We could all use a little help with household chores, and robot vacuums can be the answer for those that just don’t have time to vacuum themselves (or particularly loathe the task). Robot vacuums have gotten much smarter in the past few years, with improved suction, self-emptying bases and even mopping capabilities, too. And even though these are some of the most expensive smart home devices you can get, the good thing is that now you have tons to choose from at all different price points. This space is saturated with machines made by iRobot, Shark, Anker and others, so if you need help figuring out where to start looking for the right robot vacuum for you, Engadget has you covered. These are our top favorite robot vacuums you can get today, plus advice on how to pick the best model for your home.
Shark AI Ultra Robot Vacuum
Best bag-free, self-emptying robot vacuum
iRobot Roomba j7
Another good option
Anker Eufy RoboVac X8 Hybrid
iRobot® Roomba Combo j7+
Best robot vacuum and mop
Shark AI Ultra 2-in-1 Robot Vacuum & Mop
Runner up - best robot vacuum and mop
iRobot Roomba s9+
Best robot vacuum for pets
iRobot Roomba 694
Best for first-time buyers
What to look for in a robot vacuum
As we explained in our budget guide, Wi-Fi connectivity is a key feature for most robot vacuums. Some of the affordable devices aren’t Wi-Fi connected, though, so it’s best to double check before you buy cheap. Wi-Fi lets a robot vacuum cleaner do things like communicate with a mobile app, which then allows you to control the device from your phone.
Suction power is another important factor to consider. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard power scale that all robo-vacs adhere to, so it’s difficult to compare among a bunch of devices. Some companies provide Pascal (Pa) levels and generally the higher the Pa, the stronger the vacuum cleaner will be. But other companies don’t rely on Pa and simply say their robots have X-times more suction than other robots.
Ultimately, we recommend thinking first about the floors in your home: Do you have carpet throughout, or tile and hardwood floors, or a mix? Robots with stronger suction power will do a better job cleaning carpets as they can get into the nooks and crannies more easily. Some machines have “max” modes as well, which ups the suction power but also typically eats at battery life faster than the “normal” cleaning mode.
Mapping features and object detection
Past a certain price threshold, you’ll find advanced perks like home mapping features, improved object detection and automatic dustbin disposal. Home mapping is exactly what it sounds like: The vacuum uses sensors to map your home’s layout as it cleans, allowing you to send it to particular rooms or areas. Most robo-vacs have object detection, but some will be better than others at actually avoiding things like chair legs and children’s toys. Higher-end models like iRobot’s j7 series even go so far as to promise obstacle avoidance to steer clear of things like pet poop that can potentially ruin your machine.
Robot vacuums with mopping capabilities
We’re also now starting to see more robot vacuums with mopping capabilities. Machines with this feature have a water reservoir either built into the robot’s chassis or as a separate piece that you swap in for the dustbin when you want to mop your floors. It makes the robo-vac more useful if you have hard floors in your home that you like to keep squeaky clean, but it does require more work on your part. Filling and emptying the reservoir remains a human’s job.
Finally, for peak convenience, consider a robot vacuum that comes with a self-cleaning base. These are basically garbage bins attached to the machine’s docking station. At the end of each job, the robo-vac automatically empties its small dustbin into the large clean base – that means you won’t have to empty the dustbin yourself and you’ll only have to tend to the base once every few weeks. Just keep in mind that most self-emptying bases require proprietary garbage bags – another long-term expense you’ll have to factor in. Also, any vac-and-mop robot with a water tank will not dump its dirty water into the clean base, so you’ll still have to clean up that yourself.
Are robot vacuums worth it?
We tackled this question when we reviewed budget robot vacuums and the answer is yes, especially if vacuuming is one of your least favorite chores. Robots take the hard work out of cleaning your floors – just turn the thing on and watch it go. Any robot vacuum cleaner worth buying is semi-autonomous in that it will suck up dirt around your home until its battery is low and then make its way back to its charging dock. Unlike a regular vacuum, you should only have to interact with it to turn it on, empty its dustbin and untangle it if it were to get stuck somewhere.
That’s not to say robot vacuums are perfect. They’re almost always less powerful and less flexible than traditional vacuums. Since most robo-vacs are much smaller than traditional models, they often don’t have the same level of suction you’ll get in an upright machine. Plus, their dustbins are smaller, so they will need to be emptied more frequently. While Wi-Fi-connected robot vacuums give you the flexibility to start a cleaning job from anywhere using an app, targeting a small area of your home can be more complicated. Some robo-vacs have spot-cleaning features that focus the machine’s attention on a specific area, which almost – but not quite – mimics the spot-cleaning you’d be able to do yourself with a regular or cordless vacuum.