At their inception, even the best robot vacuums were reserved for futurists and the Skymall market. (What up, DJ Roomba?) They were hard to set up, not that effective, and made everyone who entered your living space uncomfortable—especially after they’d been bouncing between the legs of your couch for half an hour. Those bots were somehow more annoying than just vacuuming on your own.
But that was then. Thanks to functional apps, better sensors, and some healthy robo-competition, these vacuums are now a pretty great experience in most homes, regardless of floor type. They still aren’t powerful enough to be the only vacuum you own, but a good robot vacuum will significantly cut down the amount of time you have to spend using a conventional vacuum. If your apartment is a marble sculpture, think of the robot vacuum as your hammer and chisel. It’ll do the vast majority of work needed to get you to the pristine image in your head by picking up the easy debris that just accumulates, like dust, pet hair, random snacks, dead skin cells. To get things perfect, you’ll still have to take out a more powerful cordless or plug-in vacuum, but the robot vacuum will get you 95% of the way there. For most people, a robot vacuum that cleans four days a week automatically will create a much cleaner environment than simply running a spot vacuum whenever you spill enough that you can see.
The best robot vacuums are both decent robots and decent vacuums—a robot that deftly darts around corners and tables is useless if it can’t pick up a Cheerio, and a robot that could pull sand out of a shag rug is useless if it keeps threatening to tumble down the stairs. To find our favorites we called in several models from a few reputable companies and tested them in staged home environments (read: our apartments). After setting them up according to their instructions and the included apps (and connecting them with the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa when possible), we made sure to run the vacuums through several cleaning cycles.
There are two main types of robot vacuums, those with some sort of mapping technology and those which employ a random cleaning movement. The former uses lasers and sensors to map out the space you’re using it in. It then uses that map to navigate more efficiently, avoiding obstacles it knows are present and not going over the same spot too many times. The latter are the kind you’ve probably seen on TV. Sometimes they move in a path that makes no sense at all. The robots with mapping technologies tend to be more expensive and less annoying, but don’t always prove themselves to be better cleaners. What’s more important than how they clean, in our opinion, is whether they actually do it when they tell you to and whether they make it back to their charging base without getting caught on an obstacle.
So we set up obstacles for our robot friends. In each of their runs, we made them navigate around everything from rugs with long fringe, wads of charging cables, small changes in elevation, and spilled water. We also made sure to pay attention to how easy the vacuums are to empty, whether it was easy to find replacement parts for them. Below, our favorite robot vacuums below will make your home effortlessly clean.
The Best Robot Vacuum
iRobot, the godfather of the robot vacuum, makes a great robot vacuum at just about every price; you could do worse than setting a budget and buying whatever vacuum they offer at it. Though the Roomba i7+ is expensive it delivers on the core promise of a robot vacuum: it cleans really well and doesn’t need you to do anything. The vacuum is stronger than competitors, and automatically ratchets up the power for tricky carpets without wasting extra energy on lower-pile carpets or hardwood floors. It gets stuck less, but still hits every corner.
The i7+ is a mapping robot, which will remember the layout of your apartment as you use it each time. Once it’s generated a layout, you can use it’s app to set up virtual boundaries that the robot won’t cross. The app makes it easy to schedule cleans, start one-off cleans, and check the status of the Roomba. (If you’d like, you can pair the app with Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant to do this with your voice.) Where other vacuums meet their match with hair or wires on the ground—sometimes requiring a manual removal of hair that is not enjoyable—the vacuums debris extractors do a good job of avoiding snags. The best thing about it though is it’s automatic dirt disposal. When the vacuum returns to its post, it actually empties it’s bin into a disposable bag in the base, which you have to empty out a lot less than most other vacuums. In short: this is the vacuum you’re picturing when you’re thinking about buying a robot vacuum. It vacuums well and it doesn’t need your help.
