If you could take one chore off of your weekly to-do list for good, would you do it? That’s what a robot vacuum offers you: the ability to take vacuuming off your regular to-do list on a permanent basis.
With a robot vacuum, your vacuum will clean your home without you. That’s 20, 40, maybe even 60 minutes that you get back every single time your vacuum runs. You’ll find that you have more time for the things you enjoy, like reading a good book or playing tag with your kids. You may even find that your home gets cleaner over time. Scheduling a vacuum to clean without you is so easy that you may find yourself “vacuuming” more often, so your home’s weekly vacuuming schedule becomes a daily one even though you never have to lift a finger.
Robot vacuum buying guide quick reference handout
Table of contents
What is a robot vacuum?
Robot vacuums are small, self-propelling vacuums that roam your hard floors and carpets looking for dust bunnies to suck up. They clean your floors without you having to lift a finger and use sensor-based navigation to move from area to area. When a robot vacuum is full, needs to recharge, or finishes its cleaning cycle, it returns to a home base where it can charge.
How does a robot vacuum differ from other types of vacuums?
Unlike other home vacuums, robot vacuums operate largely autonomously. They’re cordless devices with rechargeable batteries, and they have the ability to clean your floors on their own. You can typically press a button on the vacuum to set it to go but many also work with a partner mobile app.
Robot vacuums are generally less powerful than upright vacuums, canister vacuums, or central vacuums, but are favoured for their ability to clean your home on their own. Basic models operate at the touch of a button, while more advanced models can be scheduled to clean your home while you’re asleep or away. With a pre-scheduled robot vacuum, you can wake up or come home to clean floors every day without having to commit the time or energy to manually vacuum.
Can you own a robot vacuum without another home vacuum?
For most households, a robot vacuum is an accessory purchased for its convenience. Robot vacuums are almost always less powerful than manual vacuums and they’re not suited to detail tasks. While you can use attachments on a manual vacuum to clean your car seats, suck up debris next to the fridge, get the dust out of your curtains, and other specialized tasks, a robot vacuum needs to stay flat on the floor at all times.
Robot vacuums are excellent for daily maintenance, but you’ll still need a regular vacuum or cleaning service for deep cleans and for cleaning dirt and debris from odd spots in and around your home.
How robot vacuums navigate your home
Robot vacuums use a variety of different technologies to navigate your home. In general, most these technologies can be separated into two categories: those that use lasers and those that use cameras.
Vacuums that use LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser-based navigation map your home through distance and data points. SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) vacuums use cameras generate a map by identifying visual landmarks like furniture or walls. Both technologies are very effective. Each individual vacuum’s performance will rely on its navigation hardware and software, but some consumers find that LiDAR is quicker while SLAM offers the opportunity for companies to develop intelligent object avoidance.
Whether you prefer camera- or laser-based navigation is a personal choice. Both work well to create a map of your home, and LiDar and SLAM navigation will keep your vacuum from falling from ledges or staircases. Other navigation technologies you might see in a robot vacuum’s description include bump-and-run technology and IN (Inertial Navigation), which are older technologies that run a little more slowly at an affordable price tag.
How to find a navigation system you love
Despite looking similar, unique models of robot vacuums can be designed very differently. From their suction power to their parts and software, the experience of using one robot cleaner versus another is as different as using one manual vacuum versus another.
If you’re replacing an older model of robot vacuum that you loved using, try upgrading within the same brand. Software and navigational systems are often similar within brands and product ranges. Sticking to a well-loved brand is an easy way to ensure you’ll enjoy your new vacuum even more than your last one. You’ll also be able to leverage the app you already downloaded and have become familiar with, if there is one.
If you’re looking to try a new robot vacuum but you haven’t loved your experiences with others in the past, try switching from a model with camera-based navigation to one with laser-based navigation. It could be the change you need to find the perfect fit!
