Robovacs Are Terrible, and a Bad Gift Idea

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Listen to me, no one needs a robovac of any kind. Whether it’s a Roomba, an EcoVac, or a cheap Anker like what I’ve got—they’re nothing more than infant-sized metal-and plastic turds that push small piles of dirt around and scream when they cannot figure out what “rugs” are. They are inefficient, wasteful annoyances that enable laziness and poor cleaning habits.

With the holidays here, you may be tempted to purchase a robovac for someone who you imagine is in need of help cleaning—your overworked mother (who wouldn’t be so overworked if you went home and visited every so often), your messy roommate (the Roomba will not fix your passive aggressive apartment problems), or even yourself ( a regular vacuum).

But I’m here to tell you, each and every model—from the $200 bargain bin finds that probably can’t handle an unusually large Cheeto, to the $400 machine that still manages to get tangled up if you don’t put your chair back just right—is useless.


Look, I get the theoretical appeal of a robovac. It’s the Crockpot of cleaning. Let the machine do the work for you! But whereas the Crockpot presents you a finished product (ideally a hearty chili or tender pork roast) after five hours, a Roomba leaves you with dusty molding and a desire to just put the poor thing out of its misery.

I’ll admit, I was once charmed by the robovac craze, I thought I needed one too. My roommate brought a Anker T2100 home one night and I laughed in delight! “How cute!”“Look at its tiny brushes!” “You’re my new best friend!” I even named it. What a fool I was!


It became quickly apparent that my new “friend” was nothing but a con artist. We set it to “clean” the living room, a simple enough task, and one I can achieve in 15-20 minutes if I’ve had a motivational beer. As I sat down to relax, I could hear it whirring across the Room. Not five minutes later do I hear CLICK CLICK CLACK CLACK CLACK. It was stuck under the coffee table. Still content to help the little guy out until he gathered his bearings, I righted him and set him on his way once again.

(10 minutes later)

CLACKACLACKCLACKCLACKCLACKACKACKACKACK. I quickly found out the robovac does not like rugs with fringe. I reluctantly got up and moved it to the kitchen, hoping it could handle the few square feet of tile. It could not. I watched in anger as it got stuck in the same routine. Bump into a wall, turn to the right, go for a minute, bump into a wall, turn to the right. On and on. Occasionally it’d get lucky and accidentally stumble across a dusty lentil. An hour later my apartment was no cleaner.


And while my Anker doesn’t make the best robovac out there, no matter how well any shitvac knows the ins and outs of my home, it’s still bested by odd corners, steps, any spill with more water content than a soggy Pringle, or the ever-present MacBook charger on my floor.


Perhaps most importantly, you should be aware that your house is not clean just because your floors are slightly less dusty. The purchase of a robovac will lead you to believe your home will be spotless each morning, and ignores the fact that every other surface in your home is dusty and stain-ridden. You’ll be tempted to let your house get dirtier and dirtier with the thought that the robovac will just take care of it. But can it dust in between my venetian blinds? Can it wipe down the caked-on matter ringing the rim of the toilet? Can it scrub my hot sauce-stained countertops? No. Good cleaning habits dictate that you clean from the top to the bottom — moving dirt and dust to the ground as you go. And robovacs are mere bottom-feeders. Don’t let them lull you into a false sense of cleanliness. You can run that thing around your house every damn day and it’ll still be a sty.

Plus, they don’t even clean well! If I drop a globule of masaman curry onto my carpet, there is no scenario in which I’d turn on a Roomba, place it in front of the mess, and say “get to it, old chap.” Twenty minutes later it’d still be dragging streaks of curry across the room!


Say you do spill a box of breadcrumbs (or something this thing is supposed to be good at cleaning). Wouldn’t you rather just grab a broom and sweep it up in an instant instead of watching the bot tepidly scrape 4-inch wide strips for 30 minutes before becoming so embarrassed for the little guy you have to leave the kitchen??

And if I’m not home, I’m not making any mess, so what is there for this thing to do? Wander aimlessly waiting for dead flies to fall? You don’t need to sweep or dust daily so long as you take off your shoes upon entry like any civilized person.


Robovacs are also like $200!!!!! Minimum!! If someone really needs help keeping tidy, that same amount of money will get them a cleaning service for a few months (after which, they should have learned enough to do it themselves).

Don’t encourage this style of 21st-century laziness with frivolous stopgap technology. Clean your home properly, and you’ll be rewarded with feelings of accomplishment, rather than anger at the tiny robot that has one again died beeping in a pathetic heap under the bookshelf.


Welcome to Grinch Week, a series in which we tell you what gifts not to buy this holiday season.