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10 mistakes people make when buying a robot vacuum

Roborock S6
Roborock S6 (Image credit: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

Whether you've never purchased a robot vacuum before or if it's been a while, it can be a daunting task choosing from the hundreds of options on the market. With Black Friday around the corner, you're going to see a ton of these things on sale for what seems like incredible deals.

You'll want to consider several aspects to find a unit that best fits your needs. Over the last four years, I've tested dozens of units. Along the way, I've learned what to look for. Here are 10 common mistakes people make when buying a robot vacuum and some tips to help you find the perfect one for your home.

Not really considering the color

Dirty robot vacuum

Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore (Image credit: Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

This might seem like a silly thing to say, but it's essential to consider the color of your robot vacuum before purchasing it. I think that black robot vacuums tend to have the coolest look to them. However, upon use, your robo cleaner will get dirty with dust, hair, and fur, which shows up in stark contrast to a black casing. Lighter robot vacuums help hide the dirtiness of your vacuum so you won't feel compelled to clean it off as often.

That being said, if you have dark hair or a dark-furred pet that sheds profusely, that hair and fur will likely cling to the outside of your light-colored robot vacuum and make the device look unpleasant. Some robot vacuums come in a variety of colors like red, blue, and gray. Before making your purchase, consider what kind of debris the vacuum will be sucking up to choose a unit that won't look as nasty when dirty.

Forgetting to check the dustbin capacity

Roborock pet fur robot vacuum

Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore (Image credit: Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

Not all dustbins are created equal. Some are ridiculously tiny, while others are large enough to handle multiple cleaning sessions before needing a dump. The larger the capacity, the less often you'll need to empty it. Some vacuums fail to tell you when they get full but also refuse to clean until the vacuum gets emptied.

Unless you want to be bending down and removing the waste every few minutes, you should look for a vacuum that can hold a lot of debris and dust. The vacuum I've found to have the largest capacity is the bObsweep PetHair Plus (opens in new tab), which has a capacity of 1.1 liters.

A decent dustbin size is 0.6 liters or larger. Any smaller than that, and you'll be forced to empty it too often. Unfortunately, many companies aren't forthcoming with the size of a robot vacuum's dustbin. I've found that searching online user manuals or contacting customer service reps is a great way to find this information if it isn't readily available.

Not checking the battery life

Dustbin capacity and battery life honestly go hand in hand. What's the point of having incredibly long battery life if you have a dinky trash space? The unit will simply dock itself when full instead of reaching every inch of your home. I've found that robot vacuums tend to run anywhere from 75 minutes to 150 minutes. Obviously, it's better if the unit can run for longer stretches, which means it will be able to clean more of your floors in one go.

Additionally, some units, like the Roborock S5 (opens in new tab), have a smart feature called recharge and resume. This means that if the vacuum runs low on juice while it's cleaning, it knows to head back to the dock to recharge. When the battery gets back up to a decent percentage, it will resume cleaning at the exact location it left off. If you know you'll need a vacuum that can cover a decent amount of flooring; you'll definitely want to get one that has this feature.

Choosing a low price over convenience features

Roomba iRobot i7+ robot vacuum

Source: iRobot Corporation (Image credit: Source: iRobot Corporation)

If you're going to spend the money on a robot vacuum, you should at least make sure it offers enough conveniences to be worth the cost. Otherwise, you'll end up being unhappy with your less expensive purchase and will have to vacuum the old fashioned way anyways to pick up what the unit didn't reach. You at least want to make sure that the device has sensors to prevent it from falling down stairs or bulldozing into objects. This often isn't perfect, but it can prevent a lot of damage from happening.

If you have an idea for the kind of things you want your robot vacuum to do, then make sure you purchase a unit that can accomplish these tasks.

Only going with Roomba because you recognize the name

iRobot Roomba 860

Source: iRobot Corporation (Image credit: Source: iRobot Corporation)

Yes, Roomba has been the household name for robot vacuums for almost two decades. It's also true that the company typically offers reliable and powerful devices. However, they also tend to cost more than many others on the market. You can usually find a comparable vacuum created by another manufacturer selling for a lot less. Roborock (opens in new tab), for example, offers plenty of similar and more affordable options. With this being the case, you'll often find other robot vacuum companies offer more smart features at a lower price than Roomba.

Not considering the unit's height and size

If you specifically want a unit that can get those hard-to-reach spaces under furniture, you'll want to check its size. Some robot vacuums are short, while others are a bit taller. The height of the vacuum will determine whether or not it will be able to reach under your dressers, couches, or other furniture.

