In the search for the best robot vacuum, as in life, it's important to manage your expectations.
It's only natural to look for a silver bullet: You've been housebound, cleaning up after yourself and your loved ones near constantly, for months now. You've become astounded at the sheer human capacity to create mess; you've felt resentment toward your partner, your less-adorable-than-ever child, even your golden retriever. You're concerned about the robot takeover Andrew Yang is always warning us about, but enough is enough. Let the robots have the vacuuming, you’ll take your $1,000 a month and an extra hour a night for prestige television.
Sadly, even the best robot vacuum will not clean your house for you. Robot vacuums are good for picking up a top layer of dirt, for daily maintenance of keeping the dog hair and spilled coffee grounds at bay, but you'll still need to own a regular vacuum to remove the heavy duty dirt.
That said, I'd argue that everyone should own a robot vacuum—and especially right now. Robot vacuums are an endless source of joy. They're delightfully dumb. They bump into things and move in odd patterns. They never quite pick up as much as you want them to. And yet, when one is home all day and desperate for entertainment, the robot vacuum comes through. Watching the sweet little guy whir over your floors, picking up dirt and asking for nothing from you in return, is gratifying. And in Covid times, it even qualifies as fun.
To bring that kind of magic back into your life, we tested 9 top-rated models to find the best robot vacuums. Because we're a home cooking site, we paid particular attention to the robo vacs that would aid you in your kitchen and dining room cleaning needs. Read on to find the ones that suck up spilled coffee grounds (and spilled flour, and all those sprinkles) best.
The Best Robot Vacuum Overall: iRobot Roomba 614
Roomba was first on the robot vacuum beat and they remain a top performer when it comes to affordable, solid vacuums. This model is durable and affordable and as several Epicurious editors can testify, it performs well for years.
The Roomba 614 has superior spot-cleaning abilities: It moves in concentric circles until it has picked up every stray bit of your spill. It has two brush rolls, which makes it effective at picking up finer messes, like dust and flour. This spot-cleaning ability makes it ideal for cleaning up isolated kitchen messes. Simply send in the robot after you accidentally drop your bag of breadcrumbs on the floor.
This robot vacuum is also the easiest to set up; simply plug it in and it's ready to go. Connecting the iRobot to its accompanying app is easy, and that app is adorable, with little animations that identify what’s going on.
Does the Roomba get stuck a fair amount? Is its navigation less sophisticated than our luxury pick? Yes and yes. But those quibbles don’t change the fact that this is one of the best robo vacs on the market, and definitely the best for the price.
The Best Luxury Robot Vacuum: Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum and Mop
The Roborock looks like Hal 9000 and while that does make it sleek and futuristic looking, it's also a bit creepy to watch its menacing red eye stare at you while it vacuums your floor. But it’s the red eye that gives this vac its mapping power, and that’s where this machine really excels. The vacuum tirelessly works to map out every nook and cranny of your house, and it tracks this mapping in the app, so that when it's done, you're left with an eerily accurate floor plan. It's by far the most thorough vacuum when it comes to tackling the entire job of vacuuming your house, making it ideal for people with larger homes.
It also wins out on versatility. This is the only robot vacuum we tested that can also mop—though “mop” is maybe overstating it. By attaching the included a wet pad attachment to the bottom of the Roborock, it buffs floors like a Swiffer does, no man power required. Floors end up with a shine, sure, but if there was, say, ketchup all over the floor, the Roborock would only have spread it around and made the mess worse.
Out of the box, the Roborock was a bit annoying. Its accompanying app was less intuitive to set up and connect than other models; the machine setup was also slightly more work, as it involved attaching unfamiliar parts, and connecting the cable to the charging base was difficult. But if you're looking for the most technologically advanced, thorough, and versatile robot vacuum—and you don't mind paying the high price that goes along with that—this is the robot vac for you.
The Best Robot Vacuum for Small Spaces: Eufy 15c Max
The Eufy was among the cheapest of the robot vacuums that we tested. It was also the sleekest in profile and design. The Eufy machines slither about your floor with a lightness and agility that even more expensive robot vacuums lack; they are the quietest model by far, almost to the point that you're skeptical that they're actually sucking up any dirt. However, in our spot test of both spilled coffee and flour, this vacuum competed extremely well, thoroughly cleaning up our kitchen messes. One small qualm: It did leave a tiny trail of flour near its dock when we put it away, but such a fine grind is bound to get caught in almost any robot vacuum's bristles. When it was tasked with completing a full cleaning cycle, we found that it left the floors as clean as any of its competitors.
The mapping technology on this vacuum is not state of the art and it has some trouble getting over bumps in rugs or going over chair legs. The machine also feels a bit flimsier and less sturdy than more expensive models—the Roomba narrowly beat it out because of what we know about its sturdiness and long-term durability. However, the Eufy does the most important job, the actual vacuuming, very well. Since it is so quiet, but doesn't do well mapping huge houses, it would be the ideal robot vacuum for apartment dwellers.
Another Great Option: Shark IQ Robot Vacuum with Self-Empty Base
This was the only vacuum we tried that came with a self-emptying base. (Roomba makes a more expensive model with this added feature, but we weren't able to obtain it at the time of writing.) Though it's a bit of a bulky eye sore and it requires lots of real estate on your floor, the base does add quite a bit of value to the robot vacuum experience. When the vacuum's small tray is full, it simply docks itself, and the self-empty base—which is essentially a vacuum for the robot vacuum—sucks all of the debris up into its chamber. Now empty, the vac is free to go back out there in search of more spilled powdered sugar and dog hair.
