Cleaning floors is a thankless—but necessary—task. Fortunately, robotic vacuums promise to deliver a convenient way of helping you save time, while allowing you to focus your energy on more important tasks.
Here’s the thing, though: This is only the case if you choose the right model for your needs, which is exactly what we’ll help you accomplish here.
If this is your first time researching robotic vacuums, we’ll also outline how they compare to traditional vacuums and provide a detailed list of some of the top models available.
Bottom line: By the time you finish reading this robotic vacuum cleaners buying guide, you’ll know which step you should take next.
In This Guide:
- Feature Fundamentals
- What to Consider When Shopping
- Best Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Based on Specific Needs
- Best Robotic Vacuum Cleaners Based on Price
Despite their meaningfully different designs, robotic and traditional vacuums share many of the same core features, including wheels, at least one brush roll, a dustbin, filtration, and so forth.
But, compared to the wide variety of traditional designs available, you’ll often find more standardization among robotic vacuums, which tend to fall somewhere between 11 and 13 inches in diameter, and between five and 10 pounds in weight.
Given this general consistency, let’s take a high-level look at some of their core features, while also familiarizing ourselves with their common functionality.
Robotic Vacuum Design
Like standard models, robotic vacuums typically feature an outside shell made of durable plastic, which helps protect the electronics and delicate sensors housed inside from damage. The vast majority also utilize circular designs, although some, such as the Neato Botvac, feature a unique D-shape that’s said to improve corner cleaning.
Sensors & Navigation
On their top, most models use at least one infrared sensor to help navigate around a room, while higher-end models like the Dyson 360 Eye boast a proprietary 360-degree ‘vision’ system that identifies key features, remembers them, and then uses the data to create a map and triangulate its position at all times.
The majority of robot vacuums use bumper-mounted sensors to detect impacts with walls, furniture, and other objects blocking their path, in addition to sensors on the bottom—often called ‘cliff sensors’—that detect edges (stairs, flooring transitions, etc.).
Optical encoders usually found near the vacuum's wheels, use light sensors to track how many times they've rotated and how far it's moved.
Speaking of the underside, this is where you’ll also find the robotic vacuum’s brush roll, which spins and collects debris, just like full-size models.
In addition to sensors, another especially unique design aspect about robotic vacuums is that they also feature side (or ‘ancillary’) spinning brushes, which come with longer bristles that are distributed farther apart and work to sweep dirt toward the vacuum’s opening.
These are common features found on many robotic vacuum models, regardless of model or brand.
Like full-size models, this opening is located directly behind the brush roll, which sucks away debris as it’s swept up. From there, it will funnel into a dustbin, which is often between 200 and 500 cm3 in capacity. In some models, a pre-filter might be involved.
Combined, many robotic models can accommodate more than one flooring surface (e.g., hardwood, tile, low-pile carpeting), while others might only work on hard surfaces. The majority are low enough to the ground to fit underneath most furniture.
Robotic Vacuum Operation
As you might imagine, exactly how your vacuum operates will depend on the specific model you choose, along with its features and capabilities.
But in general, a robotic vacuum starts out attached to a charging station, which almost always needs to be plugged into an outlet.
Instructing it to start cleaning could involve using a button or touchscreen on top of the device, logging in to a smartphone app and connecting through your home's Wi-Fi, automatically setting a cleaning schedule in advance, or a combination thereof.
From there, the vacuum will use its various sensors and other components to navigate around the room and ensure the most thorough cleaning. Some can even create maps of the areas they've cleaned for you to view.
Exactly how a robotic vacuum maps a room and navigates around different obstacles is one of the most proprietary aspects of its operation—and as such, is generally one of the most closely guarded secrets by manufacturers.
With this said, CNET’s Richard Baguley and Colin McDonald explain that most robot vacuums follow a handful of basic operations in order to clean around a room. Some execute these randomly, while others are more methodical in their approach:
Spiral – The vacuum continues moving in a spiral motion until it’s traveled far enough to clean an area, or until it bounces into something.
Wall-Following – Just like it sounds.
Straight – Moves in a straight path until it encounters an obstacle, turns, and then continues in a straight path again.
Random Angle – At some point based on an often-proprietary calculation, the vacuum will turn at a random angle and then follow one of the behaviors above.