The Robot Vac with the Perfect App Vac
The Neato D7 required just a little bit more assistance than other robot vacuums we’ve tested, but it offers a lot of the same features that made us love the Roomba i7+. For one, the app is great: after a few sessions, it delivers a pretty complete floor plan, and you can draw lines where the vacuum shouldn’t go, which is far easier to use than physical sensors or magnetic strips that other vacuums force you to install. It’s compatible with both Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant. You can also set up “spot cleanings,” which mean you don’t have to send the thing off for an hour when you just want it to circle the area around where you just ate. You can also manually control it like an R/C car, which is impossibly lazy and also very fun.
It’s a powerful vacuum, though it fares less admirably against hair than other vacuums. It also managed to get stuck more often, and you have to be more careful about placing it back down, because it’ll lose its bearings if you set it back down more than a few feet away than where you picked it up. And you have to empty its filter manually, which is a pain, but usually unavoidable at this price. But overall, the extra options and easy app make up for these somewhat typical robot vacuum flaws.
The Best Mopping Robot Vacuum
Compared with mapping and surface detection technologies, the latest innovation among robot vacuums is a bit underwhelming. That improvement? Robot vacuums can mop now. Well, okay calling it mopping is a bit of a stretch. It’s more like “robot vacuums have Swiffer pads on the bottom of them now.” If you have mostly hardwood floors, this is actually kinda cool. Giving that wood a once over with clean water every so often will go a long way in keeping them looking as shiny as the day they were finished. But, just because a robot vacuum can mop doesn’t mean it’s a good robot.
The Roborock S6 is a genuinely good robot vacuum, that also happens to be a functional mopper. It’s packed with all the software capabilities of more expensive robots, including surface detection, laser mapping, and the ability to set virtual barriers, all in a relatively quiet package with a powerful motor that is capable of sucking up everything that comes in its wake. It’s Mi Home app is a little bit clunky, but setting up the vacuum isn’t that much different than with any other one we’ve tested. Plus, the Roborock is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. If you’re interested in a vacuum that can mop, this is the one to get for now.
The Best Cheap Robot Vacuum
Not everyone needs a robot with all the most up-to-date technologies. Something like advanced mapping technologies is a lot less useful when you’re in a small studio apartment with very little to actually map. As more and more companies have begun making robot vacuums, the kind of bots without these advancements, that would have been considered premium in the past, have become relatively affordable. These bots are effective cleaners, with powerful motors, easy to replace filters, and functional apps, but they’re not as effortless to use as some of the other ones on this list. Still, if you’ve never had the great privilege of ceding the vast majority of your cleaning to a respectful electronic gadget, any one of this ilk will be a huge improvement.
Our favorite budget vacuums are currently made by Eufy, including this one, the 15C Max. Though it employs a random bump method, we found that the Eufy 15C Max was a supremely effective cleaner. It had a little trouble getting over an odd 1” tall hump in our kitchen, but otherwise did a great job navigating around the space and cleaning up everything we put in front of it’s motor. Scheduling cleans or manually turning on the bot is really easy to do with the Eufy app, that’s well laid out and simply designed. You’re also able to connect the vacuum with Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant through the app, if you’d like to schedule cleaning with your voice.
Four More Good Robot Vacuums
This robot's unique design makes it better at tackling corners than many other robots. It also has manual settings that give you control over where it heads and the amount of energy it will spend to accomplish specific tasks. We think our options above are more effective, but it you like the design and are really worried about your corners, this is a great option.
Roborock's vacuums were some of the first to bring premium robot vacuum features down to lower price points. The S4, which has mapping technologies, is a testament to this. At this price it's a bit of an awkward fit: not quite as good as the bots that are a little bit more expensive, not so much better than the cheaper bots. Still, if you want those premium features but can't shell out for them, the S4 is a compromise you should consider.
The Eufy 11S is basically the same feature-light vacuum as the 15C Max, but with less suction power. That means you'll have to run it a little bit more often or for longer periods in order to get the same level of cleanliness. It's still a super effective vacuum that's easy to set up and use, but a bit less efficient.
The iRobot Roomba 980, our former top pick, is still an excellent vacuum with a powerful motor. But if you're going to be paying almost $1,000 for a vacuum, you should get something with all the premium robot vacuum features that this bot doesn't have. At this price, we think you'll get more utility out of something that allows you to set up virtual walls without physical devices and that will empty it's own tray when full.
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Originally Appeared on GQ