I review robot vacuums for a living – here’s what you need to know before you buy

I review robot vacuums for a living – here’s what you need to know before you buy

If you’re feeling bewildered by all the options available when you’re shopping for one of the best robot vacuums, don’t sweat it. I review robot vacuums for a living, and even I find various choices out there a little overwhelming. It’s not just the number of brands (some of which have been around for less time than some of my friend’s kids), but also the amount of cutting-edge features that help make cleaning a little more hands-off in various ways, but also increase the price.

Fortunately I have experience using and testing all sorts of models, from the cheapest options to high-end iRobot offerings, which puts me in an excellent position to share my top tips and tricks for finding the best robot vacuum for you. Keep in mind that the “for you” is vitally important, as different people and homes have different needs, not to mention you may be constrained by your budget, something to consider as extra features bump up the price.

Not only will I discuss how to define what exactly you’re looking for, I’ll also talk about pricing and how that might affect what you can or should get, as well as looking at the different brands on the market. And, of course, I’ll explain how best to stretch your hard-earned cash by taking advantage of sales and deals. While nothing here is rocket science, it’ll help ensure you don’t carried away and spend more than you need to, or cheap out and end up with something that just won’t do the job you need it to. The first step is to figure out what precisely you need.

1. Define your needs

Before you start comparison shopping between the various retailers and looking at all the roundups and buying guides out there, you need to do a little self-reflection on what you actually need out of a robot vacuum, as well as what you expect from it.

How hands-off do you want to be, for instance? Do you want a robot vacuum that has its own voice assistant or can be controlled by Alexa or Siri? Most robot vacuums at least have app support, if not voice support, so you can still run them fairly hands-free, not to mention that all but the cheapest models these days can also be put on a schedule.

Another thing to consider is whether you want to have a robot vacuum with a large base station that offers self-emptying capabilities. These can take up a lot more floor space, but they mean that whenever the robot vacuum returns home, the base station will automatically suck out whatever debris it picked up into a larger dust bin or bag that probably only needs to be emptied or replaced every six weeks or so. Compare that with cheaper models that don’t have a base station – you’ll probably have to empty their contents every couple of cleaning cycles. So, ask yourself how much that convenience is worth, as it does affect price.

(Image credit: Future)

Similarly, think about whether you want your robot vacuum to also come with mopping functionality. While robot vacuums with mopping come at all different price points, the inclusion of that capability does bring the price up quite a bit compared with a similar model without it. If you have an apartment that’s almost completely carpeted, for instance, you might want to skip mopping. But if it’s hard flooring throughout, you might save some trouble by paying upfront for the addition of mopping functionality.

If you’ve answered those questions for yourself, you can get into more quality-of-life and less make-or-break features worth considering, such as having retractable mop pads for homes with both hard flooring and carpeting, or hot mop pad washing, which helps remove stains during cleaning so that it’s not actually spreading that spill.

You’ll find that there are some options out there with even more add-ons. The recently reviewed Ecovacs Deebot T30 S Combo not only comes with mopping, but also has an extendable mop pad for getting edges and, more interestingly, comes with a separate handheld vacuum that has its own accessories and docks in the same base station, which also means that it also self-empties. Quite the all-rounder.

2. Define your budget

Budget is probably a lot of people’s make-or-break point, and is often the first thing they consider. However, I do think you should figure out what you need first. After all, if you get the cheapest thing you can find, you’ll probably be unhappy with your purchase and end up having to buy something else, costing you even more money

Once you’ve figured out the necessities, though, price is the next thing to consider. If you want to keep things under $500 / £500, you’ll probably have to skip the auto-emptying base station or go with a less well-known brand. For instance, the Proscenic Floobot X1 we reviewed last year lists for $499 / £499 but is currently on Amazon for $339.99 / £349. It’s great for the price but not as good as the more expensive models.

Ultenic D5s Pro Robot Vacuum and Mop

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re willing to forgo a little convenience you can find something reliable; one of our reviewers used a cheap robot vacuum for a month and found it surprisingly capable. You just won’t have the bells and whistles and will have to empty the dustbin yourself regularly. Still, that’s plenty more convenient than actually having to vacuum your space.

If you’re willing to spend a little more but find the $1,000 / £1,000+ models out of your budget, you’ll probably still be able to find something that meets most of your needs. You just will have to do without some of the latest features found in the very top models.

Also, keep in mind that robot vacuum brands are constantly trying to one-up each other, so consider some of the older models that we’ve recommended that have been on sale for a year or two. You might not get a built-in voice assistant, but you will get a solid, possibly even amazing robot vacuum for a lower price.

3. Throw brand loyalty out the window

There’s nothing wrong with being loyal to a brand if you’ve used its products for a long time and know that it’s consistently given you good results. Brands such as iRobot and Shark are vacuum behemoths that have been around for quite some time, with the latter selling some of the best vacuum cleaners on the market.

However, blind loyalty will lead you to overlook some products that might be better for your particular situation. Shark, for instance, is a brand that I’ve had nothing but great experiences with. However, it has yet to deliver a robot vacuum with mopping capability that can turn off its mopping functionality while traveling over carpet. However, more than a few models from newer companies like Ecovacs, Eufy, and Roborock can. For example, the Eufy Clean X9 Pro can lift its mop pads off the floor so that it can vacuum a carpeted area after having mopped a different area.

Eufy Clean X9 Pro robot vacuum

(Image credit: Future)

Most robot vacuums are best at keeping dust and debris from piling up, but aren’t going to clean quite as well as more conventional models, whether it’s due to not getting to edges or obstacles, or even just not having the same suction or scrubbing power. Of course, it’s always handy to have something like the Bissell CrossWave OmniForce on hand so you can easily mop your floors and get into every nook and cranny, not to mention that it comes with cleaning solution leaving your floors smelling fresh, something a lot of robot vacuums seem to skip.

Mop pad washing as well as heated drying to prevent bacteria and mold are also features that I see more often with Chinese brands and models, like the ones mentioned, and they’re worth considering if you’re trying to put off deep cleans as long as possible.

4. Some brands are more consistent than others

As you’ll note from our various reviews, some brands are very consistent in their performance at certain price points. iRobot’s most high-end options seem to perform well in terms of functionality and features. They really only suffer in terms of missing out on some of the newest features (like the hot water mop pad washing I keep mentioning), and in being among the most expensive options out there.

Shark is also behind on the cutting-edge feature set train, but is rock solid in execution, with its offerings including a reliable and durable set of mid-tier options. Because of these companies’ longevity, you might feel a little safer with things like warranties, though most of the products we’ve reviewed here come with similar length warranty coverages.

5. Get more for your money

There’s a lot of competition in the robot vacuum world right now, and a lot of it comes from Chinese brands, many of which have already been mentioned. This means that there are going to be lots of deals as these companies try to over-deliver on features while providing the best value.

If you just look at list prices, it might not seem like there are a whole lot of savings to be had. However, most of these companies regularly discount their products in such a way that that discount price could almost be considered the de facto sales price. For example, the Ecovacs Deebot T30 S Combo mentioned above is currently available with $249 off.

Brands like Shark are not to be outdone, however, and plenty of the company’s models are seeing regular discounts at this moment, when we’re nowhere near any of the regular sales events.

Speaking of which, robot vacuums fit into that category of item that retailers like to use for doorbuster deals and big sales to bring in business, so if you can, wait until the next big event, whether it’s Amazon Prime Day (and other retailers are sure to try to match some of the deals), Labor Day, or even Black Friday. These are not Apple computers – you’ll see plenty of big price cuts on models across the board if you’re willing to wait.