Ideally, we’d never have to worry about dirty floors; they’d remain perpetually clean and free of dirt, debris, pet hair, and anything else that gunks up our homes. For many of us, though, things like busy schedules, excessive foot traffic, and poor home filtration can make it difficult to keep our floors mess-free.
That’s where robot vacuum cleaners come in: Unlike their hand-operated counterparts, these puck-shaped robots can sweep up your house or apartment all with the press of a button, even when you’re not at home. Not all robot vacuums share the same features, though. Some use an array of lasers to navigate your home and avoid obstacles; some have extra power to handle carpet in addition to hardwood floors; and others have additional cleaning bases that can hold more dirt and debris. Fancier models can even have features like camera-based obstacle detection and smart room mapping and automation — and a few will mop your floors after vacuuming.
To find the best robot vacuum for every type of home and lifestyle, we spoke with engineers and product managers at Dyson and iRobot, as well as tested several models to measure real-world performance.
What we’re looking for
Although suction power is one of the primary metrics flaunted by traditional vacuum manufacturers, things like the vacuum’s brushes are just as important when it comes to picking up debris. “All the suction in the world won’t pick up things deeply ingrained in your surface,” says Mike Aldred, senior principal engineer at Dyson.
A good robot vacuum will have a powerful brush (or multiple brushes) to create enough agitation to break up particles that weaker vacuums might miss. The more powerful the brush(es), the more likely your vacuum is to clean up things like dried-up mud or anything that’s caked onto the floor. Weak brushes will simply sweep over the top of your carpets and rugs, while a more thorough brush will dig deep into the fibers and kick up anything that’s stuck below the surface. Many robot vacuum cleaners even have side brushes that can help clear up corners and other tough-to-reach spots.
Better brushes don’t just make it easier to clean the floors, either; they make your vacuum last longer on each charge. “Anything you do takes energy, which comes down to battery size,” says Brent Hild, former director of product management for iRobot, “If you have a motor that’s running at absolute maximum, you’ll have great suction and deplete your battery, so it’s not as effective in the long run.” Meanwhile, a vacuum with a slightly weaker suction power but more effective brushes will clean up more debris and require fewer trips back to the charging station.
Battery run time
If a vacuum cleaner doesn’t have enough juice to clean your entire home on a single charge, it will need to run back to its base station to replenish itself before finishing the job. Most robot vacuums have batteries capable of cleaning long enough to cover a decent-size home, but larger homes may require multiple charges. Some robot vacuum cleaners, like the Roomba j7+, have software that calculates how much juice it needs to complete the job and only charges enough to cover that and return to the base, which will help it get back to cleaning and wrap things up sooner.
Aldred says robot vacuum cleaners should be viewed as vacuum cleaners first and robots second: “Once you start compromising on the cleaning portion, have you actually replaced the cleaning system or are you imitating it?” Part of effectively replacing that cleaning system is being able to trust that your robot vacuum won’t miss any spots in its cleaning cycles, and that your floors will be at least as clean as if you’d done the job yourself.
Robot vacuums accomplish this by creating a map of your home, complete with obstacle identification and no-go zones, so you can program it to only clean specific areas on a given day. More basic robot vacuums use an infrared sensor to identify obstacles and other objects to avoid, but fancier models take it a step further with a built-in camera you can use to pinpoint items that might only be there for one cleaning cycle, like a stray toy one of your kids left out.
In many cases, you can even connect your robot vacuum to your smart assistant of choice and say things like, “Hey, Google, vacuum my living room,” and watch as your little droid rolls off its docking station and heads to start its job.
If you’re splurging on a robot vacuum, you want one that offers more convenience than doing things yourself. Given their small design, these vacuums typically have pretty small chambers for holding dirt and debris, so you’ll have to clean them out more often than you may be used to with a more traditional vacuum cleaner.
Some companies offer models that have self-emptying bases where the robot will dispose of all of the dirt once it’s finished a cleaning job (or its chamber is full and it needs to be emptied before resuming cleaning). They’re more expensive, but you’ll also spend less time clearing things out of your vacuum, and emptying the containers inside the base is easier than cleaning the robot itself. Fair warning, though: Those bases are often louder than the vacuums themselves. You may want to run it when no one is home, or just make sure you don’t schedule a cleaning during a work call.
Filtration is key to an effective vacuum cleaner, Aldred says. Without good filtration, you’ll end up with a lot of dust blown right back into the air and, ultimately, landing back on your floors to be cleaned up and tossed back out during your next cleaning cycle.
Most companies don’t list a ton of details about their filtration systems, but you should avoid any vacuum that doesn’t mention having filters at all. Usually, you can check by looking at the “What’s included in the box” section of the product’s page.
