Are Robot Vacuums Worth It And Should You Buy One?

2023-08-30
ecovacs deebot t9+ simultaneously mopping and vacuuming the tile kitchen floor with a woman watching it nearby

When robot vacuums were first introduced to the world of home cleaning, they fell short of what people expected from a traditional vacuum cleaner. The novel devices were pricey, bumped into walls, were ineffective at cleaning tight spaces, and couldn’t reach curtains and other vertical surfaces.

More than two decades on, some of these ideas pervade and many wonder why they should replace a handheld vacuum with a robotic one when it doesn’t provide an exact replacement for their expectations of a conventional vacuum cleaner. Here, we’ll detail just how far smart vacuums have come and why they do more than just replace a manual vacuum cleaner.

What Are Robot Vacuum Cleaners?

Robot vacuums are smart home devices that navigate your living space and suck up daily debris with just a press of a button. With leaps in innovation, these cleaning devices are turning into true home service robots. Yes, robot vacuums are worth it because they are doing more than just replacing traditional upright vacuums. They are transforming the housecleaning experience with features such as advanced object recognition, A.I.-backed voice control, and the ability to become more efficient and effective over time.

Benefits Of Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

Different models on the market exhibit varying degrees of frictionless experience. For instance, today, there are smart vacuum cleaners that take over two housekeeping tasks: vacuuming and mopping; there are also vacuums that self-empty dust from their own reservoirs. Let’s examine the key features and functionalities of robot vacuums.

Intelligent Navigation

The earliest robot vacuums used the low-tech ‘bounce and bang’ method to navigate a home, randomly moving around for a set amount of time. Modern robot floor cleaners use a combination of sensors to gather information about their environment, such as cameras, lasers and ultrasonic detectors to understand the layout of permanent objects (i.e. furniture) and walking paths in a home, so they can move around methodically.
ecovacs deebot smart vacuum using advanced sensors to detect the edge of stairs

Advanced Mapping And Room Recognition

Another set of sensors, such as RGBD sensors and DToF lasers, help smart vacuum cleaners to understand information like depth to create what is essentially a map of the home.

Let’s use the ECOVACS’ DEEBOT N8+ robot vacuum to illustrate. When you first set the device up, it explores your home to map the layout of different rooms and uses this data to generate a 2D or 3D map. The robot stores this map (which can also be viewed on the ECOVACS HOME app) and uses it to recognise which room it’s in and even which rooms to clean first to optimise for faster cleaning sessions.

Precision Sensors For Obstacle Avoidance

With the latest in object recognition technology, there’s no need to clean a room before you put your robot vacuum in it anymore because the device intelligently avoids common household objects. The home also doesn’t have to be ‘robot vacuum-friendly’, i.e., without stairs, because it can detect edges within milliseconds. Furthermore, DEEBOTs even have carpet detection which triggers auto suction boost or auto mop lifting, which takes us to the next reason that smart vacuums are worth it.

Multi-surface Cleaning

Auto vacuums can adapt to multiple floor types without any change in brush type or attachment. Hardwood, tile, linoleum, concrete or rugs — robot vacuums are able to not only clean different surfaces effectively (using extremely strong suction power combined with a multi-brush configuration) but also adapt to changes in surface. As mentioned, DEEBOT smart vacuums automatically detect a transition from hard floor to carpet or rugs and increase vacuum power to really lift stamped debris and hair out from between carpet fibres. They can also climb door sills up to 20mm high1.
deebot n10 plus auto vacuum from ecovacs climbing a 20 mm tall doorsill from the living room to the kitchen

Effectively Clean Hard-to-reach Areas

Robotic vacuum cleaners take the heavy lifting out of this mundane household task. With their slim, low-profile silhouettes, they reach under sofas and beds and can also clean corners and edges of rooms using advanced spatial perception and micro movements. This eliminates the dust bunnies and cobwebs that can accumulate in hard-to-access areas of the home.

Self-Charging

Most vacuum robots independently charge, returning to base stations when low on battery. DEEBOTs take the convenience one step further to self-charge and automatically return to the cleaning cycle when they have sufficient battery (called ‘Continuous Clean’). The best smart vacuums are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which provide the most long-lasting battery life since they have greater energy density than other battery cells.

