What It’s Like to Live with a Robot Vacuum

Here's my personal experience with robot vacuum cleaners, detailing my daily and weekly routine and what it’s like having one of these little helpers at home.

In our fast-paced, modern world, technology has seamlessly integrated into every aspect of our lives, making daily tasks more manageable and efficient. Among these advancements, one standout gadget that has revolutionised home maintenance is the robot vacuum cleaner. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live with a robot vacuum, let me share my experiences and insights from the perspective of a busy mum trying to keep a tidy home.

Our First Robot Vacuum

When my first robot vacuum arrived at my doorstep, I was filled with a mix of excitement and curiosity. The sleek, futuristic design and promise of automated cleaning seemed almost too good to be true. Unboxing the device felt like unwrapping a glimpse into the future, complete with a charging dock, a set of brushes, and a user manual that promised easy setup and operation.

This was a simple robot vacuum without a charging station or self-empty station, so it did require more manual work compared to the newer and more advanced models available on the market today. I didn't spend much on this first attempt at automating my floor cleaning, as I didn’t want to commit to spending big just to give it a try. Looking back, this might have been a little mistake.

The Problem with a Cheap Robot Vacuum

If I had to sum up my frustrations with my first attempt at owning a robot vacuum, here they are:

  • Wi-Fi Problems: The robot vacuum didn’t have a good Wi-Fi connection and often disconnected from the network.
  • Not Very Smart: The robot would spend lots of time wandering around the floors, without being effective, looking for the right room or just being plain dumb!
  • Suction Power and General Cleanliness: It did a fair job at sucking up easy dirt, but as soon as it encountered debris that was a little heavier or stickier than dust, it didn't clean effectively.

Long story short, my frustration mounted as I found myself having to manually clean my floors after watching the robot do a less-than-fair job for a couple of hours. Yes, because that’s the other thing, robot vacuums are way slower than humans at doing cleaning tasks. And this is true for any robot, at any price point (it would be scary otherwise).

A New Beginning

I didn’t give up. Still thinking that I could effectively automate my floor cleaning, I went ahead and got another robot vacuum, this time with more bells and whistles.

This one came with a charging and self-empty station, promising less labour involved and less hassle to keep it maintained. The setup took some effort—there’s the mapping, the learning curve, getting used to it, learning all the commands, the app, etc. And then there’s the fact that although it is a smart cleaning device, these things are not as smart as you think, so I needed to exercise some patience and deep breathing.

It got better, though, to the point that I’m now able to start the cleaning program, exit my home, and come back after a few hours to a clean floor while I can monitor the whole process remotely. That is actually really impressive. When the robot vacuum works as intended, the feeling of satisfaction is real.

Must-Have Features in a Robot Vacuum

Here are the features I wouldn't live without now:

  • Mapping: The mapping needs to be accurate and update itself when the floorplan changes (for example, when I move furniture around, or when we removed the baby gate from the kitchen).
  • Self-Empty Station: It cuts down the labour massively. Without the self-empty station, maintaining the robot vacuum would require me to empty the bin very often, which I hate. With the automated station, I only do that once every six months. Amazing.
  • Mopping: I wouldn’t buy a robot vacuum without a mop now that I’ve tried one. Although the mopping isn't as thorough as a human scrubbing the floor, it’s great that, on top of vacuuming, the robot also washes the floor and leaves it fresh. If there’s a spot where the robot can’t mop properly, I just spot-mop myself, which isn’t an issue.

Is a More Expensive Robot Vacuum More Effective and Smart?

Yes, in my experience, but don’t expect miracles even from the most expensive product or brand. These robots have sensors that detect obstacles, walls, and furniture, but they still get stuck sometimes, and you need to manually intervene or figure out the issue. Sometimes the app doesn’t respond as it should, and it needs to be rebooted or troubleshooted. Like every smart object in my home, the frustration sometimes is there.

In terms of suction and cleaning performance, a more robust (and costly) robot vacuum is better. Not worlds better, but better. You can only expect so much from a little battery-operated device—it’s never going to be as good as a barrel corded vacuum cleaner—but there’s a difference between a robot vacuum that costs $1,500 and one that costs $300, trust me.

Weekly cleaning routine

I run my robot vacuum on a full program weekly, usually on the day with the least foot traffic in the house. For example, on Monday mornings, I take the kids to childcare, my husband is out for work, and I’m working from home. After dropping off the children, I prep the house by lifting all chairs, toys, and random items off the floor. I also lift the curtains and make sure the bedsheets aren’t touching the floors in any room. Basically, I ensure that the floors are clear for the vacuum to roam freely and do its job without getting its brushes stuck.

I then start the full cleaning program, which begins in the bedrooms, moves to the bathroom, then the corridor, and finally the living room. The vacuum takes roughly three hours to complete the entire program, including a pause in the middle for recharging. Occasionally, the app will ask me to refill the water tank or notify me that the robot is stuck somewhere, but this hasn’t happened much lately.

Sometimes, I run the vacuum on a weekend day when the whole family is out for a family event or a day trip. I monitor the process on my phone while we’re out (just make sure the water tank is full; otherwise, the robot will stop) and come home to freshly cleaned floors.

The occasional clean

In between full cleanings, I also use the robot to take care of specific rooms as needed. For example, the living room floor gets messy and dirty after just a day or two. I then start the robot and assign it to clean only the living room, which takes roughly an hour. In these instances, I usually avoid the mopping feature and select vacuum only.

What about the other vacuums?

I have to say, with my routine having changed so much since I purchased my latest robot vacuum, the barrel vacuum barely makes an appearance. It's almost always locked in storage, only coming out when I do deep cleaning and need the extra power.

The stick vac, on the other hand, is out on patrol every single day. It takes care of everything the robot can't handle, such as quick and easy passes in messy areas, hand vacuum mode for couches and other surfaces, and generally keeping the place neat on a day-to-day basis when the job needs to get done quickly.

So right now, I would say that vacuum usage in my household is split this way:

  • Robot vacuum: 40%
  • Stick vacuum: 50%
  • Barrel vacuum: 10%

Conclusion: A Welcome Addition to Modern Living

In conclusion, living with a robot vacuum has significantly improved my daily routine. The convenience and efficiency it offers make it a useful addition to any household. Despite a few minor downsides, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. If you're considering getting a robot vacuum, it can certainly make maintaining a clean home much easier.