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How to clean your Roomba’s bin, filter and brushes

Ideally you should empty your robot vacuum’s dustbin after every cleaning session.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Robot vacuums are incredibly convenient time-savers. They sweep your floors for you. They can toil away when you’re not around, or when you’d rather just lounge on the couch. Unfortunately, they aren’t entirely self-sufficient. Without regular maintenance, your vacuum won’t tackle its chores as well as it should. Worse, it could stop running altogether.

That’s because battling grime always takes a toll, even on relentlessly automatic robot cleaners. No matter how efficiently it navigates, or its level of sophistication, any robot vacuum will require periodic servicing. From clearing its wheels and brushes of debris, to cleaning its sensors and filters, this guide lays out everything you need to keep your robot vacuum in tip-top shape. And if you’re looking for a new machine, we just reviewed the top robot vacuums for 2019. (Spoiler: The iRobot Roomba S9 Plus came out the winner.)

Some robot vacuum models, like the Roomba S9 Plus shown here, have center-mounted dustbins that are a breeze to remove.

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1. Empty and clean the dustbin often

Most robot vacuum makers say you should empty their robots’ dustbins after each cleaning session. Both iRobot and Neato suggest this for their Roomba and Botvac models. iRobot even tells you to rinse robot bins with warm water, then to let it air dry.

Start by removing your robot’s dustbin from its body. Usually the bin attaches to a receptacle located in the back half of the machine. To remove, depress the release tab and pull the bin backwards (towards you). In most cases you’ll have to undock the robot from its charging station to do this. 

Don’t forget to clean the air filter. It’s usually tucked away inside the dustbin.

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Some newer models have dustbins that are center-mounted. You can pull them directly out of the top of the vacuum, without disturbing the robot in its charging dock. 

For example, the Ecovacs Deebot 950, iRobot Roomba S9 Plus, Electrolux Pure i9 ($661 at Amazon) and Neato Botvacs (D4, D6, D7) are all equipped with this style of dustbin.

The Roomba S9 Plus and Roomba i7 Plus take dustbin maintenance to the next level. These models come with a CleanBase dock that automatically vacuums out their dustbins. Dirt then ends up in a disposable bag big enough to hold 30 bin-fulls of debris. It’s also a snap to remove and toss into the trash.

Often the easiest way to clean your robot vacuum’s air filter is by hand. Just remember not to get it wet.

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2. Flush out the filter

Tucked inside your robot’s dustbin is an air filter. It’s designed to trap fine dust particles inside the bin as air flows through the vacuum. Over time these filters will become clogged with lint, hair and other physical debris. It’s a good idea to inspect the filter each time you empty the bin. 

You can pull away dust clogging the filter by hand. A better method is to clear the filter by using a handheld vacuum. This way you won’t let dust escape into the air or back onto the floor. Don’t wash air filters though with water. 

Remove the main brush to get rid of trapped hair, string and dirt.

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They’re typically not designed to come into contact with liquid of any kind. For instance, Roomba and Neato Botvac air filters must stay dry. 

Neato also bundles a special tool with its Botvac vacuums. Use it to comb through the air filter, and knock away any stubborn dust, lint or hair fibers trapped inside. If you’re not clear about how to handle the filter in your particular robot vacuum model, check the manual first for instructions. 

Robot vacuum maker Neato bundles a special cleaning tool with its products.

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3. Clear the brushes and wheels

On any robot vacuum, the first surfaces to come into contact with floor-borne dirt are its wheels and brushes. Dust and debris builds up around them as they rotate. Items such as string and hair are particularly challenging to these spinning parts. Remove them regularly to check if any of the troublesome objects have become wrapped around your robot’s brushes and wheels.

If your vacuum came with a cleaning tool in the box, use it to make quick work of any coiled strands you find. Don’t be afraid to dive in and dig out debris with your fingers too. I often find the best tools for the job are your bare hands.

Wipe away any dust that might be confusing the robot’s cliff and other sensors.

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4. Wipe the sensors

Dirt and dust can also confuse a robot’s array of sensors. Whether your vacuum uses lidar, an optical system or basic navigation hardware, it won’t run properly if it can’t see or sense its surroundings. 

Use a cotton swab, magic eraser or damp microfiber cloth to wipe the sensors free of grime. Specific points to target include cliff sensors (on the bottom of the robot), optical sensor lenses and laser turrets (both on a robot’s top). 

The metal contacts robot vacuums use to draw power from their charging docks can also become dirty. Clean them periodically with a soft cloth.

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5. Spruce up the contacts

Does your vacuum often fail to charge when it’s in its dock? If that’s the case, dirty electrical contacts could be the problem. Avoid this situation by cleaning these metal surfaces, both on the robot and its dock. Again, a slightly damp magic eraser or microfiber cloth will do the trick.

So you now should have a robot vacuum that’s clean as a whistle and fit as a fiddle. And as long as you don’t neglect your machine, it should serve you faithfully for years to come.  

Check the metal contacts on the charging dock too. Give them a quick wipe to ensure they’re clean and will function properly.

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