Virtual Boundaries

The next feature to consider when asking if robot vacuums are worth it is the ability to set virtual boundaries and no-pass zones. Indeed, these allow the user to customise the robot’s cleaning protocols. Most often, users can do this with boundary tape; some models can be signalled not to enter certain areas using the app (as is the case with DEEBOTs). As an example, you can set a no-go zone if guests are hanging out in a certain room or virtual boundaries between the cooking area and lounge if you live in a studio.

Customisable Cleaning Modes

From vacuum-only to mop-only, to suction power, to level of water flow, premium robot floor cleaners hand the user the power of tailoring cleaning to your household’s needs. Do you want to mop and sweep the washroom, and just vacuum the living room? Does the kitchen require more substantial suction while the bedroom will suffice with normal suction? You can easily customise these settings, most of which are not an option in stick or cylinder vacuums.

Furthermore, you can schedule robot vacuums to clean on designated days and times, so that they can clean without intervention even if you’re not at home.
phone with ecovacs home app displaying a 2d map of a home layout and a graphic of a 3d map beside the phone

App And Voice Control

Smart vacuums typically have an accompanying mobile app which gives access to more features beyond simply ‘On’ and ‘Off’, such as remote control and video monitoring. Some also have voice assistants. For instance, most new models of DEEBOT robot vacuums are equipped with YIKO virtual assistant, the first natural language voice assistant for home service robots.

Proper Filtration

Another reason robot vacuum cleaners are worth buying is that many contain filters so you don’t have to encounter micro particles like allergens even when emptying the robot. The majority contain HEPA filters for filtering out pollutants; some have Neutop filters for catching pet hair and particles as small as 10 microns. These irritants can sometimes be missed in traditional vacuums.

Common Concerns About Robot Vacuums

deebot t9+ robot vacuum from ecovacs using truedetect technology to detect a lamp cable in its path
 

Affordability

There used to be concerns about robot vacuums being significantly more expensive than handheld vacuums, but as the market grows, the options run the gamut of affordable to premium smart vacuums. Plus, while there is an initial investment cost, robot vacuums can be more cost-effective over time when well-maintained and made with high-quality materials. Due to how calculated the movements of today’s robot vacuums are, they can accumulate less wear-and-tear than traditional vacuum cleaners.

Noise Level

Robot vacuum cleaners are typically much quieter than conventional vacuums, some operating at around the noise level of a refrigerator hum. The loudest DEEBOTs get is when self-emptying their dustbin into the Auto-Empty or OMNI Stations. Comparing these 10 seconds to the entire cleaning session of a handheld vacuum, this can make all the difference for those sensitive to loud noise or pets scared of traditional vacuum cleaners (Check out DEEBOT’s robot vacuums for pet hair).

Navigation Challenges

Another common gripe is about vacuum robots frequently getting stuck and or having difficulty with avoiding small obstacles. As previously mentioned, DEEBOTs feature some of the most cutting-edge navigation skills in the robot vacuum industry and don’t require the user to pre-clean their home or organise furniture in a way that’s easy for the robot to manoeuvre due to their ability to recognise and avoid around 30 objects, such as shoes and wires.

Charging Time

Another complaint about robot vacuums is that they need to charge for a disproportionately long time compared to the cleaning duration. While smart vacuums do generally have to charge for extended periods of time, some devices like DEEBOT robot floor cleaners counteract this using their already mentioned Continuous Clean feature. So even if they are low on battery, the user doesn’t have to intervene to make sure it’s fully charged before it can return to cleaning.

Lack Of Personalised Cleaning Technique

It may have been true with older robot vacuums that there was a lack of personalised cleaning, but this is no longer the case with modern models. Using advanced microchips and A.I. technology that learn more and more details about your home the longer it cleans, smart vacuum cleaners earn their name by using real-time data to plot the most efficient way to manoeuvre in any unique layout.

Limited Cleaning Of Upholstery And Stairs

This is an area in which robotic vacuums still have room to grow, because indeed, there isn’t a model out there yet capable of cleaning non-horizontal surfaces like curtains, stairs and upholstery. However, it can be argued that since they deliver better performance in systematically eliminating daily dust and debris, there is not as much of a need to vacuum curtains and upholstery because there is less dust accumulating on these surfaces.

