For some of us growing up, our vision of the future was filled with flying cars and robots that did our work for us. While the hovering sedans of the Jetsons have yet to materialize, robot vacuums—on the other hand—have arrived. And while they don’t look like George’s Rosie, these wafer-shaped, dirt-sucking automatons have come of age. Costing from a bit under $200 to over a thousand, they boast a wide range of features and technology. Given that there’s a lot going on under the hood, so to speak, we had to develop several in-depth tests to get a fair gauge of their performance and determine the best.
Check out quick info below on the top-performing robot vacuums from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews.
What You Need to Know About Robot Vacuums
Keep Your Regular Vacuum
First, let’s get this out of the way: You’re probably not getting rid of your current vacuum. In most homes there will still be some places a robot won’t reach, like in between narrowly spaced furniture legs. And there are some types of dirt/debris that can overwhelm the vacuum filter—these small machines have, not surprisingly, small filters. Fine dust, fireplace ash, flour, corn starch, and powders, even in moderate quantities, can clog a filter and affect performance. If you drop a bag of flour in the kitchen, it might be best to scoop up the majority of it and let your robot finish the job. (FYI, we found the most efficient way to clean the small filters was to use our shop vac with a pointy crevice tool.)
A robot vacuum can absolutely make life easier, cutting down on the time spent cleaning. Set up on a schedule, it can help the house look and stay cleaner on a day-to-day basis. So when the time comes for you to clean, there’s only some touch-up required. Of course, if there are no kids or pets, that may not even be necessary.
As we tested these vacuums, colleagues and friends invariably asked if we tested them with dog poop. There are plenty of videos online documenting the ensuing devastation when a robot vacuum trundles over a pile. Except for one of them, we did not. Until recently, there wasn’t a model that we’ve found capable of identifying pet accidents. But the Roborock below now features such a dedicated pet-mess avoidance system. Other companies have promoted the fact they’re developing this feature, but only Roborock has made it to market so far.
Things to Watch Out For
When using a robot vacuum for the first time, stick around to monitor what it’s doing. There are a few things to keep an eye on. Shoelaces, strings, carpet fringe, and thin or lightweight clothing can all get pulled into the brushes or rollers. The Roborock S6 MaxV uses two cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify many common “problem obstacles” the vacuum may encounter and avoid them. Some units have sensors that will stop them when the brushes meet resistance, and some will even reverse, spitting out whatever they pulled in. But, to avoid damage to the vacuum and whatever it might try to suck up, you should keep the area clear. Additionally, be aware of pet food/water bowls, plant stands, or other things that might be “tippy” until it’s clear how a vacuum will interact with them. Models that leverage bump-and-go navigation, like the Eufy G30 Edge, may knock things a little harder, so it’s a good idea to set up boundaries around those water bowls. Lastly, if kids have toys with small parts, like Lego, those can easily be picked up by a robot vacuum. Many models have features to create exclusion zones, so make use of them or employ your own strategy to avoid all these little hazards that could jam up the vacuum.
Navigation is key to how well a robot vacuum performs its job. Suction matters little if the vacuum doesn’t pass over every inch of the floor. Just about all models employ three basic types of sensors to help them navigate. As the ones we tested worked their way through our corrals and one editor’s living room that we used as a control, we took stock of how efficiently they moved within the space.
Bump-and-Go: The vacuum heads in one direction and then changes course when it hits something. Many vacuums have programming that makes their paths more efficient. By bumping into a wall in a couple of places, they can verify the location of a wall and travel parallel to it, turning 180 degrees each time they hit an end wall.
vSLAM: Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (vSLAM) tracks multiple points in a room, in successive camera frames, to triangulate position. The Roomba s9+ employs this method to navigate. Over time it learns and becomes more efficient, where it may rely on points that remain constant and do not change.
LiDAR: Light Detection and Ranging uses a laser to locate features by sending out pulses of light and measuring how long they take to return. LiDAR is especially useful for creating accurate maps and the most powerful navigation tool for robot vacuums.
