Time to put your feet up and let the latest robot cleaners take over the daily chores
Anyone who has ever paid for a cleaner will know the joy of returning home to a spotless house. Even the most hi-tech of robotic vacuums can’t yet compete with that just-polished smell. But they can keep on top of the daily once-around. And all without you lifting a finger. Sure, we all know people who manage to vacuum virtually every day. But if you’re busy working and hate the idea of losing free time to chores, a robotic vacuum could be for you. Especially if you have pets.
Being able to vacuum while you’re out at work is one of the best uses for smart home technology we’ve come across. Early robotic cleaners were pretty stupid, feeling their way around by bumping into things. But as with everything smart home related, things have improved beyond all recognition. Now the latest cleaners come with supremely complex navigation sensors, lasers and cameras. These map out your room, learn where objects are and plot the most efficient cleaning route possible.
We’re not suggesting they’re perfect by any means. A shoe lace, lump of Lego, or even rug can bring your robot underling to a premature stop. They work best on large open-plan houses on one level (like the typical American home). Therefore they may not be right for your small higgledy cottage. What we do know is, whatever makes the cleaning easier is well worth testing!
For more expert product reviews, see our other buying guides
Best robot vacuums
1. Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum – best for reliability
Instantly recognisable as a Dyson product, the 360 Eye is gorgeous. Well made, it has the same feeling of dependability (and usability) as their other vacuum cleaners. It might only measure 240 x 230mm, but it boasts of having ‘twice the suction of any other robot vacuum’. It also has the ability to look 360° around a room. And it has a high-quality carbon fibre brush bar (like the one found on the excellent Dyson V8 Handheld).
With one simple button – and a comprehensive smartphone app – it’s a breeze to use. Easy to set timers, it’ll even draw you a map to show how much cleaning it does while you’re at work. It isn’t the simplest device to link to your Wi-Fi, requiring long passwords and a fair amount of faffing. The transparent dust collector is easy to empty without creating a mess. The filters can be rinsed under the tap and the docking station sits flush with the wall.
The cord can be plugged in either on the right or left hand, depending on the nearest socket is. Watching the 360 Eye work is slow going but give it time – you’re at work after all. The excellent mapping cameras and sensors will cover open ground with ease. The short 45min battery life and slow recharge rate means it took over three hours to cover a large living room.
I did notice the camera works best in daylight – It gets a bit confused in the dark. However, the small size means it can get through chair legs more easily than the rest. At 12cm tall it might struggle under very low sofas, but I didn’t have an issue. First time I used it, I was embarrassed by how much dust and dirt it collected.
It was hugely impressive, with the living room looking and feeling cleaner. Over time though, I did get frustrated by its tendency to get stuck on the fireplace hearth (The Roomba or Miele had no issues with this). It became a bit of a joke as to where Dyson would be when we got home.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Dyson 360 Eye, £799.99, Dyson
2. iRobot Roomba 980 robot vacuum – best for total performance
iRobot, the company behind Roomba, actually started out making bomb disposal robots for the American military. The company has been selling robotic vacuums in the US for decades. The Roomba 980 is their top-of-the-range Wi-Fi connected design that costs the same as the Dyson. In our opinion, it outperforms it.
The 350dia x H91mm lozenge can sneak under all but the lowest sofa, detects when it moves from hard floors to rugs and carpet. It boosts the motor speed for better cleaning results. It has a clever twin rubber brush bar. This is easy to clean and untangle and seriously good at picking up pet hair. The brush bars don’t extend right to the edge of the vacuum. However, the two spinning brushes sweep dust into the bars, so it can clean right up to the skirting boards.
It comes with two battery powered digital fencing devices that prevent the Roomba going where it shouldn’t. Away from a tangle of wires, or outside onto the decking for instance. But we’ve not found much of a need for them. It’s excellent across all sorts of terrain. It can climb onto thick piled rugs and hasn’t fallen down stairs once.
While not as simple to empty as the Dyson, the 980 has a HEPA filter to reduce allergens escaping back into the room. The consistency of the cleaning is the best we’ve come across. That’s both in terms of the amount of dust it picks up, and how well it navigates around the room. We rarely come home to find it tangled or trapped, just docked and recharging.
One word on the docking system though. Irritatingly, it can only be plugged in from one side, which limits where you can position it. We resorted to using Blu-Tack to keep it in the right position. It was a struggle to rest it flush against a wall.
Ideal Home rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Buy now: Roomba 980, £899,99, Currys
3. Samsung Powerbot Connected VR9300 robot vacuum – best for deep cleaning
According to Samsung their top-of-the-range robot vacuum is the ‘World’s Most Powerful Robot Vacuum Cleaner’. This is thanks to its cyclonic suction, full remote control and advanced room mapping. And we certainly can’t argue with the claim. It’s a hulk of a cleaner compared to the other hockey puck designs. It boasts a huge edge-to-edge 311mm brush bar that gives your carpets a seriously impressive clean.