Insufficient Storage

The final popular concern about robot vacuum cleaners’ efficacy is limited storage in their dustbins. This is a really relevant point because needing to manually empty the dustbin frequently kind of dissolves the hands-free element of these smart home devices. Newer models are treating this issue directly with two innovations. First, larger dust bags; second, self-emptying into base stations. (DEEBOT stations such as those housing the X1 family of auto vacuums can hold 30 to 60 days of debris!2)

Automatic Vacuum Price Range

ecovacs black deebot x1 robot vacuum mopping a living room with a parrot standing calmly nearby

The costs of robotic vacuums vary, with the gadgets that offer more fully reusable components, durable build and a more integrated and futuristic operability usually carrying a heftier price tag. In general, automatic vacuums range from AU$300 for models with basic navigation tech and average suction power to AU$2,300 for ones that offer more of a seamless user experience.

Another factor that influences cost is how advanced the vacuum robot’s docking station is. Stations that feature auto-emptying capabilities, water tanks (if you have a robot vacuum with a mop), mop washing and drying tech, etc. are priced higher.

How Much Maintenance Is Required For Smart Vacuums?

Little maintenance is required on robot vacuums and smart mop vacuum. ECOVACS’ own DEEBOTS, for example, are self-cleaning vacuums. They self-empty dust and even wash and air dry their own mopping pads, meaning they will last for longer and make for more hygienic mopping.

Generally, maintenance will look like emptying the dust bag every few weeks or months and filling the station with water a couple of times a month. In the long-term (once or twice a year), it’s a good idea to clean the brush rolls, replace the filter(s), and wipe the sensors with a soft and dry cloth to keep the device working great over the years. With some care and intention, your robot vacuum can last 5 to 10 years.

Smart Vacuums vs. Traditional Vacuums

So we’ve discussed why automatic vacuums are worth the price of replacing a handheld vacuum cleaner. To summarise, they navigate using A.I. deep learning to clean your home faster and more effectively every time, they detect and avoid objects on the floor independently, they are suitable for multiple types of floors that may be in a home, they are customisable to clean certain rooms in certain ways and avoid designated areas completely, and can even be controlled with voice commands.

So let’s reiterate the original question: are vacuum robots really worth it? Smart vacuums don’t exactly replace traditional vacuums. But they do even more than handheld vacuums in different avenues, offering all-in-one mopping and vacuuming, nearly hands-free operation, automated cleaning, improved indoor air quality and personalised cleaning routines with the touch of a button. Robot vacuums have come so far!

FAQ

 

How well do robot vacuums actually work?

Robot vacuums offer extremely powerful suction that rivals stick vacuums, they optimise their own path through living spaces using advanced tech like 3D cameras and ultrasonic sensors, and some even simultaneously vacuum-mop, with strong enough mopping abilities to clean days-old stains and spills.

What are the disadvantages of robot vacuum cleaners?

Some budget vacuum robot models may not be able to manoeuvre around different household objects as effectively as others, may require frequent emptying, and may have ineffective cleaning performance. High-quality smart vacuums don’t have these problems, but in that case the disadvantage is that they are more expensive than low-quality models.

Are self-emptying robot vacuums really worth the money?

Auto-emptying robot vacuum cleaners are more convenient than ones that don’t self-empty because their internal reservoirs don’t need to be emptied by hand a few times per vacuuming session. Therefore, if the user prioritises an actual hands-free robot vacuum that can go weeks without being touched, then a self-emptying robot vacuum may be worth the money.

Can robot vacuum cleaners replace handheld vacuums?

Robot vacuum cleaners can replace handheld vacuums in terms of efficacy and automation of cleaning flat surfaces. However, they do not replace the ability to vacuum other types of surfaces like stairs or curtains like a traditional vacuum with an extension wand can.

Disclaimer(s):

  1. 20mm high: This data comes from ECOVACS laboratory.
  2. 30 to 60 days: This data comes from ECOVACS laboratory, which is based on the statistics of the number of times users disposed of traditional dustbins. The actual performance is subject to change due to frequency and cleaning area. DEEBOT X1 PLUS, T10 PLUS come with 3.2L disposable dust bag.

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