Four Features to Look For in a Robot Vacuum (And One That Doesn’t Matter)

Four Features to Look For in a Robot Vacuum (And One That Doesn’t Matter)

One of the first pandemic concessions I made was a robot vacuum. If the dog and I were to be sequestered at home, I was willing to spend to make the dog hair go away. Even though I bought a top-of-the-line Roomba, I was ultimately disappointed with how “automated” my robot vacuum and mop really was. It’s now five years later; I have since tested an absurd number of high-end floorbots and I’m astounded at how much more advanced they are. It’s not just that they have new features; it’s that they fundamentally work better. If I were buying a robot vacuum in 2024, here are the features I’d look for. 

Robots that sweep and mop are the new standard

Almost all high-end floorbots are now vacuums and mops. If you have any concerns about one machine doing both, don’t. Over the course of trying many brands, and many models, I haven’t had a single one accidentally mop a rug or carpet. If you think that serving two goals makes the robots worse at both, that is also a concern you can sweep away. The newest vacuums get closer than ever to the wall, and some of them even have protruding arms that extend under toe kicks and furniture. They are able to suck up dirt both micro and macro, and the best ones rarely get their rollers stuck on that dirt. In fact, rollers themselves are now much more resilient, so the days of having to replace them all the time because of hair getting caught are gone. Where these bots will really blow you away is their mopping, because it makes such a dramatic difference on your floors. Go without your bot for a few days and you’ll notice it. While some brands and models mop better than others (I advise using models with mop pads vs. spinning brushes or pads), they all remove that burden from the person who takes care of the house.  

Vacuum/mopping robots I recommend:

  • Roborock S8 Pro: $US1,399.99 has a mop pad, remote control and self fills/empties
  • Ecovacs Deebot X2: $US1,099.99 has spinning pads, but gets into corners and is great in large spaces

LiDAR means faster and more accurate mapping

For a long time, floorbots navigated by moving in a direction until they bumped into something and then continuing to bump into it until they got around it. The result was scuffed furniture and walls that bore the telltale black marks. The maps themselves weren’t terrifically accurate and it took many runs before you achieved a real, usable map of your room. Most (but not all) robots now use LiDAR to map and navigate, and it’s like night and day. Moments after the robot leaves the dock, the entire room will appear on the map with alarming accuracy. Accurate mapping has led to other innovations I’d look for in any bot I was going to buy. Maps are only as good as they can be used for scheduling. Splitting spaces, merging them, naming them, saving zones, etc. means you can delegate go/no-go areas of your space. You don’t need to vacuum under your living room couch seven days a week, but you do want to get the high-traffic area by the TV. Manipulating these maps will also mean you can use voice assistants to quickly tackle a problem area. “OK, Google, mop the TV area.”

Remote control mode means never having to reach under the couch again

If a robot is going to get stuck, the odds are it’s going to happen in a spot you can’t reach. A tangled cord binds up your bot, or they get stuck under a bookshelf or your couch. Previously, this meant locating the bot using your best guess and then getting on the floor to rescue your marooned vacuum. Remote control solves this problem. In almost all cases, even when your rollers are gummed up, you’ll still be able to use remote control to find and direct your bot out of the space it’s in to a spot you can grab it. I use this feature once a week, and it’s clutch. I wouldn’t buy a bot without it right now. This function is usually paired with Pin and Go technology, which means you can just add a point on the map, and the robot will go to that precise spot and start cleaning. 

Let the bot maintain itself

A robot that cleans for you is great, but not if you have to be constantly emptying it yourself. It’s dusty and messy. Older robot mops need to be constantly refilled and just spread dirty water on the floor. These days, advanced bots have a charging base with a vacuum bag in it, and the bot empties itself. You just change out the bag in the base every month or two. Even the bags are better—they last longer and don’t error out like early models did. Then there’s the mopping. These same bases have clean and dirty water tanks so they can fill themself with clean water and empty themselves into the tank. At least one model has a container on board just for cleaning fluid, so it will automatically add it to the cleaning water. But if I were buying a robot tomorrow, I’d wait for one of the two models about to be released that will directly connect to your water supply line.

Some features really don’t add anything

In the race for these robots to justify their hefty price tags and to edge one out over competitors, new features are added all the time. One of the most recent is on-board video that you can watch from your app on your phone, and it certainly excited me. I’ve brought it up a few times on floorbots (and even once on a lawnbot) and yet, I just don’t find it helpful in any way. 

Price also turns out to not be as big a determination of quality as you’d expect. While all of the best performing robots I’ve tested are at the top of the price range, a number of models in the same range performed poorly. There are at least a few mid-range robots that perform spectacularly. 

If you’re shopping for a robot vacuum/mop, watch for sales, since even outside of large events like Amazon deal days or Black Friday, sales happen routinely that can knock hundreds of dollars off the price.

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