It left our rug with stripes we normally only get from using a full-sized vacuum. It’s also extremely fast compared to both Dyson and Roomba, covering ground quickly, and noisily. All that power comes at a price – it sounds like a jet engine taking off! The connected app is great however – we’d expect nothing less from Samsung. It makes setting timers and seeing where it has cleaned nice and simple.
It can also integrate into the SmartThings system of smart home products. This means you could conceivably get it to start cleaning when it knows everyone has left the house. If you live a minimalist lifestyle – as in, no kids and no clutter – the Powerbot is a great choice. But we were continually frustrated by how easily it got stuck around the house.
Our smartphone would ping almost daily saying that the cleaner had a problem. Sure, we could sit on the sofa and use the remote control to send the cleaner around the house. But that slightly defeats the whole point.
Ideal Home rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
4. Miele Scout RX1 robot vacuum – best robot vacuum for big houses
With battery life that’s nearly three times as long as the Dyson, Miele’s first robot vacuum can clean a huge area (as much as 150sqm) before charging. Plus it looks good and has a furniture-friendly 8cm height. With two sweeping brushes and a 17cm brush bar it should be able to gobble up dust like the best of them. But in practice, we were disappointed by how much dust was left after a full clean, especially along the skirting boards.
It is older and cheaper than the Roomba, Dyson and Samsung models. But we expected better from Miele, especially given how much we rate their full-sized vacuum cleaners. It does a good job on rugs and carpets but seemed to just push dust around on my hard floors. The docking station is great though, with room inside for unwanted cable. It comes with a magnetic strip for laying across a doorway to prevent it from entering.
There’s no carry handle, which is irritating when you want to take it upstairs. You can set the timer to come on when you’re at work. It doesn’t offer anywhere near the same amount of customization as the latest app-controlled models. But it does come with a remote control, which is fun to use, especially if you want to scare the cat!
Ideal Home rating: 4 out of 5 stars
5. Vileda robot vacuum cleaner – best budget robot vac
When launched, this robot vacuum from Vileda cost three time less than the Dyson. Given you can now find it online for £75 it is a total bargain. It’s proof that the technology will soon be available for all. But don’t think for a moment you get anywhere near the same level of features or cleaning ability as the rest on test.
This is a no-frills option that’s easy to use. It’ll diligently work around your room for a set period of time. This depends on whether you choose the small, medium or large room button. You’ll not find any hi-tech 3D mapping sensors here. Instead, the Vileda bumps into objects before changing direction (there is a sensor to prevent it tumbling down stairs).
It’s rudimentary but combined with its spinning brushes at the front and a rotating brush bar it covers your floor space in the end. Battery life is around 1hr 20mins. Sadly it doesn’t have enough robotic IQ to find its way back to the charger. In fact, it doesn’t have a docking station at all, and you will need to have to remember to recharge after each clean.
You also can’t set it to clean when you’re out. If you simply must have a robot vacuum and can’t afford to spend more this will work. But be warned, it’s more of a tricycle than a motorbike.
Ideal Home rating:
Finally, a mid-priced robot vacuum with Wi-Fi connectivity and all the convenience of remote smartphone control. The D3’s Neato App does all the handy things more expensive models can. That includes setting a cleaning schedule and displaying a map of where it cleaned. You can receive alerts on its progress.
At only 10cm tall (L336 x W319 x H10mm) it can navigate under most sofas with ease. It uses lasers rather than cameras to map out its surroundings so changes in light won’t affect it. It has a surprisingly large 0.7litre bin so doesn’t need emptying as often as some. The D-shaped design means it can get right into the corners. But sadly the brush doesn’t stretch all the way to the edge and it lacks a spinning brush. This means some (small) areas will remain out of reach.
Not that we particularly noticed a big difference between its cleaning performance and the rest on test. It moves around the room methodically and wasn’t fazed by any of my rugs. Although it did complain about the hearth, and the pile of building blocks left in its path. It can clean up to 1800 sq ft in one go before returning back to base for a change.
This is more than most of us will ever need, and as an extra smart touch it’s Amazon Alexa and Google Home compatible. That means you can just ask and it will start cleaning for you…without moaning! The Roomba 980 is a better all-round cleaner and picks up marginally more dust (especially pet hair). But for the lower price you get a whole lot of robot cleaning.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
7. Braava Jet robot mop – best for kitchens and bathrooms
OK, so this mini (H8.4cm x W17.8cm x D17cm) little robot isn’t strictly a vacuum, but it’s every bit as useful if you have a house full of hard floors. Instead of sucking up debris it will systematically wet mop, damp mop and dry sweep hard floors. The smart floor cleaner has a small water tank and spray nozzle built in.
