We tested some of the market's most popular robot vacuum cleaners, from Roomba, Neato, Miele, Dyson and LG. The tests were carried out over a period of several months in two stages.
In the first stage, we tested the robot vacuum cleaners from the normal user's perspective. We released them into a variety of private homes to test how they work in households with children and animals, both cats and dogs. The homes had different amounts of furniture and types of dirt, and we assessed how clean and tidy the floor was after the robot vacuum cleaner considered it was finished.
In the second stage, we carried out a laboratory test in which we applied a controlled amount of dirt to a limited area and then compared how much dirt the different vacuum cleaner models removed. Both the domestic environment and laboratory testing was carried out on mixed surfaces; wooden floors, stone floors, thin carpets and thick, dense carpets. The results of the laboratory tests were weighted into the final score, but we placed the greatest importance on how the robot vacuum cleaners perform in normal homes, which is where they will be used. A robot vacuum cleaner that copes well with a laboratory environment may not work as well under real conditions – as our long-term tests in normal homes have clearly shown.
Manufacturers use different types of technology to systematically map rooms and room sizes. For example, some models scan the ceiling with a camera while others use lasers or infrared technology. The robots' artificial intelligence then plans the cleaning process, together with direct input from a number of different types of sensors, such as gyroscopes, stair sensors and impact detectors. Some models work according to a structured and predetermined pattern and divide the room into a number of cleaning zones. Others work on the basis of a chaos algorithm combined with zone division. The vacuum cleaner's orientation ability affects how long the cleaning will take, but also how well the machine can find its way back to its base station when the room is clean or if the battery is running out of charge.
We have used time studies to determine how long the robot vacuum cleaners take to clean a certain area, and how long they can clean before the battery must be recharged. User-friendliness is another interesting factor. Some robots communicate problems very clearly, while others are more difficult to interpret and understand. We have also investigated how easy it is to clean the actual robot vacuum cleaner of dust and hair. A few models are almost maintenance free, while others require regular sessions with the scissors, which can be somewhat irritating. All of the robot vacuum cleaners in the test are bagless and wireless, but there is always a docking station powered by a mains adapter.
Regardless of which robot vacuum cleaner you choose, it's important that it filters exhaust air, particularly for people with allergies. Some of the robot vacuum cleaners in the test have HEPA filters, such as the Roomba and LG machines. HEPA is a certification based on a standard and certification is voluntary for manufacturers. For example, Neato have not HEPA certified their filters, but they still capture particles as small as 0.3 micrometres, such as moulds and allergenic skin flakes from pets. In other words, the same level as an HEPA certified filter.
For the best long-term cleaning results, we recommend that you run the robot vacuum cleaner three or four days a week and sometimes supplement this with normal vacuum cleaning or a microfibre cloth in corners and on skirting boards. Keeping your floor clean has never been easier.
We carry out our tests ourselves and test all products as they are intended to be used in reality. We have retained the robot vacuum cleaners that perform best for long-term tests; some models for more than a year. We continuously add updates to our reviews. In this test we have focused on examining the following parameters:
Function and dust removal ability: How do the robot vacuum cleaners deal with different types of hard floors and carpets? Can they cope with hair and sand as well as they clean up gravel and crumbs? What type of room mapping does the robot use? How effective is the motor, the suction nozzle and the brush?
Navigation and accessibility: How does the robot cope with orienting itself and cleaning around furniture, under furniture and in several different rooms? How kind is it on furniture? Can it cope with climbing over thresholds, deep carpets and other obstacles? How do the manoeuvring algorithms deal with particularly difficult situations where there is a risk that the robot will get stuck; for example tangles of cables?
The robot vacuum cleaners' value for money is based on how well the models fulfill expectations for the above parameters in relation to price. We have also assessed the finish on the robot vacuum cleaner after it has been used for a period, together with access to spare parts – but this has no decisive effect on the final score.
Neato's Botvac D85 robot vacuum cleaner is undoubtedly the model providing the best value for money in the test. Our test example has vacuumed a large detached house several days a week for more than a year and still works as well as it did when it was new. The robot is as easy to use as it is effective at vacuuming. The D-shaped design is functional but doesn't feel particularly luxurious like some other models in this price class. But apart from the outside, there's not much to complain about. Essentially, it's like Neato's simpler models, but everything about the Botvac D85 is a little better. The brush on the underneath is broader, the dust container is more spacious and the filter is bigger. In addition, the Botvac D85 has a small but excellent side spinning brush, for cleaning along skirting boards and furniture. The Botvac D85 is noisier than many other robot vacuum cleaners, but we prefer efficient suction over quieter operation. You don't need any prior knowledge to start the Botvac D85. This can be done intuitively by the user regardless of age. One press of the button to turn it on, and another to start cleaning. The Botvac D85 handles the rest, and quite brilliantly too. Simple and productive.
