What to consider when buying a robot vacuum cleaner
I went all-in on robot vacuum cleaners at work a while back. I’ve tested Yeedi, Dreame, Roborock, iRobot, AiRROBO, and a host of others because, well, I like clean floors and I have an office building I can test these in at night, make my work cleaner, and make others breathe easier. Literally.
I’m not going to attempt to sell you anything here, but I thought I’d give you some things to consider when you’re purchasing a robotic vacuum. You can use or choose to not use this information.
PA / suction does not matter as much as they claim
OK, the vacuum has a PA rating of 5000 and claims it’s twice as good as a 2500… no. It has the ability to create 5000 suction. That’s vacuum pressure. Can a straw suck as much water through it as a 15 foot wide industrial drain pipe? Nope.
Just having a high suction means nothing if the suction isn’t where it’s needed. You need the dirt in front of the suction (thrown up by the brush) and you need large amounts of air to flow through (air volume.) Just because you can adhere onto and lift a bowling ball does not mean the floor is getting clean. A whole lot of factors go into this.
In terms of thinking about this, would you rather be breathing through a straw, or your mouth? I’m pretty sure the straw you can make more suction per square centimeter. Yeah… no.
A mop/vacuum robot can’t always do both
There are several types of mop/vacuum robots. I’ll mention the Roborock devices I’ve used – they can transition from mopping to vacuuming and back with no issues during a run. The Yeedis I had would do one or the other but not both – if you started on carpet you could not have the mop attachment. Some of them you can keep the mop attachment on but software only allows you to do one thing a run.
This is important because in some cases there is no way to automatically deal with this. You either manually slap on a mop and move the vacuum where you want it and press start, or you don’t. Many vacuums have the ability, and it’s called something different on each one, to raise the mop up when they detect they’re on carpet. Many just drag a somewhat damp pad along. I’ve heard tale of one that waits until the end of the vacuuming routine to hit all the mop spots.
Some of the vacuums are in mop-only mode if the mopping thing is attached.
Chaos, gyroscope, LiDAR, oh my
The original Roombas worked basically via chaos… let’s go out there and try and get everything but you know what might not happen. LiDAR came along, we started mapping and using smarts to get things. Gyroscopic units seem to be the new low end in robot vacuums and they mentally map a “good enough” map and will get everything, if they’re smart enough… although sometimes there’s overlap.
LiDAR you can do a lot more with, but if you’re looking for a $100 vacuum you might want to understand that gyroscope units can work.
Just because it’s got an app doesn’t make it do what you think it does
I’m going to point at the AiRROBO here, it’s a gyroscopic robot with an app and it creates a map mentally while it’s working that you can see in… I’d say somewhat real time… something like 3-5 seconds behind. I’m not picking on this little unit, just the app, map, and such were kind of surprising.
I’d generally assume if we create a map we’re going to be able to do things like name a room, schedule cleaning for said room, etc. That’s simply not the case with their unit, and it’s not a bad thing it’s just something to look for. This is a $120USD robot vacuum, you know roughly 1/15th of the price of some of the others I’m reviewing.
It does what it does, creates a map so that it knows where to vacuum and where not to, does everything it can reach, and then goes home and forgets it. It’s just what it does.
The Yeedis create a map that looks basically like a bad Duplo set, you’ve got a scheduling option and can do a few things. Roborocks and others create a highly detailed down to the inch map of the world with 3d furniture and allow you to define rooms and schedule cleanings. Most of these will also work with Xiaomi or Mi Home software or other third parties so you can get even more features.
Just because you see the app doing something doesn’t mean it will in your region
One of the things I absolutely desire on one of the robot vacuums we have at my work is for it to set room priority… I want it to hit everything in the building before it switches into mopping mode. I’ve got screenshots of how to do this, I’ve got videos showing the walkthrough in the German version of the app… and I’m living in a country where for licensing reasons it’s not available.
How well does it mop is not a great question
If you’re asking, make sure you include the surface details. Every robot mop is going to do great on a flat surface. When you start throwing divots, fake wood grain texture with dips, or semi-absorbent stone surfaces, the playing field changes.
No drag-mop is going to work its way into a little .2cm crevasse. It’ll go right over the thing leaving a tiny little trench of dirt. To get into textured trenches in anything you need a spinning brush.
This is not to say you need a robot vacuum with a spinning brush, it’s just to point out it took almost two months at my work for a vibrating mop pad to clean out a floor to reasonable levels after two or three years of mop mopping… and I can still see (with zoom on my phone,) that there is dirt in the cracks.
So one person’s flat laminate testimonial and another’s textured flooring testimonial may be both true and diametrically opposed.
If you’ve never heard of the company you’re probably not getting a software update
If you’ve got a well established company you’re probably going to be seeing firmware updates on a fairly regular basis. These roll out to correct issues in logic, battery maintenance, and generally come quite often because the entire fleet of robot vacuums the company supports can be updated on basically the same firmware.
Robot vacuum is going to die from use, and if they support it well you’re probably going to buy from them again. If it was a valuable asset at the end of life when the motor blew up, you’re more likely to want to purchase.
If the company that sold you a unit is just attempting one sale from a re-branded factory run, chances are very much that by the time that robot explodes 1) you’re not going to want another from that company, 2) that company has been out of business.
Statistically most robot vacuum company brands are gone pretty quickly.
What’s your goal?
Do you want to remove a chore? Do you have breathing issues? Are you just wanting something to help out? Do you want to write for a blog where one of the things you’re doing is throwing a mop bot at your work and helping out the cleaning staff on a nightly routine?
Figure out what you want the thing to do, don’t assume it will, and then ask some questions of people who own the unit.
Don’t believe the product page, don’t buy into hype. Don’t impulse buy a $500 unit without reading every negative review and deciding whether said negativity was valid or not.
That’s about it. You think of anything else let me know.