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Best robot vacuums: We name the most effective cleaners

Vacuuming is one of the most hated household chores. Here are your best choices for outsourcing it to some automated help.

Rob Schultz

Vacuuming is one of the most loathed household chores. While it doesn’t come with the ick factor of cleaning the toilet or the tedium of dusting, pushing and dragging a noisy, cumbersome vacuum is its own kind of torture. No wonder most of us only break it out the bare-minimum-recommended once a week.

It’s no shocker, then, that robot vacuums are all the rage. There are no unwieldy cords or hoses to contend with, and they require little effort from you: You can run one from your couch using a physical remote or smartphone app. They easily dispose of the most common household detritus—food crumbs, pet hair, dust—making them ideal for routine maintenance and quick cleanings when you’re expecting company.

Our top pick isn’t the most expensive model on the market, though it’s price tag is up there. If you’re working with a more modest budget, we have a strong recommendation in that category as well. 

Updated November 6, 2018 with our review of the Coral One robot vacuum, from newcomer Coral Robots. While we like the innovation of docking a dustbuster-style handheld vac in the self-propelled unit, this vacuum's overall performance wasn't strong enough to displace any of our top picks. 

Best all-around robot vacuum

iRobot’s Roomba brand has become as synonymous with robot vacuum as Q-tips is with cotton swabs. The Wi-Fi-enabled Roomba 960 is ample evidence why. It turns a tiresome chore into something you can almost look forward to. With three cleaning modes and dirt-detecting sensors, it kept all the floor surfaces in our testing immaculate, and its camera-driven navigation and mapping were superb. Its easy-to-use app provides alerts and detailed cleaning reports. The ability to control it with Amazon Alexa and Google Home voice commands are just the cherry on top.

Runner-up

The Botvac D7 is almost pricey as as the Roomba 960 above, but it’s a strong value. Its excellent navigation and mapping system includes the ability to set up virtual barriers on its detailed floor maps, so it doesn’t tread into areas you don’t want it to. Its elegantly designed companion app makes it easy to manage multiple cleaning modes, a pair of suction settings, and detailed maps and histories of your last 20 cleanings. And it works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home and IFTTT. If that’s not enough, its unique D-shape design lets it get into corners and along wall edges better than most circular robot vacuums.

Best budget robot vacuum

Don't let the low price tag fool you. The Deebot N79S from Ecovacs delivers several of the features typically found only on robot vacuums costing hundreds more, including navigation mapping, a smartphone app, and support for smart home devices such as the Amazon Echo series. It's a terrific value.

Robot vacuum cleaners are not cheap

The convenience robot vacuums provide come at a cost: As much as $1,000 at the high end, with many of the best models running no less than half that. To help you determine which ones are worth the expense, we tested models from some of the most popular brands in a real-world lab: my home, where the floors are punished daily by two kids, three cats, and a dog. I tasked each one with vacuuming a 400-plus foot space that includes low-pile carpet, hardwood flooring, and linoleum that was regularly littered with food crumbs, pet hair, tracked-in dirt, stray cat litter, and other debris. To maintain the real-world environment, each model also had to contend with random floor clutter during several cleanings.

Be aware even the most premium robot vacuums are 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 current vacuum.

Robot vacuum features and functions

Fundamentally, the robot vacuums in our guide all 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—both rolling-style agitators and spinning side brushes—grab dirt from the floor and wall edges respectively, 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. Here are some features and functions to consider beyond the basics.

Control

Autonomy puts the “robot” in “robot vacuum.” 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. Some higher-end models also integrate with smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, which allows to control them using voice commands.

Cleaning modes

Just as your stand-up vacuum can be adjusted to clean either carpet and hard flooring, so to can a robot vac. 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 (cleaning up a spill, for example), include options for single- and double-passes of a room, or offer an option to focus just on cleaning along wall edges and baseboards.

Navigation

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—e.g., stairs or a sunken living room—so it doesn’t tip 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. Still 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.

Mapping

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 vac 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 and—because it’s still something of a premium feature—larger budgets.

Boundary blockers

In an ideal world, you’d clear all your floors of clutter before using your robot vacuum. But we live in the real one and that’s not always possible or desirable. 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 cluster of device cords in the corner. Often it’s just a length of magnetic tape you stretch 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.

Size

The dimensions of a robot vacuum matter for a couple of reasons. First, they will determine how well it can get into tight spots, such as under your kitchen cabinets and low-clearance furniture (couches and recliners). If it’s too tall, it won’t be able reach into these spots, or worse, it will get in and get stuck until physically free it. Second, the bigger the robot vacuum, the larger the dustbin. Robot vacuums don’t use expandable bags like many of their stand-up brethren do, so when it comes to debris capacity, what you see is what you get.

