Robot vacuum cleaners

Convenience, but at what cost?

Robot vacuum cleaner in hallway

A robotic helper taking care of your vacuuming sounds like bliss. Has this dream finally become a reality?

We've tested 13 robot vacuum cleaners.

Find a robot vacuum cleaner

How do they work?

Robot vacuums have a footprint about the size of a pizza, and clean by using brushes that direct dirt towards the vacuum. This dirt is collected in a small dustbin inside the robot. They’re motorised with wheels underneath, which allow them to move about and between hard floors and carpet.

They’re battery powered, and our tested models ran, on average, for 81 minutes. When they run out of juice, most robot vacuums return to their charging dock. Recharging times for tested models varied but took three-and-a-half hours on average.

Robot vacuums are autonomous, meaning they guide themselves through your home, sensing obstacles and changing direction to avoid them. Some “learn” the layout of your home and create a virtual map they will then follow, while others just roam about randomly.

While robot vacs performed well in our hard floors test, carpets are still a bit beyond their ability. They just don’t have the suction power to rival canister, upright or stick vacuums.

Pros
  • Small and easy to store.
  • Convenient to use.
  • Clean hard floors well.
  • Programmable to run at a certain time.
  • Some automatically dock and recharge when required.
Cons
  • Don't clean carpets as well as a regular vacuum, especially deep pile.
  • Some models have trouble moving between hard floors and rugs.
  • Small dust collection bin.
  • Our tests found some models struggled at picking up fur. If you have a pet look at the pet-hair removal scores.

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Features to look for

Here's what to consider when choosing a robot vacuum cleaner:

Stair detection

A robot cleaning your home is great, unless it falls down the stairs. Most (but not all) models have a stair-detection feature – a must-have if you live in a multi-level home.

Virtual walls

There might be areas you don’t want a robot vacuum wandering into, such as the kitchen during dinner time. Some robots let you create invisible barriers, using either an app or external unit, which they won’t cross.

Mapping

Some robot vacuums use “dumb” bump-and-turn navigation that can leave areas of your home uncleaned. Smarter models build a map, which you can then access using an app and select specific areas for cleaning.

Programmable times

Waking up to a bump in the night can be alarming, but it might just be the robot cleaning. Programmable times let you instruct the robot to clean when it’s convenient for you.

Return-to-base charging

It seems an essential feature, but not all robot vacuums know to return to their base when their bin is full or they’re low on juice.

Noise

While noticeably quieter than corded or stick vacuums, robot vacs are still audible. If you’re sensitive to sound, look for a model that’s quiet or has customisable noise settings so you can mute beeps.

Height

Most robot vacuums can clean areas you can’t easily reach with a stick or corded vacuum. To ensure a robot will be able to get under your couch and other furniture, measure the gaps and check against its height.

Remote control

A robot that connects to your home’s WiFi can be controlled remotely through an app. You can change settings, such as start and stop times, direct it to clean a particular area or adjust the power level for a lighter or deeper clean. Some robots only come with a physical remote control and no WiFi connection. While they often have fewer features, they’ll still let you start or stop them while relaxing on the couch. However, there are a few Luddite robots that just randomly roam your house.

The downsides

Carpet

This is still a problem for most robot vacuums as they struggle to clean it effectively (robot vacs are best used in homes with mainly hard floors). If you’ve got carpet and have your heart set on a robot, there’s only one model we’ve tested that does a standout job on carpets (as long as you don’t have pets), the Electrolux Pure i9 PI91-5SGM.

Bins

Robot vacuum dust bins are small and need frequent emptying by their human operators. There are new models (unfortunately, not available for our latest test) that can empty their own bins into a larger receptacle at their dock, so the future of robot vacuums is looking brighter.

Batteries

These are generally small to keep the unit compact. However, this means they require frequent charging.

Obstacles and navigation

Some robot vacs can become stuck when moving between carpet and hard floors. Models without mapping can get lost or trapped in a room.

Reliability

Our recent appliance reliability survey found owners rated their robots as the least reliable of all vacuum cleaner types.

Firmware updates

Like all technology, robot vacuums have firmware (embedded software) that requires updating. Updates can unlock new features, improve performance and fix bugs, so it’s a good idea to regularly check if any are available for your robot.

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