An Expert Guide to Robot Vacuums

Published on 12/05/2022 · 7 min readRobot vacuums seem to be more and more popular every year! Floor Care Expert Jeff Cearfoss explains robot vacuums and dives into two of the most common models!
Jeff Cearfoss, Floor Care Expert
By Floor Care Expert Jeff Cearfoss

Photo by Onur Binay

A Brief History of the Vacuum

It’s been over 160 years since the first “carpet sweeper” was invented by Daniel Hess in 1860. This first mechanical floor-cleaning device used a rotating brush and a set of bellows to provide suction. By 1898, John S. Thurman had created a gasoline-powered device so large that it had to be pulled by a horse-drawn cart. And it didn’t even vacuum, but, instead, it blew air out of a giant fan that basically pushed the dust and dirt around.

The first vacuum cleaner that uses the same basic principles we have today was invented by Hubert Cecil Booth in 1901. It used a piston pump powered by an internal combustion engine and pulled air through a box where the dirt was trapped by a cloth. But it was far from portable and still too big to bring inside a building. They used tubes that were placed through open windows.

The first portable vacuum was invented in 1907 by James Murray Spangler, a janitor from Canton, Ohio. He used one of his wife’s pillowcases as a vacuum bag. He didn’t have the money to produce more of his machine, so he sold the patent to William Henry Hoover in 1908. Hoover made many improvements, such as disposable filter bags, and by 1926 had designed the first upright vacuum.

Fast forward to the late 1990s, and the first robotic vacuums hit the market. In 1996, Electrolux introduced the Trilobite seen below. Built with powerful suction, the Trilobite ushered in a new age in floor care!

The Electrolux Trilobite. Photo by Patrik Tschudin

How Does a Robot Vacuum Cleaner Work?

One of the most obvious benefits of having a robot vacuum is the lack of power cords. The typical robot vacuum is equipped with one or two spinning side brushes and one or more roller brushes. These combinations work together to gather dust and dirt inwards toward the center of the robot. From there, the vacuum portion of the unit sucks the dirt and debris into the dustbin. Once the waste compartment is filled, you remove it and dump it in the trash. The newer models have incorporated a bin removal system into the docking/charging station that will empty the bin into a bag located in the docking station.

For navigation, robot vacuums also rely on sensors, either downward-facing or forward-facing. The downward-facing sensors provide basic obstacle avoidance whereas the forward-facing sensors often allow the robot to smart map out the room and identify furniture for a targeted approach to cleaning. Forward-facing sensors may use either a camera or rotating lasers known as LiDAR to map the room.

Simpler models can be programmed to run on a cleaning schedule using buttons found on the vacuum, while other models can be controlled with a smartphone app and/or smart speakers. These models can be programmed to concentrate on specific zones where major cleaning is needed at a greater frequency. These go zones get extra attention (think entryways and kitchen areas).

The smarter technology in the newer models compared to older models gives you more flexibility with scheduling and mapping of the cleaning area. This is especially true for larger spaces. In smaller spaces, you can get by with a random cleaning robot, but with larger spaces, having the extra smart technology allows for more consistent cleaning. This ensures that the space is cleaned the same way every time. Keep this in mind when looking for the best robot vacuum. By utilizing the programming, you can schedule your cleaning for times when you are out or asleep—a convenience not available with traditional cleaning.

Features to Look for in a Robot Vacuum

iRobot i3 patrolling the hallway. Photo by Jeff Cearfoss

Obstacle Detection: As we talked about earlier, the vacuum relies on downward-facing sensors for obstacle detection. You should try to get the highest level of technology within your budget. A vacuum with a combination of LiDAR and cameras will give you the highest level of obstacle detection.

Cliff Recognition: Does the vacuum recognize stairs and drop-offs? For lower-tech robot vacuums, you’ll need to install bumper strips/boundary tape that will prevent the vacuum from tumbling over the edge. As mentioned above, units with higher-tech sensors can recognize drop-offs and avoid them.

App Integration: How much control does the app give you? Does it just act as a remote on/off switch, or can you plot out the frequency schedule of my cleaning? It’s all about how detailed the integration is that you're looking for.

Home Mapping: Do you want to be able to completely map the area being cleaned? Or are you satisfied with a robot that just uses basic obstacle avoidance?

Batteries: When shopping for a robot vacuum, you should find out the battery life of the unit. The typical life of the batteries for robot vacuums is 2-2.5 years. As far as the runtime is concerned, you want to look for an average of 60 minutes before the robot has to return to the docking station to recharge. If the robot contains an eco mode you can expect to get up to 90 minutes of cleaning out of a single charge. 90 minutes is an excellent amount of battery life and should cover a large area during this time frame.

Floor Type and Cleaning Desired: If using on hard floors, you may want to look at getting a robotic mop. These vacuums include both a dry bin and a water tank. Specially designed mop pads will scrub the hard floors. Normally, you would run it in dry mode first, and then have your program set to follow up with the mop program.

To summarize, you want to take a good look at all the capabilities of each model to determine the right robot for you! I encourage you to chat with a Floor Care Expert who can help dial you in and get all your needs covered.

iRobot Roomba i3 Wi-Fi Robot Vacuum + Automatic Dirt Disposal

The iRobot i3 is designed to clean in neat rows. Its state-of-the-art tracking system maps out routes on both hardwood floors and carpets. I’ve found it especially effective on a medium-pile carpet. A common misconception is that robot vacuums only work effectively on hardwood floors. This simply is not true. While a robot vacuum is not well suited for thick shag or longer pile carpets, they are well-suited for use on Berber and medium-pile rugs.

You can set up personal cleaning schedules via the iRobot Home App, and it also integrates with Google Assistant and/or Amazon Alexa via Wi-Fi, which allows you to start cleaning with voice commands.

The charging dock integrates an auto-empty station that clears the robot after each use and automatically bags dust, dirt, and pet hair. The docking station bag will store 60 days’ worth of cleaning. This self-empty option is great for folks with a busy schedule.

BISSELL ReadyClean A3 Robotic Mop

The Bissell ReadyClean delivers both wet and dry cleaning. It is recommended for carpet, tile, and hardwood floors. It comes equipped with a no-touch auto pad management system that automatically removes the used mop pads at the docking station after every use. It reloads new pads, so it’s ready to go for the next scheduled cleaning!

It automatically lifts the mop pads at the end of the cleaning cycle, ensuring that it doesn’t drag the dirt back across the floor on the way back to the docking station.

It uses 360-degree LiDAR technology in its sensors that pairs with the Bissell app. This allows you to customize not only the frequency of cleaning but also which areas of the home that you want to make sure get extra attention.

Conclusion

My goal with this article was to give you fundamental knowledge that will assist you in getting the right robot vacuum that will fit both your needs and budget. I encourage you to talk with a Floor Care Expert on Curated who will help walk you through the maze of robots available on the market today!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Floor Care & Cleaning on Curated

Read next