Whatever robot you buy, it should be able to last more than a few years: Even the cheapest options are still costly. “These are not inexpensive purchases, so the idea that you can go in and modularly repair things is really important,” Hild says. The more parts you can replace on your own, the less likely you are to need to buy a whole new vacuum when things go wrong. In the best cases, you can replace everything from the brushes and filters to the wheels and batteries.
Robot vacuums have been around since the mid-’90s, but robots that have built-in mopping capabilities are still fairly new. Companies like iRobot sell models that have this dual functionality, but even Hild says it’s a bit of a compromise, and having a separate mopping method (another robot or a trusty Swiffer) will yield better results.
Aldred agrees. “At the end of the day, it’s a mop and a vacuum,” he says. “Don’t lower your expectations because it’s a robot.” For those who care about having spotless floors, that may not be a compromise worth making, but if you’re fine with getting about 80 percent of the way there without having to do the job yourself, there are robot vacuums that’ll fit the bill.
If you do want to knock out both tasks with one device, Hild recommends looking for one that doesn’t require you to swap modules when switching between vacuuming and mopping. We only looked at models that could perform both functions at once without requiring you to do any additional tweaking or swapping of parts.
Best overall robot vacuum
Brushes: Dual rubber brush system | Battery run time: 85 minutes | Smart navigation: Infrared sensors and camera, in-app object identification | Disposal method: Self-emptying base station| Filtration: Yes | Repairability: Replaceable wheels, batteries, brushes, dustbins, filters, and disposal bags| Mopping: None
iRobot’s Roomba j7+ is the closest you can get to a no-compromises robot vacuum. It has two primary brushes on the bottom, both of which are made of a tough rubber, that rotate in opposite directions to create enough agitation to scrape up more than a single brush could. It also has an additional set of blades that rotate on the side of the vacuum to reach into corners and other spots the main brushes may miss.
While your robot is still in the “get to know you” stage of navigating your home, it can often look goofy as it figures out what not to bump into and how to get out of tricky spots. Of all the vacuums I tested, the Roomba j7+ made mapping look the easiest, and the additional input you can provide in the app for things like obstacle identification make it one of the smartest vacuums you can get. It uses infrared sensors and a front-facing camera to navigate around your home, and after every cleaning cycle you can go into the iRobot app and look at any obstacle the robot detected and tell it if it’s a permanent obstacle (like a new exercise bike) or if it’ll be gone by the next cleaning. For instance, whenever my dog left one of his toys in the kitchen, I’d tell the Roomba not to mind it, that way it doesn’t designate the middle of my kitchen as a no-go zone.
One caveat: After adding a few rugs to my home, I tried having the j7+ vacuum the rugs, but I ran into some trouble. When trying to get onto carpets without any mats underneath them, the rugs started to bunch up as the vacuum tried to roll over them. That happens even with a traditional vacuum cleaner, however, and thankfully, it can be solved by putting a rug mat underneath them (or for a cheaper solution, using sticky rug pads).
Once the j7+ is finished with a cleaning cycle, it will find its way back to the docking station, where the base will automatically suck up whatever the Roomba picked up during its cleaning. You’ll still have to empty the station’s chamber, but not nearly as frequently as you’d have to empty the robot itself without the station (as is the case with some of our other recommendations). That part of the routine is particularly loud, though, so make sure you’re not on a call or recording anything when the robot is finishing up its job.
As with any gadget with moving parts, the j7+ is subject to wear and tear as it goes through more cleaning cycles. Thankfully, many of the parts, like the brushes and filters, are totally user-replaceable, so you won’t need to send it back to iRobot for anything other than serious damage or malfunctions. You can also replace the cleaning bin where the j7+ holds dirt and debris, as well as the wheels and battery, and you can even replace the base station without needing to buy an entirely new unit.
Best less-expensive robot vacuum
Brushes: Single brush | Battery run time: 208 minutes | Smart navigation: Infrared | Disposal method: On-unit dirt chamber, requires manual emptying | Filtration: Yes | Repairability: Replaceable wheels, batteries, brushes, dustbins, and filters | Mopping: None
If you don’t need a self-emptying base, and you’re willing to sacrifice a bit on object recognition, eufy’s Robovac X8 gets the job done without slacking on the basics. Unlike the j7+, it only has infrared sensors for obstacle detection, but that’s enough to have an understanding of where it can and can’t clean. It looks goofier in its execution than the Roomba and tends to get stuck or bump into things slightly more often — it got caught on the wheel of my bike and I had to plop it back on the ground before it could resume cleaning. That said, once it figures out those obstacles, it isn’t much of an issue.
