You don’t have to break the bank for an effective robotic vacuum

by Melissa Martin

When it comes to cleaning, there’s nothing quite like having it done for you. But if you can’t afford a cleaning service, often the next best thing is using a device to simplify the process.

That’s where robotic vacuums have made their mark in recent years. Though they can’t make floor cleaning a chore of the past entirely, they can make it so users have never have to run their full-size vacuum cleaners or at least less frequently. This is just one of the reasons the devices have become the fastest growing floor-care category in recent years. Annual sales expected to top $4 billion in 2023, according to a Statista Research Department study conducted in August.

Susan Booth, a vacuum test engineer for Consumer Reports, said robotic vacs, which can be purchased for anywhere from $200 to more than $1,500, can save individuals up to two hours a week and up to 110 hours per year. 

There are many factors to consider when purchasing a robotic vacuum, but what sets the units apart is the software and intelligence the devices use. Some models are smart enough to return to where they stopped and finish the job. Others have the capability to mop after they sweep and even clean themselves. None, however, are able to “see” whether they have missed a spot or, not surprisingly, climb stairs.

With so many models and price points available, how do consumers narrow down the choices to the model that is best suited for their household? Experts say start by surveying your homes, taking into consideration whether the home features mostly hard surfaces or carpet and whether there is pet hair to contend with. Booth noted that both thick-pile carpet and pet hair require more battery power from robotic vacuums.

“Robotic vacuums are best for uncluttered rooms with bare floors or low-pile rugs,” Booth said. “The thicker the pile, the more difficulty the robot has and the more battery power it uses, which means it may have to dock before it has cleaned the entire space.”  

The next factor to take into consideration is the household budget. Robots with some of the latest features can cost over $1,000, but some of the more inexpensive models can get the job done equally as well. Users should be prepared to lose premium features, like WiFi connectivity and self-emptying dustbins, with less-expensive models.

WiFi connectivity allows users to operate robotic vacuums remotely. Newer robotic vacuums can map rooms by themselves and are able to send that information to an app on users’ smartphones. Then homeowners can decide which rooms the robotic should clean and when. Some models even allow users to program the units to clean only one section of a room at a time.

Apps are also useful for scheduling or remotely starting and ending cleanings. The feature can also allow users them to check the robotic vacuum’s progress remotely or to block off spaces they don’t want the device to clean. Some apps also allow users to view maps of the vacuum’s path around their home to determine if areas may have been missed.

Prospective buyers should also be aware that robot vacuums use varying methods of navigation. Lower-end models typically move sporadically, bouncing off walls and other obstructions, such as furniture and other items in its path. Medium- and higher-end models use lasers and optical sensors to guide them around objects, making them more precise in their cleaning.

“Our tests have shown that the various approaches to navigation can be equally effective in terms of cleaning,” Booth said

Overall, experts like Booth conclude that the pickup rate and navigational capabilities of robotic vacuums are better than ever in both budget-friendly and top-of-the-line devices. Factor in some of the latest advancements, including self-emptying bases, which make it so dustbins don’t have to be emptied as often, and object recognition, which enable the units to avoid and report obstructions to the user, and now just might be the time to give these devices a try. ∞