Robotic vacuum cleaners are hands-free, battery-powered gadgets that seek out and suck up dirt, debris and dust from carpeting and hard floors. Some even have damp-mopping capabilities. While robotic vacuums can't (yet) replace a dedicated upright vacuum, they are a great choice for light, daily cleanings and are especially popular with pet owners, allergy sufferers, those with very busy households, or just picky people who want the feeling of a clean house every time they walk in the door.
It's no contest when it comes to the best robotic vacuums -- iRobot rules the roost -- and the best of the best of these is the iRobot Roomba 880 (Est. $700). It's the latest in the Roomba lineup, replacing the equally well-reviewed Roomba 790 (Est. $520). The 790 was still widely available at the time this report was updated, but expect supplies to diminish as it sells out.
But on to the 880: It earns high praise from experts and owners across the board for it superior performance on carpet -- an area where most robotic vacuums fare poorly. This new, improved Roomba features AeroForce technology, a brushless system that extracts dirt with a powerful suction system that also keeps it from becoming clogged -- as brushrolls are wont to do -- with carpet strings or long hair from humans or pets. It also needs to be cleaned less frequently than traditional, brushroll-designed robotic vacuums -- a chore that squeamish users are glad to leave behind them. It works equally well on hardwood floors, picking up even chunkier pieces of debris that have always proved challenging for robotic vacuum cleaners.
Best of all, the Roomba 880 is fully automated and programmable. Just set it up and, mostly, forget it. We say mostly because, inevitably, it will run into obstacles that it can't get around and you may need to free it. However, according to users, this is mostly an issue in multi-room homes or homes that tend to have a lot of furnishings or clutter. In general, it's reported as intuitive enough to figure out its way around just about anything. This latest version includes a larger capacity dustbin that before, but many users say it still seems small and needs to be emptied frequently, especially if you use it every day as many say they do.
When it's done cleaning, the Roomba returns to its dock, and an indicator light flashes amber when it's charging, glowing solid green when it's charged. Although user love its programmable features, the Roomba can also be used for in-person cleaning with the included remote. It also has a new feature that many praise, a spot clean feature: just set it down near an area with a lot of debris -- say, you spilled bunch of salt or flour or oats -- and choose the Spot option and it will rotate out in a 3-foot radius to clean up the mess.
While the Roomba is the top choice in iRobot's line, its less-expensive siblings get equally high praise from both expert and owner reviewers, so if the 880 is a bit too rich for your wallet, we would recommend that you strongly consider any Roomba in the 600 or 700 series
If you want a robot to mop, rather than just vacuum or sweep, your floor for you, once again we recommend an iRobot product, the iRobot Braava (Est. $255). It can't handle heavy, greasy spills -- you'll still need a floor mop for that -- but if you have a lot of tile, hardwood or laminate floors, and struggle to keep up with mopping, this little robot will be a work saver and a time saver. While the Braava 380t gets mostly middling reviews for its performance as a vacuum -- owners say the dry cloths merely push the debris around -- it gets a lot of love as a wet mop. Those with high traffic households say they can give their floors a good cleaning once a week and this little robot keeps them looking fine until the next cleaning day. Parents of crawling children love the peace of mind that it gives them knowing their floor is always being cleaned of even the smallest bits of debris.
The Braava is reported as reliable and very easy to use. It doesn't have a plethora of features, just two buttons for "sweep" or "mop," but users love its minimalist vibe, saying that just keeps things simple. We did read some complaints that the liquid dispenser is rather small and has to be refilled frequently, especially if you use the Braava every day, but other than that, owners are extremely pleased with this mopping robot.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Vacuums: Whether you prefer bagless, bagged or robotic, there is a vacuum that will fit your cleaning style and budget. These are the top vacuum cleaners for a variety of cleaning tasks.
Best Bagless Vacuums: Many people love bagless vacuums for their convenience and ease of use. These are the top bagless vacuums for any size home or budget.
Best Bagged Vacuums: Vacuum cleaners with replaceable bags are still the most popular type of vacuum. These bagging vacuum cleaners recommended by experts and users.
Buying Guide: There are thousands of options when it comes to vacuum cleaners. Our buying guide will help direct you in choosing the vacuum you need for your cleaning tasks.
Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to determine the best vacuum cleaners. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.