There is no sweet spot for robot vacuum dimensions that we could determine—it really depends on your particular room layout—but a diameter of 13- to 14 inches and a height of 3.5 to 4 inches are the most common measurements we encountered.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi-enabled robot vacuums allow you to control them with a smartphone app instead of, or in addition to, a physical remote. That convenience alone doesn’t really warrant the extra cost these models command, but some model’s apps also provide other perks, 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, intricate spaces.

Our robot vacuum cleaner reviews

We will add to this list as new models come to market. 

At a Glance

The Roomba 960's flawless navigation, stellar cleaning, and advanced features set it apart from all other robot vacuums.

Pros

  • Navigates obstacles and different floor types seamlessly
  • Supports Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice commands
  • Wi-Fi enabled

Cons

  • Doesn't support manual navigation

The Deebot N97S is a great cleaner with app control and Amazon Alexa support at a budget price.

Pros

  • App control
  • Amazon Alexa support
  • Budget-friendly price

Cons

  • Doesn't support 5GHz Wi-Fi

The Neato Botvac D7 offers excellent navigation, deep cleaning, and a fantastic app.

Pros

  • Unique D-shape enables it to clean edges and corners better than round robot vacuums
  • Excellent navigation
  • Elegantly designed app

Cons

  • One of the more expensive robot vacumms available

The 11s delivers powerful automated cleaning without breaking your budget.

Pros

  • Simple to set up and use
  • Multiple cleaning modes
  • Budget-friendly price

Cons

  • Can't customize scheduling for different days
  • Not compatible with digital assistants such as Alexa
  • Can't be connected to your Wi-Fi network

The Roborock S5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner's has superb cleaning capabilities and map-enable features make it a great choice for those looking for a premium household helper.

Pros

  • Vacuums and mops
  • Lazer navigation and mapping capability
  • Mulitple cleaning modes

Cons

  • No smart-home integration
  • Less-than-impressive mopping performance

The lightweight, cordless Roidmi F8 Storm makes vacuuming a much less cumbersome chore.

Pros

  • Lightweight and cordless
  • Modular design lets you add attachments for different cleaning tasks
  • Powerful suction rarely requires more than one cleaning pass

Cons

  • Small dustbin requires frequent emptying, even during routine cleanings

The Powerbot R7065 does an impeccable job of cleaning floors and around edges, but it might need your help navigating clutter.

Pros

  • Excellent deep cleaning
  • Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung SmartThings appliances
  • Navigates around furniture well

Cons

  • Can get stuck when it encounters obstacles on the floor

The Deebot 901 is a competent cleaner and an affordable way to try out advanced robot vacuum technology.

Pros

  • Includes mapping and smart home integration
  • Includes special attachment for pet hair
  • Less expensive than premium mapping models

Cons

  • Has trouble getting under low furniture
  • Edge brushes left significant dirt behind

The Deebot OZMO 930's dual-cleaning is great for rooms with different floor types, but it didn't navigate obstacles as well as similarly priced robot vacuums in our tests.

Pros

  • Automatically detects floor surfaces for vacumming or mopping
  • Allows you to create virtual barriers on floor maps
  • Maneuvers well around furniture

Cons

  • Gets tangled in cables and similar objects
  • Buggy Android app

The Coral One's 2-in-1 design is a compelling idea but it performs like a work in progress.

Pros

  • Easy setup
  • Detachable handheld unit makes it easy to clean spots the robot can't
  • Stores your home's floor plan onboard to protect your privacy

Cons

  • Bulky body keeps it from getting under couches
  • Had trouble suctioning food crumbs and larger particles

This is an effective cleaning option for folks with allergies or asthma, but its high price tag might put off other users.

Pros

  • Self-sealing pod prevents dirt and dust from escaping during dispoal
  • Easy to maneuver around and under furniture
  • Can be converted into a hand vacuum

Cons

  • More expensive than many competing cordless vacuums
  • Battery provides only 35 minutes of use on a full charge

The Shark Ion Robot 750 Vacuum is an inexpensive entry point into the world of robot vacuums, but it offers only average cleaning.

Pros

  • Navigates obstacles well
  • Easy-to-use app
  • Supports Google Home and Amazon Alexa voice commands

Cons

  • Random, unreliable cleaning patterns
  • Has trouble picking up some types of debris
  • Doesn't offer mulitple cleaning modes