Despite having weaker navigation, in my testing, the X8 still kept my floors fairly clean. It requires you to be a little more proactive in setting things up, and you’ll have to spend more time cleaning its dustbin than with the Roomba, but that’s a small inconvenience to save a couple hundred bucks if you’re not all in on the robot-vacuum life. You might be able to make it through a couple cleaning sessions before needing to empty it, but it’s best to do it after every cycle just to be safe. If you don’t, you may have to rush to empty it mid-cycle (as I did), which takes away some of the convenience.
For those who want the Roomba’s repairability without the hefty price tag, eufy has made the X8 just as repairable, with nearly all the same replaceable parts as the Roomba. Whenever you need to replace a wheel, brush, filter, or battery, eufy has a dedicated page where you can order what you need.
Best robot vacuum for pet owners
Brushes: Dual rubber brush system | Battery run time: 85 minutes | Smart navigation: Infrared sensors and camera, in-app object identification | Disposal method: Self-emptying base station | Filtration: Yes | Repairability: Replaceable wheels, batteries, brushes, dustbins, filters, and disposal bags | Mopping: Yes
If your floors need a little extra attention, whether it’s thanks to a pup’s messy paws or just a lot of foot traffic, iRobot’s Roomba j7+ Combo has every feature that makes the j7+ great, plus the ability to mop your floors. After it sweeps things up on the front end, water will spray out the back, and the j7+ Combo will swing down an arm that has a mopping pad to brush over your floors and give them a nice clean. As it approaches a surface that can’t be mopped, like a rug, the mopping arm will swing and go back up until it’s back on a hard surface.
In my experience, the j7+’s mopping is about 80 percent as effective as doing the job myself with my trusty Swiffer. That said, I’m picky about the cleanliness of my floors and usually mop at least once per week, so if you’re used to only doing it periodically, this gets close, and you can always run it a second time for good measure.
Best less-expensive robot vacuum for pet owners
Brushes: Dual rubber brush system | Battery run time: 75 minutes | Smart navigation: Infrared sensors, in-app object identification | Disposal method: Self-emptying base station| Filtration: Yes | Repairability: Replaceable wheels, batteries, brushes, dust bins, filters, and disposal bags | Mopping: None
If you’re willing to skip some of the fancier features of the j7+, like a front-facing camera with stronger object detection, the Roomba i3+ has the same brush technology; its parts are just as replaceable; and it has the same in-app floor mapping, albeit to a weaker degree. It also has a self-emptying base station like the j7+, and both can hold up to 60 days’ worth of dirt depending on how often you clean, although the i3+’s station is taller, while the j7+’s is wider. The latter also looks a bit fancier, with a sleeker design that doesn’t stand out as much wherever it’s posted.
Kadi Dulude, owner of the cleaning service Wizard of Homes, told the Strategist it’s the one she’s used to keep her floors free of the hair her Labrador sheds. “I love that I just press the button, check to make sure there are no obstacles on the floor, and forget about it,” she says. “I have a large floor surface in my home, so it goes back to the base several times to empty and sometimes even recharge, but it gets the entire floor done every day.”
The i3+ lacks a front-facing camera, meaning you won’t be able to go into the app and look at pictures of objects your robot runs into, so the overall experience may be a little clunkier. It also means you won’t be able to set designated no-go zones the same way you can with the higher-end models.
Best bare-bones robot vacuum
Brushes: Single brush | Battery run time: 100 minutes | Smart navigation: No | Disposal method: On-unit dirt chamber, requires manual emptying| Filtration: Yes | Repairability: Replaceable wheels, batteries, brushes, dustbins, filters, and disposal bags | Mopping: None
If you want to dip your toe into the world of robot vacuums without spending a lot of money and you’re willing to sacrifice some of the fancier features, Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo loves eufy’s Robovac 11S, the vacuum cleaner she’s been using since 2019. “It’s super-quiet, so I can run it while I work or watch TV without getting distracted by noise,” she says, “It’s easy to use and slim enough to fit underneath almost every piece of furniture I own.”
Unlike the other robot vacuums we recommend, the 11S doesn’t have any sort of smart navigation, relying instead on what eufy calls bump detection. Essentially, it just recalibrates itself if it bumps into something like your sofa, bike, or trash can. It doesn’t allow for as much granular tweaking for convenience, and it’ll require you to be more hands on with cleaning and keeping it on track, but it’ll save you a good deal of money while still getting the job done.
Despite those caveats, Corsillo still loves hers and notes it has been useful in keeping her floors clean and her stress level low. “Plus, it sucks up a ton of dirt and dust, making me feel a little gross about how I was living before I got it,” she says.
- Brent Hild, former director of product management for iRobot
- Mike Aldred, senior principal engineer at Dyson
- Kadi Dulude, owner of the cleaning service Wizard of Homes
- Liza Corsillo, Strategist senior writer
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