Smart Home

The best robot vacuums of 2019: iRobot Roomba vs. Neato vs. the rest

A home that cleans itself has been a dream for ages. Thanks to today’s robot vacuums though, that fantasy sounds less and less far-fetched. Current robot vacuums are packed with loads of sensors, electronic eyes — even lasers — and they pack enhanced computing power to match. 

Their prices have ballooned, too. A few models will even set you back a staggering four figures. Spending that much is extravagant, but it does net you next-level features. Those include dustbins that empty themselves, multiple room and floor mapping, plus elegantly designed hardware.

To zero in on the best robot vacuum cleaners, I spent over 120 hours torture-testing a group of 10 robot vacuums. Among them are brand-new models that have recently launched, flagship products, as well as compelling options offered across numerous online retailers. I excluded older models that likely won’t be sold for long.

Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site. 

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If someone were to give you a blank check and told you to buy a robot vacuum, this is the machine to get. The iRobot Roomba S9 Plus costs a whopping $1,399. For that staggeringly steep sticker price though, this robot delivers superb dirt removal. 

On hardwood flooring it picked up an average of 93 percent of our test sand, the highest amount in our test group. The Roomba struggled a bit cleaning sand from low-pile carpeting, earning a low average sand pickup of 28 percent. 

That said, the vacuum removed an average 71 percent of sand from our midpile carpet. Again, this is the best result that we saw on this specific test. It also cleaned up more pet hair than any vacuum in this test group, and it navigates and maps multiple rooms and floors. 

The robot zipped through our test room in a short average time of 25 minutes, too. You can link the S9 Plus to the Roomba app and your home Wi-Fi as well. Best of all is the Roomba S9 Plus’ CleanBase dock. It both charges the robot’s battery and empties its dustbin automatically. Now that’s convenient.

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For half the price of the Roomba S9 Plus, the $647 Neato’s Botvac D7 Connected vacuums up messes almost as well. On average it picked up a greater amount of sand (36 percent) across low-pile carpet than the Roomba did. 

It narrowly beat the S9 Plus on hardwood floors, too, collecting an average of 95 percent of the sand we put down. The vacuum cleaned sand from midpile less effectively though, notching a pickup average of 47 percent. 

While it can’t match the Roomba’s prowess at removing pet hair or empty its own dustbin, it navigates more efficiently, yet covers more ground, thanks to built-in lidar laser mapping. You can also control the robot through the Neato app, as well as link it to Alexa and Google Assistant. The app allows you to designate areas of your home as off-limits, too.

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Here’s a machine that proves you don’t need to blow your budget to purchase a solid robot vacuum cleaner. Even though the Robovac 11s Max costs just $219, it cleans floors effectively. That’s especially the case when tackling hardwood floors. 

It managed to remove an average of 71 percent of our test sand from this type of surface. The robot didn’t do as well handling carpets, earning sand pickup averages of 21 and 27 percent on low pile and midpile, respectively. 

And due to this vacuum’s basic navigation system, it took well over an hour to negotiate our test room. Still, the Eufy used its runtime wisely. The vacuum covered the space well, leaving almost no spots untouched.     

How we test robot vacuums

Our method for evaluating robot vacuums is straightforward, yet grueling. There are two types of tests we run. The first trial is to figure out how well a robot covers the floor. We built an industry-standard testing room, as specified by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), just for this purpose. The IEC is an international standards body responsible for managing robot vacuum testing procedures, among other things, for vacuum manufacturers. 

Obstacles in out test room mimic what robot vacuums run into in the real world.


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Inside this room are objects designed to simulate typical obstacles a robot encounters as it cleans. These include table and chair legs, couches, etc., plus floorings of tile, hardwood, and carpet. 

Here’s a coverage photo of the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus as it moved through our test room. You can see it covered the floor well, except for one slight section in the center (left, bottom).


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We mount LED lights to the top of each vacuum. The dimensions of the lights correspond to the measured nozzle width of each particular robot vacuum we test. 

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As robots move through the room, a camera overhead captures a long-exposure image of the entire room in low-light. That photo will then have a light trail, created by the LEDs, that shows exactly where the robot traveled (and its nozzle position) during its runtime. We can also see areas of the floor the vacuum may have missed.

d7-c-use

This is the coverage pattern created by the Neato Botvac D7 Connected. Its movement through our test room was very orderly, logical, and effective.


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You can see the navigation results of all the robot vacuums in our test group in the gallery below.

The second type of test reveals exactly how much physical debris a vacuum is able to pick up off of the floor. To mimic dirt of small particle size, we use a mixture of play-sand and landscaping sand. For bigger particle soil, we use grains of uncooked black rice. Robots then run in a straight line across three types of flooring (low-pile carpet, medium-pile carpet, and hardwood).

We test robot vacuums on three types of floor surfaces.


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We control for the specific nozzle width of each vacuum, too. We constructed an ajustable tool to soil our test floors. It lets us lay down a strip of precise area of soil to match the nozzle dimensions for every robot. The mass of soil isn’t chosen at random either. We measure a proportional amount that’s related to the flooring material, type of debris, plus each vacuum’s nozzle width.

Our custom-built tool lets us match soil area to a robot vacuum’s nozzle width.


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We conduct three runs (at minimum) on each floor type. We also test with sand and rice separately. That comes to at least 18 tests per vacuum. We weigh the robot’s dustbin both before and after each run. From there we can calculate the percent of debris pickup for every run, and the average amount of soil a machine manages to remove. Additionally we run anecdotal (visual) pet hair tests for each robot, on all three floor types. 

We run robot vacuums in a straight line during the debris pickup tests.


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The chart below shows the fine particle cleaning performance data for all of the robot vacuums we tested. It should give you a pretty good idea about their performance on different kinds of flooring. Our rice-based, medium-size particle test didn’t show enough differentiation between units, which says they can all handle larger particles without trouble. For pet hair removal we judged anecdotally.

Percent soil removed

Neato Botvac D7 Connected

Neato Botvac D6 Connected

Neato Botvac D4 Connected

Legend:

Sand from low-pile

Sand from hardwood

Sand from medium-pile

Note:

Results listed are the average percent of total material removed from test surface

Want more robot vacuum options? Here’s a list of the other robot vacuums we tested besides the models listed above.

iRobot Roomba i7 Plus

Neato Botvac D6 Connected

Neato Botvac D4 Connected

Electrolux Pure i9

Ecovacs Deebot OZMO 950

Ecovacs Deebot 600

Ecovacs Deebot 500

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