Top-selling brands like iRobot and Dyson use camera-based SLAM mapping technologies, while the popular Roborock, Shark, Ecovacs, and Dreame largely use laser-based LiDAR.
Basic features to look for in every robot vacuum
Every robot vacuum, even at the entry level, comes with information on features such as battery size and suction power. Check out Best Buy’s “More Information” and “Details & Specs” sections on each product page to learn more about a vacuum’s suction power (measured in Pascals), run time, and waste bin size. These features influence how powerful your vacuum will be and how often it’ll need manual emptying.
When selecting a robot cleaner, be sure to check for other common features like app-based scheduling, voice control, stored home maps, and suction variability.
Your first robot vacuum checklist:
- Does this vacuum have the suction power I need for my home?
- How often will I need to empty this vacuum?
- Does the battery life offered in this vacuum suit the size of my home?
- Can I schedule this model of vacuum?
- Does this model of vacuum offer voice assistant control through services like Alexa or Siri?
- Can this vacuum fit underneath my furniture, including chairs, buffets, and bed frames?
- Do I have a spot where I can dock my vacuum with sufficient space around it?
Specialized robot vacuum features
If you’re looking to purchase a mid-range or higher-end robot vacuum, there are some very cool, specialized features on the market.
One popular feature to look for is multi-mapping capabilities. A robot vacuum’s longest cleaning session tends to be its first one, as it needs to spend extra time carefully mapping your home. If you live in a larger home with multiple floors, multi-floor map storage can be incredibly handy as it’ll help your vacuum clean each floor quickly without needing to re-map them.
Another helpful deluxe robot vacuum feature is smart mapping. Smart maps allow the user to label each room in their in-app home map. With high-end smart map control, you can send your vacuum to clean specific rooms or areas as needed. Paired with in-app scheduling, you can even send your robot to clean only specific areas at specific times.
Smart mapping is great for families who need certain areas (like playrooms, dining rooms, and entryways) vacuumed more often than others. It’s also great for sending your robot cleaner out for spot cleaning while your hands are full.
Smart object identification/avoidance
A burgeoning feature in the world of robotic cleaners, smart object identification/avoidance is a camera-based technology currently being developed in many high-end vacuums. Vacuums with object recognition technology use a camera—or LiDAR with an additional camera—to identify and avoid common objects in the home. This can include pet waste, cords, slippers, socks, and more.
With smart object identification, your robot vacuum will require less human intervention during a cleaning cycle. You’re also less likely to need to pre-clean before turning your vacuum on if it has smart object identification capabilities. Object identification can be found in advanced models from brands including iRobot, Roborock, Dreame, and Ecovacs.
Many models of robot vacuums offer spot cleaning (with or without app control). Vacuums with enhanced smart mapping often offer you the ability to send your vacuum out to a specific spot to perform cleaning, either once or on a regular basis. However, more basic models often also have a spot cleaning button on the vacuum itself that help you target messy areas.
Spot cleaning is an especially helpful feature for families who don’t have or don’t often use a manual vacuum. It allows you to target a specific mess without vacuuming your whole home, saving both time and energy.
Other robot cleaning features
Other features that you might enjoy from your robot vacuum include invisible barriers and no-go zones, quiet mode vacuuming, voice control, cleaning time estimates, and HEPA filtration. Look to premium appliance lines like the iRobot J series and Roborock S series for features like these.
Different categories of robot cleaners
“Robot vacuums” is a term that’s often used to describe all robotic floor cleaners, but these little robots can do much more than basic vacuuming.
Basic robot vacuums
Look for a basic robot vacuum for hands-free cleaning on (or, rather, outside of) your schedule. These vacuums are a great way to enjoy the luxury of having something else do your cleaning for you while sticking to a budget. There are tons of different robot cleaners that come with a simple charging base, each offering its own set of helpful features. Depending on the style of furniture in your home, you may even be able to set up this style of vacuum underneath a piece of furniture like a bed or dresser to save space.
