Do Mopping Robots Really Work?
We put them to the test!
This year for Christmas I decided to buy myself a mopping robot. I have three cats and a fairly large kitchen/dining room space that I have to mop nearly every day, which is time-consuming. After reading an article about how buying yourself time can be a key to happiness, I decided that I'd try to replace my half-hour or so of daily mopping with a bot. Especially since finding a new excuse to buy a new cleaning (or kitchen) gadget is what really makes me happy.
Here's the problem I had: When I went to research mopping robots, I found that there are very few expert reviews or tests -- I only found one from 2014 -- and they tend to get pretty poor user reviews, regardless of price. In fact, all else being equal, the lower-priced ones tend to get better owner reviews simply because people aren't as disappointed when they spend less and have problems as they are when they spend more.
The main complaints people seem to have about these mopping robots are as follows, in the order in which I saw the most complaints:
1. Doesn't navigate very well in larger spaces. Unlike robotic vacuums, these have no "logic" built in to help them navigate. They merely go back and forth in a space, hopefully not missing any spots. The Braava mopping robot by iRobot does include a Navigation Cube so you can direct it to some extent.
2. Battery doesn't last very long. I read a LOT of durability/battery complaints about these mopping robots, some that broke down within a few months or after just a year. And yet, just as many people don't seem to have that issue, so this is an area in which you just have to take your chances and hope customer service steps up if you do have an early breakdown.
3. Doesn't clean well. Those who use mopping robots for touch-ups in between sessions with their regular mop -- as I intend to do -- seem to be much happier with how it performs. I certainly don't expect it to scrub my floor to a sheen, just to help me keep the paw tracks and pet dander under control without me having to haul out the mop every day.
So, having addressed the reasons for the poor ratings, here are the mopping robots I considered, along with the reasons why I did or did not pick them:
1. Deik Robot Vacuum with Smart Mopping (Est. $200). This is a combination robotic vacuum and mopping robot. It was the first one I looked at because it has the highest rating on Amazon, 4.2 stars overall, and is a pretty good price I (usually on sale for less than $200). However, the second I dug into the reviews my Spidey senses started tingling -- I've been doing this job long enough that I can spot fake reviews from a mile away. I ran the link through Fake Spot and found that I was right -- it got an "F" there. So, basically, you can't trust anything you read about this robot. Next!
2. iRobot Braava 380t (Est $300). I went into this whole enterprise leaning toward an iRobot simply because I have an older Roomba and am really impressed with how well it (still) works. However, since mopping robots are still in their infancy, technology-wise, and this pricier robot was plagued by the same complaints as cheaper ones -- ultimately earning just a 3.9-star rating -- I decided to move on, which I later came to regret.
3. iLife V5s Pro (Est. $190). I initially settled on this one -- it had a 4.1 star rating in more than 1,000 reviews, which is pretty impressive, and it got an "A" rating at Fake Spot, so I know the reviews are as legit as they appeared. I was more comfortable with this price level, too, over the Roomba. It's also a combination robotic vacuum and mopping robot. I already have a Roomba, so figured that would be just a bonus, a backup robot for my old Roomba.
UNBOXING ROBOT #1
I was a bit leery as soon as I opened the box of the iLife V5s Pro. It was huge, larger even than my current Roomba. I wasn't thrilled at the idea of having to have a second robot that big plugged in around the house. It also seemed extremely flimsy. It has this odd design where the top pops up to access the dirt canister and that top piece is very thin and was not easy to close without putting more pressure on it than it seemed like it could handle.
It came with a full complement of brushes and replacement brushes for use as a vacuum, however, it was immediately obvious that the mopping function seemed to be an afterthought -- there was one brief page about it that was so poorly translated that I had to figure it out by looking at the pictures. Still, I plugged it in, let it charge, and followed the confusing instructions to get it ready to mop. It was a messy, not very user-friendly process.
WAIT! I DIDN'T WANT A ROBOTIC CARPET CLEANER!
Once I got the iLife charged and assembled and set it to work the "mopping" was an absolute disaster. The darn thing could not tell the difference between hard floors or carpet and rugs to save its life. It kept trying to "mop" my living room carpet. There are no virtual walls or other ways to guide it, and because I have an open floor plan, there aren't enough barriers in the world to keep it off the carpeting. I'd have to lay in sandbags.
The iLife also had absolutely no type of mopping pattern, it just bumbled around aimlessly, missing entire sections of the floor and redoing the same spots over and over. I had to watch it like a hawk to be sure it stayed on the floor -- so much for hands off convenience. And it did a terrible job of mopping. No matter how I set the pad, there was a big dry space in the middle of the swath and at the frustrating and exhausting end of its cycle the pad was barely dirty.