Stuck – If a robotic vacuum can’t move in an area, it will typically attempt a variety of movements (rotating, backing up, proceeding slowly, etc.) in order to free itself.
Pro tip: To see how these movements play out in the real world, the Roomba Art Flickr page attaches glowsticks to the top of robotic vacuums and takes long-exposure photographs as they clean different rooms.
Credit: Roomba Art
In some instances, they can store the location of furniture and other obstacles and ‘remember’ them for more efficient cleaning in the future.
As technology rapidly progresses, you’ll even find models that can be activated using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands.
The majority of models feature about an hour of battery life, at which point they’ll also return to their charging station until it’s time to clean again.
Robotic Vacuum Maintenance
Any maintenance involved will largely depend on your model and its specific features. As a simplistic example, some models feature the ability to mop hard floors, which would obviously require different upkeep than one that only vacuums debris.
But in general, robotic vacuums don’t require any additional maintenance compared to traditional models. In other words, you’ll still have to regularly remove and clean the filter, deal with inevitable clogs (especially if you have long-haired pets in your home), and replace parts as they wear out.
However, there will likely be some different maintenance requirements involved.
With such limited battery life, you’ll always need to make sure your robotic vacuum is fully charged and ready to go when needed. We discussed earlier that most models automatically return to their base station when it's time to recharge, but they can sometimes get hung up along the way—meaning that you might need to hunt yours down on occasion.
Along these same lines, robotic vacuums feature much smaller dustbins than full-size models, which means you’ll have to empty them more often.
And while their navigation systems have rapidly advanced over the years, their sensors underneath might interpret black spots on a patterned carpet as a dropoff, and subsequently, avoid cleaning those areas. As such, you might need to continue manually cleaning those areas, even with your robot vacuum doing its job.
Finally, just like with regular vacuums, make sure to keep cords, strings, socks, and other items away that can become tangled in the robot’s brush roll.
The Price of Robotic Vacuums
Many consumers experience sticker shock upon learning that even ‘entry level’ robotic vacuums hover somewhere around the $200 mark, while mid-range models are typically priced at $300 - $500, and high-end models at $600+.
Comparatively, you can get dozens of quality upright and canister vacuums with powerful suction and tons of useful attachments for $150 - $250.
In other words, while they’re larger, heavier, and more cumbersome than robotic vacuums, and often aren’t loaded with ‘smart’ features, upright vacuums might provide more bang-for-your-buck, depending on your needs and preferences.
How can you choose the best model for your needs, while making sure you're not paying more than necessary?
While there are plenty of good reasons to consider purchasing a robotic vacuum, convenience is likely near the top of most people’s list.
PCmag points out that, “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.”
Outside of this, like most consumer electronics purchases, the right model for you will largely come down to your specific expectations, your needs, and your budget. Considering their importance, let’s explore each in greater detail.
Step 1. Maintain Realistic Expectations
More than anything else, it’s important to keep in mind that robotic vacuums are designed to pick up light surface debris that accumulates as a result of daily life.
As Dmitri Kara of FantasticCleaners.com emphasizes, “robot vacuums are a great way to skim the surface and handle particles like regular dust and dirt, but—especially when carpeting is present,” you’ll still regularly require the much deeper cleaning provided by standard vacuum cleaners (once per week or so, depending on use).
So, if you’re expecting to spend top dollar on a new robotic vacuum and save money by not purchasing a standard model, you’re bound to end up disappointed.
Step 2: Choose Your Budget
As is the case with most consumer electronics, it’s often the case that you get what you pay for when it comes to robotic vacuums.
Is there necessarily an optimal price, though? This largely depends on who you ask.
Tom’s Guide points out that “$500 seems to be a sweet spot as far as balancing price and value,” while PCmag indicates that “unless you need smartphone control or WiFi connectivity, you shouldn’t spend more than $400” (we’ll talk more about features next). Connected models generally fall in the $500 - $1,000 range.
Still, writing for BobVila.com, Glenda Taylor emphasizes that you shouldn’t “judge a robot vacuum’s power strictly on price.” Instead, “select a model that has excelled in independent testing and has a track record of great customer satisfaction.”
