a limpet, then this elegant model from Dyson will do the job and do it supremely well.
The 360 Heurist comes equipped with a smorgasbord of tantalising tech, including a fish-eye hemispheric lens that provides 360° of view so it can accurately interpret its surroundings, even in low light. It also comes with eight proximity sensors – including two drop sensors – and tank tracks instead of wheels to help it climb over most doorway thresholds.
The unique 212mm-wide stiff nylon brush bar, meanwhile, stretches the full width of the machine, negating the need for a spinning side bristle.
The 360 Heurist is taller but narrower than its competitors and this helps it manoeuvre more easily around furniture legs and into tighter spaces. However, the extra height also means it probably won’t be able to venture under most sofas and some beds.
It’s bin, too, is very small (just 0.33 litres), so it’s perhaps not the best option for pet owners unless you don’t mind emptying the bin more frequently than the norm.
When it comes to suction power and the act of picking stuff up, the 360 Heurist truly excels, partly because it uses Dyson’s Radial Root Cyclone technology, the same stupendous system as fitted to Dyson’s cordless and corded vacs.
Indeed, this little robot performed more efficiently than any of the competition, cleaning right to the edge in most instances and rarely leaving a scatter of matter in its wake. Although it sadly doesn’t automatically switch power from hard floor to carpet, the most powerful of its three suction modes worked wonders on medium pile carpet.
Granted, all that extra suction power in high mode does drain the battery quite quickly but this isn’t a major issue given that it will charge itself up automatically as and when required.
Pair the 360 Heurist to the Dyson Link app and you’ll be able to create zones and change your robot's behaviour in each one; you can also define specific areas on the map that require a more intensive clean.
The 360 Heurist does have a few occasional quirks that have mystified some users, but give it a modern open-plan environment – to which its handsome styling and colour scheme is most suited – and it will keep everything spick and span with very little human intervention. A top buy for the well heeled Dysonista.
Roborock S6 MaxV
Key specs: Dimensions: 35cm x 9.65cm; Weight: 3.6kgs; Bin capacity: 0.46 litres; Running time: 180 mins
Aside from a veritable tranche of guidance tech, this model will also mop hard floors. However, this writer would advise against using it to mop up wet spills – especially doggy ones – since you may spend more time washing the underside than you would cleaning up the mess using a good old mop and bucket.
However, the Roborock S6 MaxV is very handy for dry hard floor stains – in our dried tomato juice test it took just two passes to leave the floor looking sparkling clean. The S6 maxV also comes with a forward facing camera that can detect different types of obstacles, like shoes, toys and, er, doggy doo. You can even view live images from its camera on your phone while it moves around the home.
This robot vac is an excellent performer on carpets and it’s very good at picking up larger items like spilt cereal, so perhaps consider it if you have more carpet that hard floor.
Also, its approach to mapping a room seems more logical that others because it usually starts at the edges of a room before cleaning the centre sections in an up-and-down linear path. Put another way, it’s less frustrating to watch.
The S6 MaxV is compatible with two different Android/iOS apps (iRobot and Xiaomi Mi Home) and both provide the wherewithal to control the vac from afar, set schedules, assign different rooms to be cleaned, and select the vac’s three levels of suction power – it automatically increases suction when it detects carpet – and whether you want it to mop.
Roborock is an extremely popular vac manufacturer, especially in the USA. This model ticks all the right boxes and cleans very thoroughly, especially when put to task in an open-plan environment. Its 180-minute running time is also exemplary. An excellent performer, despite the high asking price.