When you attach a cleaning pad it automatically knows if you want to wet mop, damp mop or sweep. There are three different types to choose from, in both washable and disposable formats, and it comes with two of each. It’s very methodical in its cleaning and can tackle a floor up to 25m2. If you watch it for a few minutes you might not think it’s working especially hard. However, the vibrating mop head is surprisingly effective, especially on tiled floors and Lino.
We experimented with each of the three cleaning modes and found the wet sweeping pad the most effective. The floor doesn’t get soaked and you don’t need any chemical cleaner. Also, the floor is almost dry once the robot has finished. The damp mop is a gentler but faster clean. The dry sweep simply scoots around collecting up dust and pet hair.
The pad does manage to cling onto most sweepings, but it’s not as effective as a vacuum, or as quick as a dust pan. The Braava Jet won’t clean as well as you can, but then neither will any of our robotic vacuums. What it is great for though is a quick and surprisingly thorough clean at your convenience. Being such a small, square unit, you can store it easily alongside the household cleaning products.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
What should I know before buying a robot vacuum?
1. How does a robotic vacuum cleaner work?
Basic robotic cleaners generally clean in straight lines, running until they bump into something. They turn around and head back the way they came. Some work by spinning in a spiral from the middle of the room until the hit the edges. However, the latest designs boast NASA style sensor. This helps them map out any room and prevent them toppling down the stairs.
All robot vacuums have drop sensors to avoid falling, and most have bump sensor in case the do run into things. A combination of cameras and even lasers help guide the top of the range designs. These robots track what has been cleaned and what is left to clean until they’ve finished that particular section of your home. It might look like they work randomly, but trust us, it’s anything but!
Some can also tell if they change surfaces – from carpet to hard floor for instance. They can decrease motor power in that instance. Some can even sense if there’s more dirt and pass over the area more frequently.
2. How much should I spend on a robot vacuum cleaner?
A good robot vacuum isn’t cheap, and you should budget around £500. Anything less and you’re looking at more of an automated floor sweeper than intelligent appliance. Our best buys cost around £700 which is a lot, especially given you’ll still need to occasionally run around with a regular cleaner, but if you’re a pet owner sick of hair balls blowing across the room, the daily clean of a robotic vacuum will be worth every penny.
3. How well does a robot vacuum really clean?
We were horrified by how much dust, dirt and pet hair was collected by the robot vacuums. Remember to pick obstacles off the floor before leaving the house. This way you will come back to a much cleaner floors. And the beauty is, it will clean every day, without complaining. Admittedly the quality of cleaning is dependent on the vacuum’s ability to clean unobstructed.
If you have stuff everywhere you should expect it to get stuck from time to time. Also, it can’t get right into the corners, no matter what the blurb on the box says. It also can’t climb stairs. So if you want to clean bedrooms or bathrooms you’ll need to take it up and turn it on. If you ask us, it’s still better than doing it yourself.
What features should I look for when choosing a robot vacuum cleaner?
- Timers: An absolute must, there’s little point having a robot cleaner if it can’t do the housework while you’re not there. The easiest to program are the connected app-controlled models, but even basic design will have digital clock style timers.
- App control: If your robot vacuum comes with a smartphone app you’ll be able to control it remotely. Turn on from work for instance if you’ve got an unexpected visit from the in-laws. Plus, you can now track your vacuum’s progress and see how much of the room it has cleaned. This is useful to see if there’s areas the robot can’t access.
- Filters: The vast majority of cleaners have built-in air filters to trap unwanted particles and stop them being pumped back into the room. Look for washable designs for longevity, although all brands sell replacements.
- Docking station: All vacuums need recharging at some stage and being able to take themselves home for a refuel is a huge bonus. However, battery life isn’t that significant assuming you’re in no rush to get the floors cleaned. If you’re out at work, you can let the cleaner work all day – charging up as it goes. Positioning the dock however can be an issue, so check if you have a well-located spot against a wall, in close proximity to a plug.
Cut the cord: Best cordless vacuums to make light work of vacuuming
Get the most from your robot vacuum
Robot vacuum cleaners aren’t perfect yet, but you can help them perform better with these easy tips:
1. Tidy up
Even the most hi-tech sensors can’t navigate around piles of Lego or dirty laundry, so to give the vacuum the best chance of a success, have a quick tidy before you leave.
2. Don’t get rid of the old vacuum
Robots can’t clean stairs, curtains or upholstery (yet!). Therefore you will still need a proper vacuum, or a decent cordless handheld with a nozzle and crevice attachments.
3. Use the timers
Robot vacuums work best if they clean every day. Learn how to use the schedule and set it to clean when you know you’ll be out the house.
4. Clean it regularly
As with a regular vacuum, make sure you clean the filters regularly. Get rid of any tangles as soon as you discover them.