You'll need to expect the vacuum to be at least a few inches tall, so you might not be able to find something that can reach super narrow openings. Additionally, you should check the diameter of the vacuum. Smaller ones are more likely to be able to fit between chair legs or various pieces of furniture. I've placed one of my Roborock dock's underneath my dresser so that the vacuum is out of sight and out of mind whenever it's charging. It saves me plenty of room too.

Not considering the shape

Neato Robotics D6 robot vacuum

Source: Neato Robotics (Image credit: Source: Neato Robotics)

The most common robot vacuum shape is circular, but you'll find other shapes as well. If your home has a lot of 90-degree corners that pile up a lot of dust and debris then you might want to consider getting a D-shaped vacuum like this Neato Robotics D6 (opens in new tab). They're masters at sucking up the dust bunnies and hair that blow to the various corners of your home.

Getting a vacuum that doesn't allow scheduled cleanings

As lazy as this might sound, you're not going to want to take the time to tell your robot vacuum to clean each day. Your life will be a lot easier if you get a vacuum that allows you to schedule cleaning times. That way, you can set it to suck up your floors at a consistent time throughout the week when you know that your home will be the least occupied. It's honestly just nice to come home from work or from running an errand and finding that your home was tidied up while you were away.

Selecting a vacuum that doesn't do mapping

Roborock robot vacuum cleaning carpet

Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore (Image credit: Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore)

I highly recommend getting a robot vacuum that can map your home. It will be able to tell exactly where the boundaries of each room are and will clean the floor in an organized fashion until it has covered every reachable inch. Units without mapping tend to bump around randomly and don't always clean everywhere. I also hate it when there are zigzag lines from all different directions instead of nice back and forth lines. Mapping makes it more likely for your home to look perfectly vacuumed after a cleaning session.

Choosing a robot vacuum because it can also mop

For the most part, the mopping features on vacuums tend to be disappointing. This usually just means that you will attach a damp cloth to the belly of the robot and then let it loose on your floor. Most units can't tell the difference between hard floor and carpet, so you'll end up chasing them and moving them back to where you want them to be. Additionally, if you have a gunky section of the floor, the vacuum won't be able to tell and thus won't put in the effort needed to remove the mess. Unless you only have hardwood floors or your floors are relatively clean to begin with, this isn't that helpful of a feature.

Now you're ready to clean

Now that you've been armed with the necessary tips for finding a robot vacuum, you can go forth and use the knowledge you've gained to purchase a decent unit. Remember to consider the dustbin capacity, battery life, color, conveniences, dimensions, and smart features of any device before settling on it. The best vacuum for pet owners might be different from someone in a large home, so you'll want to consider your personal needs and purchase accordingly.

Rebecca Spear is a staff writer for Android Central who loves following the latest tech, drawing with her Wacom, and playing video games. You can find her posting about her pets, art, and video game preferences on Twitter @rrspear.

6 Comments
  • They are a waste of money period. Just vacuum the floor manually with a vacuum cleaner. Better results, guaranteed without losing all the money.
  • My problem with both vacuuming robots and the manual kind isn't the actual vacuuming, it's cleaning the vacuum brushes. Why don't reviews ever review this part of the process?
  • I've been eyeing these Roborock vacuums for a bit now, but have never gotten an answer to my main question. I have a very small apartment with no useable wall space large enough to set a dock — is it feasible to dock it against the wall under a couch (assuming it fits under the couch)? Would it be able to find the dock in that sort of setup?
  • If it is not approved by my cat, I'm not getting it. Spot doesn't like shaky slow machines.
  • I find much of this to be a moot point. The mapping ability is definitely a plus, as is a memory to pick up where the vacuum left off. But...what about reliability? Suction power measured in CFM (and not a meaningless wattage or amperage figure)? Longevity of the company making them? Do these have beater brushes like good quality upright vacuum cleaners have? Those are parameters that drove me away from well-known consumer brands of upright and canister vacuums to brands that outperform and outlive what you find at a typical big box store, or from China Inc. (aka Amazon, which is now flooded with so many offshored, unpronounceable names that I rarely shop there anymore). Go check out a vacuum sales repair shop, and get something that actually deep cleans your carpets. These robot vacuums have tiny motors that have nowhere near the suction of something from, say, Riccar/Simplicity, Miele, etc.. They will not be cheap, but they will pull out dirt that the big box brands (including the crappy Dysons) leave behind.
    The robot vacs are good for touch-ups (especially for pet owners), but I wouldn't rely on them for serious cleaning to preserve the longevity of your carpeting.
  • This was a super helpful article! I've been thinking about a robot vacuum for awhile, and didn't even think to consider these things. Thanks for writing!