The vacuum cleaner mapped the room with a rapidly rotating and invisible laser in a small tower (which also slightly increases the height of the vacuum cleaner). The room is divided into zones which are treated one by one in a systematic pattern of straight lines before the Botvac D85 continues onto the next room. If the robot has to break off to charge its battery, it remembers where it stopped vacuuming and starts again in the same place when it has recharged. The robot vacuum cleaner navigates carefully around furniture and obstacles but is at the same time mercilessly effective on dust, gravel, long strands of hair and pet fur, both on hard floors and thick carpets. This makes it excellent for homes with pets or for people with allergies. The Botvac D85 always works counterclockwise, because the right-hand corner is the point on the vacuum cleaner where the suction is closest to the edge and where the side spinning brush is located. Simplicity and robustness in combination with careful cleaning makes it easy for us to name the Neato Botvac D85 as best in test.
The LG HomBot Square is a persistent and effective robot vacuum cleaner. It's also extremely communicative and talks happily about itself in the third person when particular events occur. For example, it proudly declares in an excited voice and with a little tune when it's finished. This is fun and gives the robot a bit more character. The design is stylish with a glossy top surface and discreet buttons. There's an intelligent button lock to use if your family contains children with inquisitive fingers. The LG HomBot is an unusually quiet robot vacuum cleaner, and neither the vacuuming nor the wheels make much noise. The HomBot rarely runs into table legs, but ours developed a number of scratches, as it was low enough to just fit under – and scrape against – a radiator. It hits some objects relatively hard, for example causing a floorstanding mirror to almost topple over. It divides the room into zones using a ceiling camera and side sensors, and this results in careful cleaning where we rarely noted any areas that it had missed. The HomBot was actually the only model in the test that every time dared to enter a long, narrow passage in one of our test rooms. Overall this is a zealous robot vacuum cleaner that goes into high gear on thick carpets to really remove crumbs, hair and dust particles.
The LG HomBot doesn't have any problems finding its way home, returning obediently to the charging station after every session. The charging time is relatively long compared with its competitors. It copes with thick carpets well and can escape from individual electric cables efficiently. Inside the HomBot is a small brush to facilitate cleaning the robot vacuum cleaner, although you’ll need to use scissors to remove long hairs that easily get stuck in the brushes on the underside. We found the LG HomBot to be a reliable companion for everyday cleaning – the job it’s intended for – and thanks to the low noise level you can also have it running while you're at home yourself. The cleaning process is structured, the machine copes well with corners due to its side spinning brushes, and if it wasn't for the relatively high price the LG HomBot would have had an even better position in the test.
The Dyson 360 is a breath of fresh air in the quickly growing market for robot vacuum cleaners. The design is eye-catching with its characteristic caterpillar tracks and high-gloss finish. Even the docking station is attractive. The idea with the robot's compact footprint is that it should be able to navigate unhindered between table legs and through narrow passages. On the other hand, the Dyson 360 is taller than many similar vacuum cleaners so it doesn't fit under low furniture. It just squeezes underneath the lowest stair of a normal staircase. On the top of the chassis is a small plastic dome with a camera that gives the robot a 360° panorama view. The robot navigates systematically around the room in a concentric pattern divided into several smaller zones, in roughly the same way that you use a floor mop but with 90° turns. This means that it turns quite often. In fact it actually turns so often that turning takes up a lot of its cleaning time. This has a direct impact on the battery life and so the robot has to recharge relatively often.