Along these same lines, PCmag warns: “You'll see many low-price robot vacuums on sites like Amazon, but be wary of knockoff vacuums. Unless it's a brand you are familiar with like Roomba or Neato, avoid buying it despite the rock bottom price. Be sure to do proficient research before making your purchase.”
Pro tip: Last year’s models can often represent the best trade-off regarding price and value, as they’ll typically boast many modern features, without all the bells and whistles—and sometimes much higher price tags—of the most recent models.
In the end, Wirecutter emphasizes that, when it comes to purchasing a robotic vacuum, “the most important thing is to be clear about your own objectives. Don’t just think about the sticker price, think about your time “saved” not vacuuming. Sometimes it makes sense to squeeze the budget a bit further in this context.”
Step 3: Choose Your Most Important Features
Even within the same price bracket, not all robotic vacuums are created equal.
For this reason, Carson Yarbrough, a consumer insights expert for PCMag, told us that when considering your options, “it’s important to keep in mind what you want the vacuum to accomplish.”
“Some robotic vacuums specialize in sweeping and mopping,” she says, “while others just cover the suction of dirt and debris.”
Furthermore, some are better on carpet than hardwood. Some change trajectory during cleaning, while others only move in straight lines. Some pick up pet hair better than others, while others are optimized for higher pile carpet. Feeling overwhelmed by all your choices yet?
Despite the dozens of models available, when it comes to choosing your top ones, narrowing down your must-haves can perhaps be more helpful than anything else. Here are some common considerations:
The size of your home (or, at the very least, the main area you’re looking to clean) will directly impact how long the vacuum’s battery needs to last.
According to AllHomeRobotics.com, lower-end budget models typically have a 60-minute run time, which is the minimum you should consider to sufficiently clean a small apartment or single floor home.
Mid-range models usually run somewhere between 60 and 80 minutes before needing a recharge, while high-end, top-of-the-line models run 80 to 90 minutes, or more.
Carson Yarbrough adds, “In general, most robot vacuums can run for at least 60 to 70 minutes, which is enough to tackle small apartments and single-floor homes. If you have a bigger living area, you'll want to look for something that would last in the 90-minute range so it can hit
every room in the house before requiring a recharge.”
Don’t look forward to hunting yours down when it runs out of juice? You’ll probably want to focus on models that automatically return to their charging station when their battery is low.
Pro tip: If it’s important to you, many models also feature ‘room memory,’ which allows them to pick back up where they left off once their battery is recharged. Otherwise, they’ll leave their base station and start the cleaning process all over again.
Standard household vacuums typically deliver somewhere between 20 kPA (2.9 PSI) and 24 kPA (3.6 PSI) of suction power.
And while it’s true that some high-end robot vacuums can come close to (or even match) these numbers, the reality is that most models deliver much lower levels intended for light maintenance cleaning. As such, they might struggle with some types of larger, heavier debris.
To potentially compensate for this, Glenda Taylor points out that some models feature “turbo” modes that offer quick and intense cleaning power,” along with “eco” modes that save battery power, and “quiet” modes that won’t interfere with your everyday (studying, working, or television time).”
Speaking of which, most robotic vacuum models operate at between 55 and 75 decibels, or somewhere between the sound of a quiet street and the sound of loud singing from three feet away.
This might not represent a huge difference, although it could be meaningful depending on your needs (such as a baby in the household).
Perhaps the biggest difference between many high-end robotic vacuum cleaners and budget-oriented models is that the former typically feature Wi-Fi connectivity, which can open up a whole world of opportunity—primarily through app functionality.
This way, you might be able to control your vacuum far from home, schedule cleaning times, or receive notifications if the device becomes stuck, requires a filter replacement, or needs to have its dustbin emptied (to name just a few potential features). Of course, these notifications might be considered a nuisance, depending on your preferences.
A few screenshots of iRobot’s (Roomba, Braava) app, which allows users to view statistics, reports, and other useful information, as well as set and activate weekly cleaning schedules. Credit: Google
Even models without app connectivity can come with remote controls, allowing you to manually guide it in certain areas you might want extra cleaning.
Pets & Flooring Types
What surfaces will your robotic vacuum clean? If it’s just one type (hard flooring or carpeting), your options are pretty much wide open.