Self-emptying robot vacuums
Upgrade to a self-emptying robot vacuum for hands-free cleaning with even less maintenance. This fast-growing category of vacuums are a little pricier than a basic model, but these vacuums return to their base whenever their dustbin is full. There, they empty their contents into a larger receptacle using a vacuum system built into the self-emptying base.
With a self-emptying robot cleaner for dry floors, you can conveniently empty a large vacuum bag every month or so (depending on frequency of use) instead of after every session.
Self-emptying designs are excellent for large homes in which a standard robot vacuum may not be able to finish cleaning without being emptied partway through. They’re also great for homes with carpet, which tend to collect more dust and debris. You can identify a self-emptying vacuum model by looking for terms like “self-emptying” and “iRobot Roomba +” in the product name and description.
For an even cleaner home, switch to a robot mop (or mop and vacuum) to try a different type of robot cleaner. These cleaning robots are great for homes with a lot of hard floors. They work well on smooth flooring materials like tile, vinyl plank, hardwood, and stone.
Some robot cleaner brands offer a dedicated robot mop that pairs with a matching vacuum. Others integrate their robot vacuum and mop into one appliance, usually offered at a mid-level price point.
The peak of this category of vacuums, however, is the combined robot vacuum and mop. These combined cleaners can handle both wet and dry messes. As an improvement upon the original, hands-free idea of the robot cleaner that takes the hassle of regular chores off your plate, robot vacuum and mop designs are quickly becoming household must-haves despite their high-end price tag. For the ultimate hands-free clean, a combined robot cleaner with a self-washing base gets your floors sparkling clean with minimal effort.
All of these different options give each household the opportunity to find the robot cleaner that’s right for them. With a wide array of choices, you can customize your cleaning experience to match your space and lifestyle perfectly.
How to care for your robot vacuum
Like with any other vacuum, proper care and maintenance of your robot vacuum will help you keep your appliance in tip-top shape for as long as possible. Luckily, maintenance is easier than ever with in-app tips and reminders.
Your robot vacuum will require you to empty its dustbin on a regular basis—likely after every cleaning session for models without a self-emptying base, or every month for models with one. In addition to this, you can help keep your vacuum performing like it’s brand new by cleaning its filters regularly, detangling hair and threads caught on its brush roll often, and replacing vacuum cleaner parts as recommended by the brand. Robot vacuums are estimated to last for 4-8 years based on battery quality and price point, but regular maintenance and parts replacement can help them last for longer (and perform better during that time).
Who can benefit the most from a robot vacuum?
Robot cleaning devices are especially great for busy families and young professionals. They offer two primary benefits:
- They can make vacuuming and mopping hands-free tasks.
- Because those tasks become hands-free, you can significantly increase their frequency.
When it comes to vacuuming and mopping, frequency can be just as important as (if not more important than) intensity. While robot cleaners are generally weaker than their manual counterparts, using them more often will keep your home cleaner overall. Tidy floors become standard with a robotic cleaning schedule, even if you work long hours or have kids or pet in the home.
This is especially important for households with asthma, allergies, and shedding pets. Daily or frequent cleaning significantly cuts down the amount of allergens in the home. With a robot cleaner, you can remove dust and dander from your floors before they can accumulate. Then, if you need more specialized care, you can add on a manual deep clean whenever you have the time and energy for it.
Robot cleaning devices are incredibly helpful for households of all types. They can become everyday essentials for families running on a tight schedule and also make great gifts for young adults moving into their first home. Robot cleaners, especially those with a self-emptying base, can also be beneficial for some individuals living with physical or cognitive limitations. By reducing the mental and physical cleaning load of daily life, they can make living independently a little easier for the elderly, chronically ill, executively impaired, and more.
Take the next step
Robot vacuums take a stressful household chore off your plate so you can spend more time enjoying what you love. When you’re ready to take the next step, check out some robot vacuum reviews on the Best Buy blog and explore robot vacuums online to find the perfect one for your home.