This item might work great as a robotic vacuum, but I didn't want it for that. I re-boxed it, Amazon sent me a free return label and back it went.
But I was not going to give up so easily. I decided to spring for the iRobot Braava 380t (thanks for the Christmas money, dad!), in spite of its uninspiring ratings, and see if my Christmas dreams would come true. The Braava is the only one of these three that is NOT a combination vacuum and mopper, it's a dry sweeper and wet mopper only and is intended only for use on hard floors.
UNBOXING ROBOT #2
Unlike the iLIfe, the iRobot Braava 380t comes only with the items you need to either dust or mop your hard floors: the robot mopper itself, a turbo charging base, the GPS cube, two pad holders (one wet, one dry), and two pads. As I started to read the instructions, my heart sunk a bit because they seemed very complex. However, once I read through them I realized that this was actually a pretty straightforward process, most of the "complexity" was merely an explanation of how the GPS cube works -- which is important to understand for the best results.
What I loved right off the bat is that the Braava 380t is tiny. It not only has a very small footprint, it stands up when charging, taking up almost no floor space. I was able to tuck it away behind a quilt I have on a rack so you don't even know it's there. You can use the turbo charging base or just plug it in with the cord. The turbo charging base both speeds up charging and extends run life.
As soon as I got the hang of it, the Braava proved to be extremely easy to use. The pads and pad holders are attached to the robot using a combination of Velcro and magnets, they just pop right on and off. It's navigational system is a small GPS cube that you set on a counter in the area where you want the Braava to mop. It uses signals bounced off the ceiling to help it determine where it's been and where it's going and will clean an area up to 350 square feet; you can buy additional cubes for larger spaces or use it without the cube (which I have not done).
YOU ARE THE DROID I'M LOOKING FOR
But it's in performance where the Braava really shines. It never leaves the hardwood floors, navigating around even thinner rugs and my cats' food mats and it does a great job. The first time I used it I had just mopped the day before and was shocked at how much grime was on the mopping pad. It's also whisper-quiet, unlike my very noisy Roomba.
There are a couple of caveats, however. In my case, I have a weirdly shaped open floor plan that includes a kitchen, dining room and short hallway that leads to the bedrooms. In the midst of all that is a large, curved kitchen counter, not to mention stools, chairs and a table. It takes the Braava a while to get through all that and finish the job, maybe a couple of hours. The good news is that I don't care...;I just set it to run and go to work. It's faster in smaller, square or rectangular spaces without a lot of obstacles, and will do a bathroom in 10 minutes or less.
The other issue is that it can't navigate that short hall at all -- it simply doesn't recognize that it's there. I think with some experimentation with the cube I can figure it out, but, to be honest, it's not really that big of a deal. Unlike my dining room and kitchen floors, the hall doesn't have the foot (and paw) traffic that makes it necessary to mop every day.
The Braava also works well at sweeping. One of the first days I had it I realized I hadn't plugged in my Dyson V6 ($255) and it wasn't charged. I had company so didn't have time to get out the big vacuum (I don't use my robotic vacuum in my kitchen/dining room because it's too much trouble to guide it to stay in that odd-shaped space). Instead, I put the dusting cloth on the Braava and set it to sweeping mode and left for some sightseeing. When I got back home it was done and, again, I was shocked at the amount of dust and cat hair it picked up, since I had just vacuumed the day before. Also, my guest fell in love with it and she bought herself one as soon as she got back home.
Yes, the iRobot Braava 380t is a bit pricey, but I also figure that, over time, I'll save that money on the pads and liquid I have to continually purchase for my Swiffer WetJet ($25), which hasn't seen much action since Martha Mopper came on the scene since she does as good or better of a job. And yes, I named her. Anyone who works that hard deserves to be officially welcomed into the family.
RE-EVALUATING THE REVIEWS
As for those fairly "meh" reviews, after having such a great experience with my iRobot Braava 380t I went back and dug into them a little deeper. Most of the low ratings are for Braava's that failed after a few months, something I obviously can't comment on specifically; however, when my Roomba seized up after a couple of months when it was new, iRobot sent me a replacement with nary a question asked (and it's still going strong two years later), so I'm not worried.
Most of the other negative reviews were from people who simply don't have realistic expectations for this mopping robot; many are upset that it doesn't "scrub" their floor. But that's not what the Braava is intended to do, rather, it's for touchups between scrubbings. For me, it's exactly what I needed to keep my floors dust, dander and pet hair free in-between weekly deep moppings. Last, but not least, because I use it every day and the Microfiber Pads ($20) get too dirty to use more than once, I bought a few extras so I don't have to do laundry as often.