How We Test
First, we set up three 8 by 8-foot pens, each with a different floor surface, where we could repeat cleaning scenarios for each model. The floor of one corral was low- to medium-pile carpet; the second was bare, polished concrete; and the third was laminate flooring. We placed a floor mat and a wooden stool on the concrete as obstacles.
Then, in each corral, we dumped 5 grams of flour, 5 grams of sawdust, 15 grams of dried rice, and 15 grams of pinto beans to simulate various types of dirt and debris. (We should note that robot vacuums are maintenance cleaners, and these—for the sake of our stress test—were more material than you should expect a vac to pick up on a regular basis.) On the carpet, flour and sawdust are indicators of how well a vacuum’s brushes work at agitating dirt, making it easier to suck up. On the laminate, where sawdust and flour can get deep into seams, raw suction power is needed. And dried rice and pinto beans are a challenge on concrete and laminate, because a vacuum’s brushes could quickly scatter them.
Once we had the vacuums’ apps installed and paired, we set the models loose, timing and scrutinizing their work.
Water lift, a common method of quantifying suction, is relatively easy to measure. So easy, in fact, we built a simple water lift gauge to evaluate the strength of these robot vacs. Here’s how it works: We set up the vacuums so their suction could be applied, within a sealed system, to a tube with water in it. The stronger the suction, the higher the water is lifted.
Vacuum manufacturers tend to list vacuum strength in Pascals (Pa), which can be converted to water lift: 249.1 Pascals equals 1 inch of water lift. You’ll notice our numbers are lower than manufacturers’ claims, and that’s to be expected because they don’t tell us where or how they’re measuring. They may take measurements at the impeller, or without going through the filter. It’s similar to how auto manufacturers list horsepower ratings on cars—as an engine spec. But the transmission, differential, and other systems all leech some of that horsepower, so what’s actually available at the rear wheels isn’t the same number listed in the specs. To be as close as possible to the actual amount of suction available under the vacuums, we removed the vacuum brushes and measured right through the housing above them, with the vacuum filter in place.
―BEST OBSTACLE RECOGNITION―
Roborock S6 MaxV
Navigation: LiDAR, plus vSLAM | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: 1 | Exclusion zones: Yes, virtual | Suction: 1,744 Pa (measured) | Voice control: Via Alexa and Google Assistant
When we set the S6 MaxV loose in our test corrals, it was the fastest to complete vacuuming our laminate floor and concrete area with obstacles, finishing in nine and 14 minutes, respectively. In the laminate corral, it vacuumed everything clean, leaving no trace of the debris we had strewn. The S6 MaxV finished our carpeted corral in nine minutes as well, with just a trace of sawdust left behind. Our concrete area presented a challenge with the grains of rice we spread, and some got left behind where the vacuum transitioned from the floor up onto the mat we’d placed.
Using both vSLAM and LiDAR to navigate, the S6 MaxV started with an odd, diagonal zigzag that we hadn’t seen robot vacuums use before, presumably scanning the surroundings. Presumably, we say, because it then quickly went around the perimeter of the corral, following that up with a series of out-and-back passes moving across the whole space. The vacuum then performed a second pass of the perimeter, ending with a final out-and-back series of sweeps across the corral before returning to the dock to top off the battery
The S6 MaxV impressed us during practical testing in our homes. In the Roborock app, we watched as the vacuum quickly created accurate maps of our rooms. It also recognized and avoided sneakers, a power strip, and some wooden prop dog poop we threw down.
iRobot Roomba s9+
Navigation: vSLAM | Brushes: 2 | Side brushes: 1 | Exclusion zones: Yes, virtual | Suction: 1,806 Pa (measured) | Voice control: Via Alexa and Google Assistant
The s9+ clocked the fastest time to finish the carpet area, leaving just a trace of sawdust after nine minutes. In the concrete area, it took more time navigating around the wooden stool but was delicate in doing so, cleaning around the legs thoroughly. Like the others, it did leave some rice at the edge of the floor mat. In the laminate corral, we couldn’t find any debris except for a dusting of flour in one spot. Keep in mind that the s9+ has flexible ridges and paddles instead of bristles. This appeared to be a little less effective with very fine particles on the smooth, hard surface.
We had the most difficulty discerning what the s9+ was actually doing. What initially appeared to be a sort of random path, we realized, was a series of location exercises using vSLAM. It first moved left and right, bumping both sides in multiple places, and then it worked toward the corners, looping into them in a wide curve before moving tight in and backing out. Then it performed a trip around the perimeter, and then into the corners again. After all that, it moved to make left and right passes to cover the middle area. Finally, it vacuumed left and right of the dock.
This Roomba has a slightly different design than most other robot vacuums, in that it has a flat front with squared-off corners. We found two advantages of this, the first being that it got into corners better, and the second that it allows for wider brushes—about 30 percent so.
Eufy RoboVac G30 Edge
Navigation: Advanced bump and go | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: 1 | Exclusion zones: Yes, physical | Suction: 1,557 Pa (measured) | Voice control: Via Alexa and Google Assistant
The G30 Edge is the least expensive model from our test, but you wouldn’t know that by how it cleaned our test corrals. It was slightly slower than the others, sure, yet it effectively and methodically vacuumed each area. It left barely a trace of debris on both the carpet and laminate floor and missed some rice transitioning from the floor to the mat in the concrete area. We did notice the G30 Edge bump things slightly harder than the other vacuums— not surprising, since its navigation is an enhanced version of bump-and-go.
Despite having that lower-tech nav system, this Eufy seemed remarkably efficient. Leaving the dock, it immediately started a straight out-and-back pattern, moving left to the wall with each pass. It then bumped the wall in a couple of places, confirming its location, before returning to the center. It continued out and back to the right wall, where it started around the perimeter to the lower left corner. It then began left and right passes from the front to the back, followed by the perimeter, ending with the lower right corner.
Testing in our homes, we used the app to monitor progress in real time. While we could view completed vacuuming and maps in the cleaning history, we couldn’t save or edit them. To set no-go zones, we laid down the included magnetic strip to create physical barriers. While this worked well, we did need to remember to put the strip in place every time we had the vacuum scheduled to clean.
―BEST IN CORNERS―
Samsung Powerbot R7260 Plus
Navigation: Visionary Mapping 2.0 | Brushes: 1 | Side brushes: None | Exclusion zones: Yes, virtual | Suction: n/a | Voice control: Via Alexa, Bixby, and Google Assistant
Like the Roomba, Samsung’s Powerbot is flat across the front instead of completely round. Inside the front, a rotating brush extends just about the full width of the vacuum—making it about twice as wide as any other robot vacuum. Which means it can reach square into corners without the need of the side brushes found on other models.
When we started testing in our 8 by 8-foot corrals, we noticed the Powerbot used a very specific corner strategy, when it followed a wall into a corner, it would back up while turning 45 degrees and then drive forward while turning another 45 degrees. Doing this, it vacuumed square into corners from both walls and was very effective. Other than the corners, the Powerbot worked its way through a space in a neat pattern, being sure to cover every inch of the floor. We did note that it had a lot of, well, power. It pushed on things it bumped into on hard floors more than the other vacuums—especially when backing up. This didn’t seem as bad on carpeted surfaces though. As far as cleaning the floors, the Powerbot did equally well on carpet and laminate surfaces, leaving just a stray bean on one and a couple of grains of rice on the other.
When we tested the Powerbot with obstacles like chairs and floor mats, it took a little more time around the chair legs. At one point, it seemed confused and couldn’t navigate out, but it eventually managed. It appears this might be due to the squared-off front of the vacuum, as it requires more delicate maneuvers to avoid catching the corner. We noted that as it passed over different surfaces, it adjusted suction power, bumping it up on carpet and down on hard floors.
Samsung provides a full-function remote with the Powerbot, which we used to direct the vacuum to specific spots, as well as cycle through virtually all settings and features. We found setting cleaning schedules more flexible in the app, where you can set the days of the week individually, while the remote offers a one-time cleaning or daily cleaning. Additionally, it comes with a setting specifically for pet hair. That, with the powerful suction and its ability to get into corners, makes it a strong option for people with furry family members.