A robotic vacuum cleaner that does all your cleaning for you at home sounds like a fantasy, but with the sophistication of today’s robot vacuums, which are packed with sensors, electronic eyes and even lasers that offer enhanced computing and cleaning power, that fantasy can be your real life.
Their prices have ballooned, so that fantasy does come at a cost. Some robotic vacuum models will even set you back a staggering four figures. Spending that much is extravagant, but it does net you next-level vacuum cleaning with dirt and dust busting power. Those cleaning features include multiple room and, , turbo mode, plus .
To zero in on the best robot vacuum cleaner, I spent over 120 hours (that’s a lot of time) torture testing a group of 10 robotic cleaning vacuums. Among them are brand-new models that have recently launched, flagship models, as well as compelling options offered across numerous online retailers. I excluded older models that likely won’t be sold for much more time.
If someone were to give you a blank check and told you to buy the best robot vacuum, this is the bot to get. The iRobot Roomba S9 Plus costs a whopping $1,399. For that staggeringly steep sticker price though, this bot delivers superb dirt and dust removal cleaning power.
On hardwood flooring it picked up an average of 93% of our test sand, the highest amount in our test group. The Roomba struggled to work a bit cleaning sand from low-pile carpeting and area rugs, earning a low average dust and sand pickup of 28%.
That said, the vacuum removed an average 71% of sand from our midpile carpet. Again, this is the best result that we saw on this specific test. It also cleaned up more pet hair and allergens than any vacuum in this test group, and the bot navigates and maps multiple rooms and floors. iRobot has also updated its app to let you designate “keep out zones” to designate areas you want the S9 Plus to avoid when cleaning.
The robot zipped through our test room in a short average time of 25 minutes, too. You can link the S9 Plus to the Roomba app and your home WiFi as well. Best of all is the Roomba S9 Plus’ CleanBase docking station. It both charges the robot’s battery and empties its dustbin automatically, making cleaning even easier and keeping you from worrying about battery life. Now that’s convenient.
Read our first impressions of the Roomba S9 Plus.
For half the price of the Roomba S9 Plus, the $647 Neato’s Botvac D7 Connected vacuums up dirt, dust and messes almost as well, making it the best robot vacuum at a midrange cost. On average this robotic cleaner picked up a greater amount of sand (36%) across low-pile carpet and rugs than the Roomba did.
It narrowly beat the S9 Plus for cleaning power on hardwood bare floors, too, collecting an average of 95% of the sand we put down. The vac cleaned dirt, dust and sand from midpile rugs less effectively though, notching a pickup average of 47 percent while cleaning.
While it can’t match the Roomba’s prowess at removing pet hair or empty its own dust bin, this cleaning robot navigates more efficiently, yet covers more ground, thanks to built-in lidar laser navigation mapping. You can also control the cleaning robot using the Neato app as a remote control, as well as link it to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The app allows you to designate areas of your home as off-limits to cleaning, too.
Read our Neato Botvac D7 Connected preview.
Here’s a cleaning machine that proves you don’t need to blow your budget to purchase a solid robot vacuum cleaner. Even though the Robovac 11S Max costs just $219, it cleans floors effectively. That’s especially the case when cleaning hardwood bare floors.
It managed to remove an average of 71% of our test sand from this type of surface. The bot didn’t work as well cleaning carpets, earning sand pickup averages of 21 and 27% on low pile and midpile, respectively.
And due to this vacuum’s basic navigation system, it took well over an hour to negotiate our test room. As far as time goes, that’s a lot. Still, the Eufy used its runtime wisely. The vacuum covered the space well, cleaning up while leaving almost no spots untouched. The Eufy is also self-charging, so again, no need to worry about battery life or factor that into overall cleaning time. It’s the best robot vacuum for value.
How we test robot vacuums
Our method for evaluating robot vacuums is straightforward, yet grueling. There are two types of tests we run. The first trial is to figure outwhile cleaning. We built an industry-standard testing room, as specified by the International Electrotechnical Commission, just for this purpose. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing robot vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers.
Inside this room are objects designed to simulate typical obstacles a robot encounters for navigation as it cleans. These obstacles include wall edges, table and chair legs, couches and so on, plus bare floors of tile and hardwood, as well as carpet.
We mount LED lights to the top of each vacuum cleaner. The dimensions of the lights correspond to the measured nozzle width of each particular robot vacuum we test.
As robots move through the room while cleaning, a camera overhead captures a long-exposure image of the entire room in low light. That photo will then have a light trail, created by the LEDs, that shows the exact areas where the robot traveled (and its nozzle position) during its runtime. We can also see areas of the floor the vacuum may have missed or gotten stuck.
You can see the navigation results of all the robot vacuums in our test group in the gallery below.
The second type of test reveals exactly how much physical debris a vacuum is able to pick up off of the floor. To mimic dirt of small particle size, we use a mixture of play-sand and landscaping sand. For bigger particle soil, we use grains of uncooked black rice. Robots then run in straight line mode across three types of flooring (low-pile carpet, medium-pile carpet and hardwood bare floors).
We control for the specific nozzle width of each vacuum, too. We constructed an adjustable tool to soil our test floors. It lets us lay down a strip of precise area of soil to match the nozzle dimensions for every robot. The mass of soil isn’t chosen at random either. We measure a proportional amount that’s related to the flooring material, type of debris, plus each vacuum’s nozzle width.
We conduct three cleaning runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also perform cleaning tests with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per vacuum. We weigh the robot’s dust bin both before and after each run. From there we can calculate the percentage of debris pickup for every cleaning run and the average amount of soil a machine manages to remove. Additionally we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each robot, on all three floor types.
The chart below shows the fine particle cleaning performance data for all of the robot vacuums we tested. It should give you a pretty good idea about their cleaning performance on different kinds of flooring surfaces. Our rice-based, medium-size particle test didn’t show enough differentiation between each cleaner, which says they can all handle larger particles without trouble. For fur removal for pet owners, we judged anecdotally.
Want more robot vacuum options? Here’s a list of the other robot vacuums we tested besides the models listed above.
More vacuum coverage at CNET
Originally published earlier this year.