However, if you want one that can handle both without your constant input, you’ll want to look at models that can automatically transition between the two.
Similarly, do you have any pets in your home? Do they shed a lot? Is their hair especially long? If so, you’ll want to consider models intended for this heavy-duty work (more soon).
Other Important Considerations
Speaking of allergens, Dmitri Kara adds that robot vacuums “cannot yet replace a decent hot water extraction treatment or dry chem powder.”
As a result, if someone in your household suffers from allergies, in addition to regularly using your robot and traditional vacuum, you still might need to steam your carpets once every two to three months. You’ll likely also want to focus on models that offer HEPA filtration.
Dustbin size can also be an important factor, especially if you want to minimize emptying between cleaning cycles. In general, though, if your home is 2,000 square feet or less, customers report that you might not have to empty the bin more than every two to three cycles.
Size can also be a big factor when it comes to overall design, especially regarding height, where taller models might have more of a propensity to not fit under furniture and other small spaces.
Now, let’s wrap all of these details together and see how many of the most popular models stack up.
According to Wirecutter, robot vacuums “can work well for most people in most homes on most kinds of flooring. Any decent bot can pick up obvious, surface-level debris,” they say, “like pet hair, crumbs, road grit, or anything else you can see from eye level or feel stuck to your feet.”
However, they qualify this by emphasizing that “even the best bots, working in the right environment, won’t work perfectly all the time. They’ll all get stuck or tangled occasionally, and in some homes, they may get stuck fairly often. And they often navigate in ways that don’t make sense to human observers.”
Regardless of the price you pay, all robotic vacuums will come with some limitations; there’s no ‘perfect’ model that will meet everyone’s needs and preferences.
With this caveat in mind, after combining frequent appearances on sites like CNET, Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, NerdWallet, and PCmag, along with firsthand customer feedback on popular online sites like Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Walmart, here are our picks for the top choices currently available.
|Best Robotic Vacuum Overall: iLife A4S|
Highlights: Even though it has an entry-level price point, customers overwhelmingly report the A4S comes with essential features like up to a 140-minute battery life, three-stage cleaning system (including two side brushes and Max mode for additional power), scheduling, automatic return to the base station, and remote control functionality. At just 3” tall, it’s also one of the slimmest robot vacuum models available.
Cost: $196, Amazon
|Best Robotic Vacuum for Ease of Use: Eufy Robovac 11|
Highlights: The Robovac 11 consistently ranks among the top 10 robot vacuum models from customers and professionals alike. Not only does it come with a rock-bottom price, but among nearly 3,000 Amazon reviews (and a 4.3-star average rating), customers commonly cite ease of use, effective cleaning and navigation, and quality construction.
Cost: Cost: $230, Amazon
|More on this vacuum: Read Our Full Review|
|Best Robotic Vacuum for Pets & Allergies: BobSweep bObi Pet|
Highlights: A no-nonsense pet-oriented vacuum that features bagless technology, HEPA filtration, 120-minute runtime, and a mop (damp cloth) attachment to make sure all hair and other allergens are completely gone.
Cost: $290, Best Buy, Target
|Best Robotic Vacuum for Battery Life: Neato Botvac D7 Connected|
Highlights: Not only does the D7’s 130-minute battery life edge out the competition and make it ideal for larger spaces, but its top-of-the-line price tag comes with top-of-the-line features like mobile app and Alexa integration, ultra-performance filtration, LaserSmart mapping and navigation, and over-the-air updates.
Cost: $799, Best Buy
|Best Robotic Vacuum for Hard Floors: Ecovacs Deebot N79|
Highlights: Despite its ultra-competitive price, the Deebot N79 comes with app connectivity, four cleaning modes, two nylon side brushes, and a 14" wide cleaning path.
Cost: $195, Amazon
|Best Robotic Vacuum for Carpeting: iRobot Roomba 980|
Highlights: Sure, the 980 features a healthy price, but it also boasts a healthy 120-minute battery life, along with an AeroForce Cleaning System that automatically boosts air power up to 10X when the robot detects it's cleaning carpet, along with an Auto-Adjust Cleaning Head that always ensures the brushes are in contact with the floor.
