Vacuums have come a long way. You no longer have to suffer the indignity of dragging around an unwieldy plastic hose connected to a clumsy, wheeled canister the size of a Galapagos tortoise. In fact, you don't even need to get off of the couch. Though it still feels like a relatively new product category, there are several good robot vacuums available to help you dispose of dust, pet hair, and other debris in your home—without needing to lift a finger. Which is the right one for you? We've rounded up our highest-rated robot vacuums, and provided a few pointers to help you find just the bot you're looking for.
Robot Vacuums vs. Canister and Upright Vacuums
Unlike more traditional canister or stick models, robot vacuums are autonomous and (for the most part) intelligent. The vacuums we've tested are equipped with lasers, motherboards, sensors, and even Wi-Fi to navigate around your home without the need for assistance. With a few exceptions, you barely have to interact with them at all.
Most robot vacuums come with charging docks and can even charge themselves. Just pick a robot-accessible spot for the dock, and the bot will return on its own before it runs out of juice. When it does, it will sit there until it has enough energy to go back out and continue to bust dust from where it left off. You can also set schedules for most bots to wake up and start a cleaning job, so it can take place while you're out of the house. That means you can potentially avoid all physical interaction until the vacuum needs to be emptied.
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Also unlike many traditional vacuums, all of the robots included here don't use bags to hold the dust, hair, and other debris they suck up. Instead, they use an easy-to-remove dustbin you can simply eject and empty into the nearest garbage can. And many come equipped with HEPA filters that prevent allergens from spreading through the air.
Are Robot Vacuums Worth It?
A robot vacuum is usually higher in price than a traditional vacuum (though not always). The models listed here range from less than $200 to more than $1,000. That's a pretty sizable investment, even on the lower end. Let's consider just what you get for the price.
Unless you really love to vacuum, the task itself is pretty mundane. Depending on the size of your house, a robot vacuum can save you anywhere from minutes to hours of your time every week by taking care of a pretty thankless chore. That alone is reason enough for some people to consider one.
In addition, robot vacuums have reached the point where they're basically just as effective and powerful as regular vacuums. The robots rounded up here use filters, side brushes, and spinning brushes that will do an equally good job of cleaning your home as their upright equivalents. They're also fairly compact, so they won't take up much space. And they're able to travel underneath most couches and tables, so you don't have to rearrange furniture. Even if you do, the more advanced robots on this list use memory banks to note where furniture is placed, so as not to bump into anything on a future pass.
Also worth mentioning: Smart robot vacuums are much more affordable now. What are the benefits of connectivity? Most Wi-Fi vacuums can be programmed and controlled remotely using your smartphone. Some can even be activated with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands.
Premium connected bots can generate statistics and maps of the areas they've cleaned. Some of even create personalized floor plans that eliminate the need for you to use physical "virtual walls" to cordon off sections of your home.
Which Vacuum Is Best for Pet Hair? Hardwood?
Generally speaking, all the vacuums we've tested can handle hardwood floors and pet hair without issue. Floor-cleaning robots like the iRobot Braava Jet specialize in mopping and sweeping. They aren't eligible for this list because they don't suck up dirt and debris, but they will get your hardwood floors nice and shiny. Some vacuums, like the Bobsweep PetHair Plus, come with mop attachments, but they're not always as effective overall.
How We Test Robot Vacuums
We test robot vacuums in PC Labs and in our actual homes, with the following categories in mind: battery life, navigation, setup, suction, and if it supports Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the app experience.
Chances are you don't want to babysit your vacuum. That means you're looking for a robot that can traverse different floor types or maneuver around furniture without needing help. This is especially true if you have dark flooring, as infrared sensors might confuse a black carpet with a ledge, and refuse to pass over it. We test vacuums on hardwood, tile, and dark rugs to see how well they manage the transitions across various surfaces.
Battery life is also an important factor to consider based on the size of your home. In general, most robot vacuums can run for at least 60 to 70 minutes, which should be enough to tackle smaller homes and apartments. If you have a bigger living area, you'll want to look for a robot vacuum that can get at least 90 minutes of battery life so it can hit every room before requiring a recharge. To test this, we charge the battery to full, start a cleaning cycle, and time how long the robot runs before it needs to be docked. And if a robot says it can automatically dock, we check to see if it can easily find its way home.
Another note on battery life: The number you see listed in the chart below is our tested result in normal mode. High-power or other modes often bring that number down a bit.
Most robot vacuums are reliable when it comes to getting rid of standard household detritus, so you don't really have to worry about whether or not they'll be able to suck up lint, dirt, or hair. Since we test all the robot vacuums in the same home environment, we check how full dustbins get and whether obvious debris like food particles and visible dust bunnies are picked up. We also note whether the robot uses a random or methodical cleaning pattern. Random cleaners often run across the same space multiple times but take a longer time to get everything. Methodical cleaners don't take as long, but may only pass through a room once unless programmed otherwise.
Finally, we test how easy it is to set up, program, and control the robot. Some only require an initial battery charge, while others ask you to install side brushes and batteries. For connected bots, app design and reliable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi are major factors that impact your experience.
We provide a detailed analysis of each of these vacuums in our reviews, and you can see our Vacuum Product Guide for the latest models. When you find the right one for you, be sure to read up on our 7 essential robot vacuum tips.