Because it docks itself and rids itself of its own debris, the Shark vacuum was able to go and go and go more than any other vacuum we tried. It'll stop for a recharge or an emptying but then it gets right back out to do its job. Be warned: this vacuum is on the loud side (especially when the self-empty base gets going) and it also isn't the best at spot cleaning. Since spot cleaning felt particularly important for our purposes (kitchen spills), we didn't give this the top spot. But if you don't mind giving up a lot of space (and money) for your robot vac and are looking for something that you can set free to clean the whole house with minimal intervention, this is a good robot vacuum for you.
How We Tested
First, we tested each of the robot vacuums' spot-cleaning capabilities. Most of the vacuums came with a specific spot cleaning function: At the press of a button, the vacuum sets forth to detect a patch of dirt and, depending on the model, moves either back and forth in lines or in concentric circles until the mess has, by its detection, been swept up. To test the spot cleaning ability, we spilled coffee grounds, then dropped finely-ground flour on the tiled kitchen floor. Lesser vacuums left bits of coffee and even blew the fine grounds of flour out all over the house, spreading the mess rather than sucking it up; they were also unable to get bits of food that landed in the grout of the tiles. The best vacuums knew how to target the spot, and removed nearly every bit of the spill.
Next, we tested each vacuum in “full cycle” mode. In this mode, the vacuums roam the house, moving from room to room until the it decides the floors are clean. apping technology is key here, and a big distinguisher between vacuums; the better the mapping technology, the higher the vacuum’s price. During this test we also noted how often the vacuums got stuck, and how often they needed to be emptied.
Factors We Evaluated
How easy is the vacuum to set up?
We looked for a robot vacuum that’s relatively easy to use out of the box; required little assembly; and wasn't confusing to operate right from the beginning. Most of the robot vacuums we tested had apps that allow the vacuum to be operated via a phone; we looked for a user-friendly app experience as well.
How well does the robot vacuum…vacuum?
This one's obvious: Even if a robot vacuum has excellent mapping technology and moves around without getting stuck, it's useless if it doesn’t effectively suck up dirt. After a vacuum completed its cycle through the house, we looked at the amount of dirt and debris it had vacuumed up in its tray. We also did a lap around the house to assess the cleanliness.
Does it get stuck frequently?
Robot vacuums, even the good ones, do tend to get stuck on cords, the edges of rugs, and between the legs of end tables and chairs. You'll probably find that before operating your robot vac, you need to pick up objects that it's likely to get stuck on. We looked for vacuums that could avoid this problem as much as possible.
How well does it map your space?
The technology required to run a robot vacuum around your home, avoiding obstacles and getting stuck, is no joke—the programming is similar to that of self driving cars. Most robot vacuums are equipped with bump sensors and drop sensors that help identify obstacles. Higher-end models are sometimes equipped with camera navigation systems ( means they can struggle in dim lighting.) These models have complex mapping technology that allows them to make a complete layout of your house, and follow the logic of it. Cheaper models, like the Eufy and the Roomba 614, move about the house randomly, relying purely on the input from their sensors to guide them.
How often do you need to empty the bin?
In general, robot vacuums have small bins that need to be emptied more frequently than conventional vacuums. We looked for a vacuum that could complete an entire cleaning cycle for a moderately dirty house, or more than one, without needing to be emptied (while still sucking up plenty of dirt, of course).
Other Robot Vacuums We Tried
Neato Robotics D7 Connected Laser Guided Robot Vacuum
The Neato was among the top contenders when it came to actually vacuuming—it's a powerful tool for sweeping up dirt and debris. It also has one of the best apps of the bunch, and excellent mapping technology. Ultimately, though, this vacuum didn't win because of its high price tag, its propensity to get stuck, and its need to be emptied frequently.
Miele Scout HomeVision
This robot vacuum looks like a small insect because its brushes rotate outward in front of the machine, rather than underneath it. It was the most difficult of the bunch to set up, but it did win points for being one of the quietest vacuums. While it was the most thorough spot cleaner in our coffee test, picking up every last ground, it ended up missing flour in the grout of a tile floor, and actually spread the flour around. The Miele also ran out of battery in the middle of the floor during its cleaning cycle, before it could return to its doc to charge.
Like its winning brother, the affordable Eufy 11s is easy to set up and docks itself nicely. (With many vacuums it's hard to tell if they're properly on the doc and charging. The Eufy indicates that it is, in fact, charging, in a clear way). This very bare bones model lost because it does not have wifi and only operates via remote. (In general we were not a fan of robot vacuums that came with remotes. Who needs an extra piece of equipment to lose?) In our spot test, it appeared to pick up a lot of coffee and flour, but then when we went to dock the machine, it left a trail of sucked up coffee and flour that had been trapped in its bristles.
Roborock S4 Robot Vacuum
This less expensive model from the same brand as our luxury pick failed the spot cleaning test right away, and didn't hold up in terms of durability or ease of use compared to other models in its price point.
iRobot Roomba i7
This slightly more expensive Roomba was an effective vacuum, but its navigation didn't seem massively improved from the less expensive model—and its bin needed to be emptied much more than other models we tested.
For the best durable, long-lasting, well-priced robot vacuum, choose the classic Roomba 614. For an inexpensive vacuum that's still effective (and actually probably the best option for small spaces since it’s quiet and has a low profile), choose the Eufy 15c Max. For a luxury pick with bonus features like excellent mapping and mopping, choose the Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum and Mop.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious