Is It Time To Get A Robot Vacuum?

Tod Caflisch
9 min readApr 18


April 18, 2023

Debbie and I have been enjoying smart home technology now for 7 years. We’ve taken advantage of all of the usual suspects when it comes to our smart homes — lights, switches, voice assistants, thermostats, sensors and more. Robot vacuums were always on the list but we never took the plunge as we were designing a special place for it to charge in our new home floorplan that’d be out of the way — but I’ll get into that more later.

And then my Mom and Dad bought us a Roomba for Christmas a couple years ago.

Have you ever had one of those ‘light bulb’ moments when you think to yourself ‘why didn’t I do that sooner?’ I did after setting up the Roomba and watching it work. I never realized until then just how much I really didn’t like to vacuum carpets or sweep hard flooring. All I could think of was all the time Debbie and I would get back in our lives to do things (anything) we wanted to do instead.

As technology tends to change on a daily basis it seems, I have to assume future robot vacuums will be even better than the one we have now. And there are so many current options to choose from. How do you choose the right one for you? Let’s take a look and how they work, what they’re capable of and finding the best one for your needs.

Fundamentally, all robot vacuums operate the same way: They autonomously maneuver around your home on a couple of wheels suctioning debris from your floors. Two to four brushes on the bottom with both rolling-style agitators and spinning side brushes grab dirt from the floor and wall edges and guide it into the suction area or direct it straight to a small, filtered dustbin. When cleaning is complete, or their battery is running low, they return themselves to their charging dock. But just how they get the job done can differ across manufacturers and models.

Autonomy is the key as virtually all models include an ‘automatic’ mode that requires you to do nothing more than press a button on a remote, in an app or on the vacuum itself to clean a room. This is great for ad-hoc cleaning, but most models can also be programmed to clean on a schedule. The latter scenario is great if you want them to work when you’re not home, or to create a regular cleaning routine. Debbie and I take advantage of this and have set a scene when both of our phones are undetected on the WiFi network then the Roomba activates. Some higher-end models also integrate with smart voice assistants, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which allow you to control them using voice commands for on demand cleaning.

Just as your stand-up vacuum can be adjusted to clean either carpet or hard flooring, so can a robot vacuum. Most feature the ability to change suction and other cleaning functions to adapt to different floor surfaces, either automatically or with input from you. They may also have a spot mode for more concentrated cleaning on a small area, include options for single- and double-passes of a room, or offer an option to focus just on cleaning along wall edges and baseboards.

The allure of robot vacuums is their promise to complete their task with minimal management from you. In order to do that, they must be able to navigate a room’s unique layout, maneuver around furniture and other obstacles, and avoid hazards such as falling down stairs and getting tangled in electrical cords.

Robot vacuums ‘see’ the world through a combination of sensors. Cliff sensors let it know when there is an increase in distance to the floor, like stairs, so it doesn’t go tumbling over the edge. Other sensors tell it when it has bumped into an object, so it can change direction, or is near a wall, so it can follow it. Yet other sensors help the robot vacuum track how far it has travelled. Depending on the manufacturer and model, a robot vac might also include sensors that determine the amount of dirt present so it can adjust its cleaning mode accordingly.

Manufacturers are increasingly including mapping capabilities in some of their robot vacuums. These models use an onboard camera or laser reflections to produce a 360-degree view of the room. This allows the robot vacuum to create a map of the space and locate itself within that map.

The advantage of mapping is the vacuum will know which areas it has already cleaned and which it hasn’t, to avoid going over the same spot unnecessarily. It also lets it know where to resume cleaning if it must stop and recharge midway through the task. This makes it ideal for larger rooms. But as it’s still somewhat of a premium feature it adds cost.

In the past with your manual vacuum you’d clear all your floors of clutter before vacuuming the floor — not a lot of fun if you have kids or pets. Knowing this, many robot vacuums include some way to block off areas you don’t want it venturing into, whether it’s a pet’s area, your kids’ room or a power strip with cords in the corner. Often it’s just a length of magnetic tape you place in front of or on a forbidden area that the vacuum’s sensors will detect and tell it to avoid. But some models employ virtual barriers, such as the ability to designate boundaries on a floor plan that signal the robot to steer clear.

The dimensions of a robot vacuum matter for a couple of reasons. First, they will determine how well it can get into tight spots, like under kitchen cabinets and low-clearance furniture. If the robot vacuum is too tall, it won’t be able reach into these spots or it may get stuck until you have to physically free it. Remember how I mentioned earlier ho we’re designing a special place for our future robot vacuums to charge in our new home floorplan that’d be out of the way? This has become a little more involved than I originally thought as vacuum sizes and charging stations can vary dramatically. Our plan is to build a sort of ‘robot vacuum garage’ under a cabinet in the central part of our home so the device is out of sight while charging.

Second, the bigger the robot vacuum, the larger the dustbin. Robot vacuums don’t use expandable bags like the traditional manual vacuums do. So when it comes to debris capacity there is definitely compromise there. The most common dimensions of robot vacuums are a diameter of 13 to 14 inches (all are not round though) and a height of 3.5 to 4 inches.

WiFi-enabled robot vacuums allow you to control them with a smartphone app instead of, a physical remote or your voice. Some model’s apps also provide other features such as detailed cleaning histories and the ability to save and edit floor maps for better navigation. Those models are worth considering if you’re cleaning large or intricate spaces.

While robot vacuums take over most of the cleaning, they have historically required the user to step in and manually empty the dustbin. Given that most robot vacuums have a pretty small dustbin capacity, they might need to be emptied multiple times per cleaning job, particularly if you have children, pets or live in a large home. That’s one of the downsides of all this convenience, especially if you have allergies or dust sensitivity.

There are auto-emptying robot vacuums bridge that take care of that for you with a charging dock that includes a canister vacuum and a dust bag that can hold one to two months of debris. When the robot docks after a cleaning job, its bin’s contents are automatically sucked into the dust bag. Typically, the robot’s companion app alerts you when the dust bag is full, at which point you will have to manually dispose of it like you would with a manual vacuum. Many bags, however, seal themselves when you remove them, so nothing escapes.

As I stated earlier, robot vacuums can also clean hard surface floors. But what about mopping? I think people enjoy that even less than vacuuming. Some robot vacuums include a mopping capability to meet meet the entire range of floor cleaning needs with one device. While this sounds like a great idea, my research on these type devices have revealed that they often yield subpar results. The problem is the method these hybrid devices use for wet cleaning. Mopping robot vacuums include a flat, small-capacity water tank that you fill from your tap. A microfiber cloth is then attached to the bottom of the tank, and the tank is installed under the robot. As the robot rolls across the floor, it drags the dampened cloth over it. This usually removes surface grime and spills but leaves deeper dirt and stains behind.

If you have a lot of hard flooring in your home, it’s worth considering a dedicated robot mop versus an ‘all in one’ model. These appliances are better suited to wet cleaning, spraying water directly on the floor to soften grime and stains, and applying some agitation via a scrubbing pad or brush.

If you still want a vac/mop hybrid, look for one that has spinning brushes or pads as opposed to a cloth that attaches to the bottom of the appliance. A model with a docking station that can clean those brushes or pads and reservoirs for clean and dirty water is even better. Those models will, you guessed it, cost quite a bit more.

And speaking of cost … The conveniences robot vacuums provide come at a cost. Some of the high-end models will set you back as much as $1,400, with many of the best models running no less than half that. But don’t let that scare you off, there are models available for less than $200.

Unfortunately, in many cases, even the most premium robot vacuums are still a supplement, not a substitute, for your stand-up vacuum. Despite manufacturer claims, most just don’t have the same suction power of an upright. Think of them as an easy way to maintain your floors in between deeper cleanings with your traditional vacuum. But I also have to admit I can’t remember the last time Debbie or I actually pushed around the old vacuum.

As you can see, lots of options to consider here. A major consideration may be where you currently are in your smart home journey. If you’re just starting out you may be satisfied with a basic robot vacuum. There are some models to consider in my previous post ‘Alexa and Robot Vacuum Cleaners.’ On the other hand you may already be using a high-end model. I’d love to hear your feedback if you already have a robot vacuum integrated into your smart home. Which model did you opt for and why? How do you like it? How easy was it to set up and use? Would you have bought something different?

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’

In full disclosure, I’m not an affiliate marketer with links to any online retailer on my website. When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn nothing from the retailer. The links are strictly a convenience for my readers.



Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology visionary with passion for out of the box solutions for home technology integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.