We all know at least one person who claims a robot vacuum has changed their life. They're not lying. There's really something to be said for always knowing your floors are clean. Plus, some people simply detest vacuuming.
Just like all tissues are called "Kleenex," and all bandages "Band-aids," robot vacuums and the brand Roomba have become interchangeable. But we're here to put some respect on the other names in the robot vacuum game.
Given Roomba-maker iRobot's domination of the robot vacuum market since 2002, this assumption made sense for a while. Roombas have been around longer than the movie Holes and came out less than a year after Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake stepped out in that all-denim ensemble.
But the first robotic vacuum wasn't even an iRobot brainchild. iRobot may be the brand to credit for making robot vacuums attainable for mainstream households, but Swedish brand Electrolux technically introduced the first robot vac in 1996. iRobot continues its reign as one of the best, but it wasn't the first — and isn't the last either.
Roborock, Shark, and Eufy have entered the chat.
Are robot vacuums worth it?
The crisp control of an upright Dyson vacuum comes with its own type of buzz. But if you're not one to classify cleaning as cathartic, a robot vacuum could erase that huge, agonizing task off of your chore list.
But whether robot vacuums are worth it or not comes with a caveat: It can't be just any robot vacuum. A cheap robovac that acts drunk — scattering crumbs rather than sucking them up, bumping into walls, getting stuck on area rugs — is completely missing that convenience factor that draws people to robot vacs in the first place. We've gathered the best-reviewed models in general for 2022, but some extra criteria specific to your home can help narrow your options:
Suction power: A vacuum is the one purchase that you hope sucks a lot. Suction power is typically measured in Pascals (Pa), ranging between 600 Pa to 3,000 Pa in the ones on this list. Stronger suction will be needed to pick up heavier pieces of debris like pellet cat litter (be sure to set a barrier around Legos) and to pull patted-down pet hair from rugs.
Floor type: Expanding on the point above, carpeting and rugs require stronger suction than hard floors, as well as an extra-wide or self-cleaning brush roll to prevent hair from wrapping. Folks in homes with multiple floor types might consider a bigger, sturdier robovac with large wheels that can hoist itself over mats, rugs, and transitions from carpet to hard floors.
Automatic emptying: Because robot vacuums are typically under four inches tall, their onboard dust bins are also small — which means they frequently require emptying. (Dustbins fill up particularly quickly in homes with pets.) A self-emptying vacuum takes that job out of your hands, emptying itself into a larger dustbin in its charging dock. These larger bins can typically hold weeks of dirt without needing to be cleaned or dumped out.
Home layout: Every robot vacuum is equipped with sensors and drop detection. But if your home has lots of rooms, lots of turns, or lots of close-together furniture, you'll have fewer navigation issues with an advanced model that uses LiDAR to map exactly how your home is laid out, including labeling of specific rooms, mental notes of staircases and walls, and ability to deploy zone cleaning.
Low-profile furniture: No one should have to be scared about what's accumulated under their couch over the past year. A robot vacuum measuring three inches or less in height should be able to scoot under most low-hanging couches and beds.
Battery life and square footage: One of the main complaints people have about their robot vacuum is that it craps out in the middle of the floor. Larger spaces require more time to clean, and it all depends on how annoyed you'll be if it only finishes a few rooms at a time. Average run times for the list below range between 90 and 150 minutes, which translate to about 500 and 2,600 square feet covered on one charge. Some clock in up to 180 minutes on one charge.
App control: WiFi-enabled robot vacuums can be synced with a smartphone app to control scheduling, manual start, cleaning settings, as well as telling your vac to make its rounds when you're not home. Low-end models that don't connect to WiFi will usually come with a separate remote. If you're used to asking Alexa or Google to turn off the lights or tell you the weather, a model with voice integration will blend in nicely.
Robot vacuums and pet hair
Pet hair can straight-up clown a botvac without the right features. If your home is shedding heaven, a D-shaped vacuum could take some of the pressure off of you to find the spots where it collects. We can't scientifically back this, but we're pretty sure pet hair gets up and crawls into corners when we're not looking. A robot vacuum with a flat side can fit into those 90-degree angles and skim the edges of walls better than most circular bots can.
The next line of defense is a tangle-free brush roll. It's essentially an XL brush roll that prevents shedding remnants from getting wrapped up and tangled, likely having to be cut with scissors. Rubber trim or rubber fingers are a material that hair already doesn't like to stick to, but also works to kill static that may be pinning hair to a carpet.
A robot vac's filtration system is also an important consideration for homes with pets, as well as allergy sufferers in general. Vacuuming is bound to kick up dander, dust, and pollen into the air. A good filter captures that (HEPA filters catch the smallest particle) and makes sure it also makes its way into the dust bin. (All vacuums listed below have a HEPA filter unless noted otherwise in "The Bad" section.)
Roomba vs. Shark robot vacuums
In an unspoken sort of way, Roomba has been crowned as "the best" on the sole basis that it's the most established brand in the robot vacuum market. But Shark has the automatic advantage of being a brand that's hella established in the vacuum market as a whole, from stick vacuums to handheld ones, to ones with huge canisters.
But while Shark may be experts on suction power, brush rolls that don't tangle, and other things on the upright vacuum end, Roomba dominates the robot end. The maps created by a Roomba after it gets a sense of your home feature precision down to each room and the type of messes it typically sees. Shark's vacuums struggle to make reliable maps more often. Roombas also typically have better run time.
A general comparison between the two brands doesn't work so well. Like the Instant Pot vs. Ninja Foodi debate, Roomba has significantly more models to choose from at a range of prices and features that can be tailored to your needs. Shark's whole lineup is generally more budget-friendly than its most direct counterpart from Roomba. Shark offers self-emptying, a self-cleaning brushroll, and smart-home mapping for as low as $449.99, while iRobot's cheapest self-emptier starts at $599.99 (but goes as low as $399.99 during Black Friday). A few self-emptying Roombas topple that price, going as high as $999.99.
Whether iRobot, Shark, Roborock, or any other brand is the best at actual cleaning is pretty subjective. "Best" to someone with four dogs and lots of carpet may not mean "best" to someone with a huge house with stairs and 100% hardwood. At any rate, patience is required. Not even the best robot vacuum is guaranteed to not be a bumbling idiot on occasion, especially when they're still learning the blueprint of your home.
Here are the best robot vacuums for any home and budget in 2022: