Vacuum Robots Ultimate Buying Guide 2021

This guide helps you choose the vacuum robot that best fit your home and your family. The most expensive ones are not always the best option. In the following, we make it easier to pick a vacuum robot that fits your home, at the best price. First, we guide you to profile your ideal vacuum robot. Next, we describe all you need to know about vacuum robot features. In this description, we present features in related groups and  discuss their connection to user profiles. Last, we provide you with a summary that will allow you can compare existing vacuum robots, focusing on features that really matter for your home.

Profiling Your Ideal Vacuum Robot

The best vacuum robot, is the one that matches your home and your way of life. We provide you here with a quick survey to guide you profile your ideal vacuum robot.

1) Your Home: How Big is it?

Most vacuum robots, including cheap ones, can fully clean a small place, like apartments, in a single cycle. But, not all of them can deal with larger spaces, typically beyond 600 square feet (~55 square meter).

Large house

The number of rooms does not matter. But, if you have stairs, your vacuum robot should be smart enough to avoid falling down. Stairs, also mean that you have a multi-storey home. No vacuum robot can go up and down. But, some remember the different floors for faster cleaning.

2) Floor Type: Do You Have Carpets or Hardwood?

Cleaning performance varies for the same robot, according to the floor type. Some vacuum robots are very good at cleaning hardwood, tiles, or laminate. Others, achieve better results with thin carpets, or thick rugs.

Baby on hardwood floor

If your home has different kinds of floor, hard ones and carpet, there is a solution for you. Some vacuum robots can adapt to the type of floor for better cleaning.  They adjust the main brush height or ramp up suction power cleaning behavior when they transition from hard floor to carpets.

3) Pets: Do You Have Dogs or Cats?

If you have dogs or cats, you need a robot vacuum that is suited for cleaning up after pets. Most models, help with kitties that scoot their litter over the side. But, not all of them are good at picking up dog fur and cat hair.

puppy on carpet

Another important difference lies in maintenance. Some robotic vacuums  require emptying  out more frequently than others.  Removing hair that might get twisted around brushes is also a possible maintenance operation. Luckily, there exist some robots that avoid hair entanglement.

4) Your Health: Do You Have Allergy?

If any member of your family suffers from allergy, then a vacuum robot can help. At least if you choose one that collects most of the dust.  Some vacuums can also capture all tiny particles, including pollen. Ideal to eliminate allergens that are hanging in the air.

5) Your Habits: How Much Automation Do You Want?

If your life is organized according to some work or school schedule, you will enjoy a vacuum robot that will automatically start cleaning at specific hours. It’s so pleasant to find a fresh clean home when you are back. Moreover, operating a robot while you are away, spares you the noise. Vacuums are loud. Better not to stay in the same room while they do the cleaning.

google home on table

For those of you who are into technology, you should choose a WiFi enabled vacuum robot. It will integrate with your other smart devices. So, you can talk to your vacuum, or control it via your smartphone or your smartwatch.

Vacuum Robot Features Explained

In this section, we list all major features that you might encounter in a vacuum robot. We have organized them in groups sharing the same purpose. For each feature we explain its role, all variants if any, and how it connects to the questions from the survey above.

Hazard Avoidance

Features belonging to this group, allow robots operate safely. Vacuum robots must avoid breaking stuff in your home, while they move around. They also must avoid getting damaged.

Robot bounces on virtual wall boundary marker

– Boundary Markers: Some vacuum robots are shipped with markers that can be either a magnetic strip or a battery power beacon. The ones for Roomba are called Virtual Walls. They emit an infra-red light that only your vacuum robot can see. These beacons are useful to mark spots such as your pet’s bowl, where you don’t want the robot to go. Whenever the vacuum detects such marker, it moves away (see picture). Most advanced vacuum robots with mapping capabilities don’t need physical boundary markers.  All you have to do is simply draw no-crossing lines on your homes’ maps displayed by the robot on your smartphone.

vacuum robot detects stairs– Cliff Sensors: These sensors prevent the vacuum robot from falling down stairs. The robot detect the distance between its border and the floor. The distance is greater than 2-3 inches, when the robot is close to stairs (see picture). This hazard avoidance features is critical if you have even a single step.

