What To Look For In a Robotic Vacuum

robot-vacuum-bottomYou would think that buying a robotic vacuum like a Roomba would be pretty straight forward.  In it’s simplest form a robot vacuum is little suction machine self drives around your floors; what else is there to know?  It turns out that there are quite a few things to look for.

Below we list the items you need to consider before buying a robot vacuum in order of importance.  That order will change depending upon your particular needs but this will give you a good starting point.

1 – Price:

There is no point in considering a 5 million dollar robot vacuum so start by figuring out a rough range of what you want to spend before you waste your time looking at $60 toys and $1000 Roomba’s,

2- Roller Brush:

Most of the low end robot vacuums do not have a roller brush (a.k.a “beater bar”) that you see in all traditional vacuums.  Those cheaper units perform poorly on non flat flooring.  If you do not have any carpets or rugs, the roller brush is not critical, but if you do you are going to want a “beater bar”.

3 – Edge Traversal:

Virtually every house has flooring connected with slightly different heights so there are edges to traverse.  Think about tile flooring butting up to hardwood flooring or even rugs you put on top of your floor.  If you vacuum cannot climb or drop a small distance, and the cheaper vacuums cannot, it will be frustratingly useless to you.

4 – Stair / Edge Detection:

All but the cheapest units will have edge detectors to ensure the vacuum does not tumble down stairs.  The better units will have more edge detection sensors and better algorithms to decide what is a dangerous edge and what is not.  Obviously this is a very big deal if you have stairs, so be careful.

5 – Sweeper Brush:

All robot vacuums a sweeper brush and many have two.  The ones with two will do a better job, but shorten the battery life.

6 – Docking Station:

Mid-range and high end robot vacuums will have docking stations that they will automatically return to when then need charging.  This is a key feature if you want to have truly autonomous cleaning.

7 – Noise Level:

Put simply, the cheap units are loud.  This does not translate to expensive robot vacuums being quiet.  Check the decibel level on the vacuum you are buying if you care about the noise.  The best way to do this is to watch a few video reviews on YouTube.

8 – Height:

Because the robot vacuum will go under furniture, the thinner the unit the better.

bobsweep-pet-hair-robot-vacuum9 – Display Screen:

Cheaper robot vacuums will rely on simple on/off type controls or their remote control, but the better vacuums will have larger LCD screens so that you can easily program the unit or see what it is doing at a glance.  If you are older or have eye problems, a larger screen is a better screen.

10 – Brand:

This is really about the vacuum quality.  Unfortunately you will not be able to tell the build quality and suction quality until you try the one you bought, so buying a brand name unit will provide you with some comfort that the unit is more likely to be well put together and work.

11 – Scheduling:

The cheap units get turned on and work until you turn them off but the better units have computers that will turn themselves on and work for a few hours often when you are not at home.

12 – Getting Unstuck:

Even robot vacuums with good sensors can get stuck under furniture.  The cheap or old technology units will typically just turn off when they are stuck, but the better units will try to wiggle their way backwards

13 – Warranty:

A robot vacuum has moving parts so it is going to fail at some point.  The better units have a 30 day money back guarantee and 1 year bumper to bumper warranty.  The best vacuums will have a 3 or 5 year subsidized repair program, like car tires do so you pay some of the cost and the manufacturer pays some of the cost in this extended period.

14 – Battery Life:

The longer the battery life the better.

15 – Remote Control:

The cheap units typically need a remote control so you can turn them on and off easily but the better units have remote controls so you can easily override the scheduling or tell the vacuum you it to concentrate in a particular areas

16 – Wet Wipe:

Some units have a damp cloth that they drag across the floor.  This is good for that last level of clean but should not be considered a real replacement for scrubbing or mopping.

17 – Replacement Parts:

Specifically the sweeper brush will need to be replaced over time and so many robot vacuums will supply one or two spares.

18 – Room Mapping:

Most people think that robot vacuums learn and map the room, but that is a rare feature which today is largely limited to only the most expensive Roomba’s.  None of the common Roomba’s and very very few of the other robot vacuums do any sort of room mapping; nearly all work on random patterns.  The better units will have sensors the determine if a particular area of the floor is really dirty and then they will attack that area with different patters (like doing concentric circles).

Which Robot Vacuum Did We Choose?

After considering all of the details above we started our search for a robot vacuum by considering all of the models we have readily available to us from Amazon, Costco and BestBuy.  We immediately ruled out 95% of them based three factors:

  1. PRICE: We considered only products between $100 and $400
  2. DOCKING STATION: We wanted a fully autonomous system so no-dock = no sale
  3. ROLLER BAR: We only considered robot vacuums that had beater / roller bars

After that we carefully considered each of the other options and settled on the BobSweep product line:


We then found a very good price (about CDN$225 on Black Friday) on the Bob PetHair on Amazon and that is what we bought.

Our early testing of this device has gone very well.  It has performed as advertised.  In particular we have liked how self sufficient it is.  The “Bobsweep Pet Hair” does not drop down stairs or get stuck, but it does a good job cleaning and is completely self sufficient.

Questions or Comments?