You can start, stop and program the robot via an attractive smartphone app. A detailed map of the route covered is shown when the vacuuming is finished. This works well, but we'd rather have seen the app telling us if the robot got stuck. The noise level is relatively high as the motor is without doubt one of the strongest we tested. Even the filter is impressive and doesn't need to be cleaned very often. However a lot of hair gets stuck in the brushes and the dust container is small and has to be emptied quite regularly. The cleaning result is very good on hard floors, but on carpets with coarser structures the brushes don't pick up crumbs that other robot vacuum cleaners in the test can cope with. Missed areas are particularly common around table and chair legs as the robot doesn't run around close to them but passes in a half circle. There are also sometimes narrow missed gaps on the floor as the overlapping navigation isn't always 100%. The caterpillar tracks are undoubtedly powerful and force the robot vacuum cleaner up onto long pile carpets. However, it can’t cope with normal bevelled thresholds. The hardware in the Dyson 360 has great potential, but currently the high price in relation to its performance isn't really justified. With an updated, more intelligent cleaning algorithm and better brushes, the Dyson 360 might be able to wipe the floor with its competitors – but that's simply not the case yet.
In terms of function, the iRobot Roomba 772 is a slimmed down version of the top of the range Roomba 880 model. Both robot vacuum cleaners are based on the same platform and the undersides look identical except for the brushes. Where the Roomba 880 has two rubber rollers rotating towards each other and overlapping, the 772 has a brush with synthetic nylon bristles and a rubber scraper. These also rotate toward each other, but don't overlap. Other differences are the motor technology, the battery capacity and the type of filter, as the 772 has a HEPA style filter instead of an E11 class HEPA filter. The sides have a rubberised shock absorber which keeps the robot scratch-free while simultaneously avoiding impact marks on walls and furniture. Operating the Roomba 772 is simple; after the machine has been switched on you can press the cleaning button or program it for regular vacuuming according to a weekly schedule. An infrared room divider is included. This is very useful for protecting your pets' food dishes or in the children's rooms so that the robot doesn't vacuum areas with Lego and other toys.
The robot moves quickly and works energetically and a side spinning brush on the right helps it clean along skirting boards. The sensors for reading the room are also good and cope well with staircases and where furniture is located, and the robot vacuum cleaner is careful when working around these. The Roomba 772 is intelligent, but not quite as intelligent as the Roomba 880. Nor is its dust removal ability quite as good. This means that the Roomba 772 takes longer to vacuum the same area. In households with several rooms, you need to use the included "virtual wall" unit to achieve the best results, as the Roomba 772 vacuums one room at a time. The wheels sometimes have difficulties rolling up onto very thick carpets such as long-pile rugs. Because the robot works for a very long time, it usually copes with these surfaces in the end after a number of attempts, but not always. One very positive feature is that the brushes require very little maintenance. Overall, the Roomba 772 made a good impression on us, but in comparison with the Roomba 880 it comes up a little short.
Miele's Scout RX1 is one of the market's most popular robot vacuum cleaners and aesthetically one of the few models in the test that could double as a piece of interior decor. The top is shiny with an attractive finish and a rubberised edge means that it avoids scratches – both on the Scout RX1 and on furniture and skirting boards in your home. The ceiling camera, seven infrared side sensors and three additional sensors help the robot orient itself in the room. It zigzags over long stretches and then turns when it runs into a bigger obstacle. After a minor collision it runs in a half circle around chair and table legs before continuing on the other side. This strategy mostly works quite well, but sometimes the vacuum cleaner gets stuck in a pattern, particularly in bigger rooms. For example, it can run a large number of times between a chair leg and a floor lamp. The unusually low profile means that the Miele Scout RX1 can fit under the majority of sofas and it's also one of the better models in the test at climbing over high thresholds. Cleaning is carried out with two side spinning brushes together with a broad brush underneath which requires regular maintenance as a lot of hair gets stuck in it.
The Scout RX1 is robustly constructed while also being the lightest vacuum cleaner in the test at barely 3 kg; an advantage for those who want to alternate between vacuuming the ground and first floor in their homes. However, there is no carrying handle and some of the Scout RX1's technical functions are troublesome. For example, you need the manual to interpret error codes and you need the remote control to wake it up from an error or to program it. We’d have preferred to see a clear, intuitive display or for the robot to be controllable from a smartphone, as you don't always have the remote control to hand in a large house. Another major problem is that the battery rapidly discharges completely if you don't turn off the robot manually when it isn't in the charger. On hard floors like parquet, laminate and tiles, the Scout RX1 vacuums well, but on dense Persian rugs and long-pile carpets it struggles and the result is variable. The Miele Scout RX1 is low in height and weight, making it easy to handle and enabling it to easily get under sofas and other low furniture. This, together with perhaps the most attractive design in the test, constitutes the robot vacuum cleaner's strongest side.