– Proximity Sensors: Vacuum robots have typically a big bumper on the front to detect humans, pets, or objects that they might encounter. Whenever the bumper is pressed, the robot stops. Then, it turns and moves away.

Cleaning Parts

This group gathers parts that directly deal with dirt. Their specs directly impact how good does a vacuum at cleaning different types of floor, and different home layouts.

– Flat Front: Vacuum robots with a flat front have a wider main brush that gets closer to walls, as shown in the picture below. A wider main brush, means that a larger area is covered on a single pass. Beside speeding up cleaning, a flat front is better at cleaning corners, compared to round-shaped vacuums. With a flat front, the full suction power is available at the front of the robot, which allows collecting more dust and hair from edges and corners.

comparison of area covered by vacuum robots with round vs flat front

– Side Brushes: These brushes do improve edge and corner cleaning, especially for round vacuums. They bring dust an hair right in the front of the main brush system, that ultimately collects dirt into the dustbin.

– Brush Adaptive Height: Changing the height of the main brush system is an interesting feature to make the best of suction power on all kinds of floors. On hard floors such as hardwood and tiles, the main brush is lowered closer to the ground. This allows to better loosen and pull up sticky dirt. While on carpets, the main brush is winded up to better release particles and hair.

roomba Detecting Dirt– Dirt Sensor: This sensor allows a vacuum robot to recognize areas that need more attention. In such spots, the robot automatically switches mode and cleans more thoroughly. 

– Suction Power: The higher is suction power, the better is cleaning performance. However, a high suction power, requires a bigger pump that quickly drains the battery. More expensive vacuums come with a a better battery that delivers a higher electric current, for an extended period of time.

– High Performance Filter: To better fight allergy, you should choose a vacuum robot with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Absorber) filter. These high-efficiency filters capture tiny dust particles, mites, mold, pollen, pet dander, and dust. They eliminate allergens that are hanging in the air.


The whole purpose of buying a robot vacuum is to get ride of cleaning chores, or at least to drastically reduce the time you spend cleaning. However, some vacuum robots are more autonomous than other. If you are careful about the following features, you’ll select a vacuum robot that requires little maintenance. It will save your time, and require your intervention less often than others.

– Self Charging: This feature requires a vacuum robot that is shipped with a charging station. Once finished cleaning or when the battery is low, the robot finds its way back to its dock, where it recharges (see video below). So, you’ll find it ready for the next cleaning session.

– Dustbin Capacity: Most vacuum robots collect dirt in their dustbin, and require human intervention to empty it from time. The volume of the dustbin tells you how often you’ll have to do it.  With smaller volumes, you’ll have to empty the dustbin more often than with larger ones. With smaller dustbins, quickly fill up in large homes or if you have pets. You might end up doing daily maintenance!

– Self-Cleaning: A vacuum robot capable of self-cleaning, can automatically empties its dustbin. It requires a specific dock that sucks dirt out from the dustbin, and stores it in a bigger container. So, you’ll have to worry about the dock’s container only once every few weeks.

– Tangle-Free Brush: Rotating brushes, especially main ones, release and pick up dirt.  However, hair strands get caught up in the brush roll bristles causing it to be less efficient. This is why many vacuum robots include a flat tool with a small blade to cut hair twisted around brushes. Better vacuums have brushes designed to minimize maintenance, by avoid hair getting entangled around brushes in the first place. This feature would come in handy if you have pets in your home.

Maximum Cleaned Area Per Cycle

The maximum area that a vacuum robot can clean in a single cycle is important mainly for large homes. A good vacuum robot for such homes should be able to clean all rooms in a single cycle. If you have a small home, you can safely ignore this section, and focus on other features.