Cost: $899.99, Best Buy
|Best High-Tech Robotic Vacuum: Dyson 360 Eye|
Highlights: If you’re looking for all the bells and whistles, look no further than the Dyson 360 Eye, which promises twice the suction of any other robotic vacuum and features their proprietary vision system that ‘sees’ and maps your room, calculates an optimal path, cleans accordingly, and even ‘remembers’ where it’s cleaned.
Cost: $999.99, Amazon
|More on this vacuum: Read Our Full Review|
Pulling these individual results together and combining them with the volume of customer feedback received on Amazon (along with highest average ratings), as well as the number of essential features offered for the money (i.e., overall value), here’s HighYa’s top picks, categorized by price.
Top Budget Models (Under $500)
|Rank||Model||Price||Average Amazon Customer Rating||Standout Features|
|1||iLife A4S||$196||4.3 (2,100+ reviews)||Max mode for additional power, up to 140 min cleaning time, programmable scheduling, remote control|
|2||Eufy Robovac 11||$230||4.3 (2,900+ reviews)||BoostIQ for added power, low-profile design, one-click cleaning, automatic recharge|
|3||iLife V5||$165||4 (35+ reviews)||Ultra-competitive price, scheduling functionality, can handle thin carpet|
|4||iRobot Roomba 690||$320||4.1 (1,400+ reviews)||Wi-Fi connected w/app functionality, dirt detection sensors, auto-adjust cleaning head|
|5||Neato Botvac D3||$399||3.5 (400+ reviews)||D-shape, laser smart navigation, spin flow power clean technology, Wi-Fi connected w/app functionality|
Top High-End Models ($500+)
|Rank||Model||Price||Average Amazon Customer Rating||Standout Features|
|1||iRobot Roomba 980||$889||4 (1,200+ reviews)||iAdapt 2.0 Navigation with Visual Localization, 120-min battery life, Power Boost increases air power up to 10X, multi-room coverage|
|2||iRobot Roomba 960||$699||4.3 (860+ reviews)||All the same features as the 980, but with a 75-min battery life|
|3||Neato Botvac D85||$520||3.6 (30+ reviews)||Patented laser-guided mapping and navigation technology, 50% larger brush, interchangeable brushes|
|4||Samsung PowerBot||$955||3.4 (150+ reviews)||Visionary Mapping Plus and FullView Sensor, Up to 70X more suction power, point cleaning|
|5||Dyson 360 Eye||$999||2.7 (70+ reviews)||Digital motor creates 2X the suction of other robot vacuums, 360 eye vision system, Radial Root cyclone technology|
The Bottom Line About Buying a Robotic Vacuum
We’ve covered a lot of material in this guide, but after taking your budget and needs into consideration, the reality is that it’s difficult to go wrong with a robot vacuum—especially if you stick with one of the top-rated models above.
Some final unique considerations to keep in mind are that you’ll rarely be able to test your robotic vacuum before handing over your money, so be sure to purchase from a reputable retailer who provides at least 30-day refund policies, with reasonable S&H fees (if purchased online) and no restocking fees.
Also, make sure the manufacturer stands behind their vacuums with at least one-year warranties against defects in materials and workmanship. And don’t forget to read online customer reviews for any models you’re considering, which can go a long way toward giving you an idea of what you’ll experience after becoming a customer.
» For Further Reading: Vacuum Cleaner Buyer’s Guide
For models under $500, we assigned one point value to the following 11 key criteria:
- Battery life of at least 60 minutes
- 2 front brushes
- Return to charging station when battery low
- Suction of at least 1,000Pa
- Between 55 and 75 db
- Automatically transition between hard flooring and carpeting
- Slim profile (3" or less in height)
- Priced less than $300
- At least 4-star average Amazon rating
- At least 250 Amazon customer reviews
For models over $500, we assigned one point value to the following 10 key criteria. Since consumers should expect more out of these models, based on their pricing and high-tech features (app connectivity and automatic transition between floor types are given for example), these were slightly different:
- Battery life of at least 100 minutes
- At least 1 front brush
- Advanced navigation
- Suction of at least 1,000Pa
- Room memory
- Power surge mode
- Between 55 and 75 db
- Slim profile (3.5" or less in height)
- At least 4-star average Amazon rating
- At least 250 Amazon customer reviews