– Battery Runtime: A robot vacuum cleaning cycle lasts for an hour in average. Even with systematic navigation based on a map, it will only cover so much, before requiring to recharge. Things get worse, if you have thick carpets that require more power. So, it is better to have a battery that lasts longer. Best vacuum robots with this regard can last up to a full 2 hours on a single charge.

– Systematic Navigation: This feature is also called natural navigation, or natural cleaning pattern. It consists in making a map of your home, then cleaning each spot only once, as you are used to do with your old hoover. As shown in the video below, systematic navigation allows a robot to fully clean a large area. While a vacuum robots without planned path, moves randomly and bounces frequently on furniture and walls. Besides, random navigation, makes the robot waste time and battery by performing unnecessary repeated passes on some areas.

Vacuum robot systematic vs random navigation
Play Video

– Persistent Maps: Building a map allows for systematic navigation. But the mapping process take time. Persistent maps address this issue. By saving the map, the robot uses the full battery for cleaning. And it does start vacuuming immediately. This is useful if you need to quickly clean your home, for example if you are expecting someone coming to visit. Saving maps is also useful if you have a multistorey house or apartment. Some robots can keep in memory multiple maps (up to 10), one for each floor.

– Recharge & Resume Cleaning: This feature nicely complements a long lasting battery. As shown in the video below, where a high-end Roomba 980 has to recharge before finishing cleaning the entire 1500 square feet home. So, it goes back to its dock. Once its battery is refilled, the robotic servant resumes cleaning. It is worth noting that recharging takes some time. So, cleaning is delayed a bit. But, eventually all 6 rooms are vacuumed.

Ease of Use

Having a vacuum robot with the best automation features and cleaning performance is not enough. It should be easy to set up and control, if you want to get the most of it.  This section gathers features that are exactly related to that. They impact the usability of the vacuum robot.

– Smartphone App: Instead of bending over the vacuum robot, better to control it, and set it up from your couch using a mobile app. For this, you need a WiFi enabled robot. Beside the iPhone or Android app, some vacuums can also be controlled via a smartwatch such as the Apple Watch or watches running on Google’s Wear OS.

– Scheduling: To put your home cleaning on autopilot, the vacuum robot should start cleaning on its own. You should be able to say which days of the week it will operate, at which hours. So, in the morning, when you are in a hurry to drive the kids to school, or to go to work, you don’t need to worry about the vacuum cleaner. It will automatically get rid of dirt based on its schedule. Once done, it will go back to its dock to recharge, and be ready for the next session.

– Selective Area Cleaning: Many robotic vacuums include a spot cleaning mode. This mode is useful for instance if your child had spilled cereals on the floor. With the spot mode, the robot does just clean only a small area around it starting position: about 10 square feet (~1 square meter). But, with mapping capabilities combined with persistent maps, you can customize the zone to clean. It can be just part of a given room such as around the dining table. The zone to clean can also be one or more full rooms. You can even include these areas in your robot’s cleaning schedule, and make it do high traffic areas more often.

– Voice Command: This is a feature for home automation lovers. With an Amazon Alexa, or a Google Assistant, it is very convenient to just talk to your devices and assign them tasks or to get an update. Best vacuum robot brands do support the integration with these gadgets. So, you can query your robot about its status, or send it clean some room. The video below shows how to use Alexa to issue your commands to a Roomba.

– Noise Level: Rotating brushes are effective at picking up dust and hair. But they are important source of noise, along with the vacuum pump. But, some robots are louder than others. From 60 dB (same level as a conversation) up to 75 dB (as loud as a toilet flush). This is a huge difference that can impact how and when you use or vacuum. With louder ones, you can barely stay in the same room while they operate. This is okay, if you make them clean only while you are away, or at least if you go to a different room.

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