We ran more than 30 cleaning cycles over two months with four robot vacuums, and used them for several months since initial testing to find the best one. Whether you prioritize all-around thoroughness, superior pet-hair and large-area performance, or want the latest in smartphone-controllable robot vacs, we have you covered.
This post was done in partnership with Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. This is a condensed version of The Best Robot Vacuum; watch a Roomba POV video and read the full robot vacuum review here.
You don’t need a robot vacuum, and getting one won’t replace vacuuming entirely. But if you want one to increase the length of time between deeper cleanings, then hell yeah, get one. A robot can do a great job keeping your floors tidy with very little effort on your part.
To figure out the best to test, we interviewed representatives from iRobot and Neato and read a couple dozen reviews based on lab tests from performance-testing powerhouses like CNET, Consumer Reports, and Reviewed.com. While these reviewers do a great job of evaluating raw cleaning ability, after a couple of years of covering robots, our take is that smart navigation is much more important than cleaning performance. The basic cleaning abilities of most good robot vacs are similar to one another, and they’re on par with the best cordless vacs. Here’s why navigation is key: If you schedule your bot to clean while you’re at work and it gets stuck under the couch 10 minutes into the cleaning cycle, it will sit there all day waiting for you to come rescue it, and your floors will still be dirty when you get home. Defeats the purpose of having an automatic cleaner, no?
After going over other reviewers’ results and cross-referencing them with user reviews, we ran the four top-rated contenders through our tester’s 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment (that has short-knit carpet and various area rugs) over the course of two months. This way we got a feel for what it’s like to actually live with each of the robots and how prone they are to getting stuck without human intervention.
Nimble and effective: The best pick for most homes
iRobot Roomba 650
The iRobot Roomba 650 is the smart-money pick for most people who want a robot vacuum cleaner. It’s consistently effective in almost any home while other bots tend to work great in some scenarios but fall short in others. We found that the Roomba 650 is more likely to finish its cleaning cycles on its own without getting stuck or tangled and having to wait for a human to come to the rescue. The nature of its navigation system leads it into tight areas that other bots won’t go near, so it tends to collect more crumbs, pet hair, and other debris overall. Compared with its rivals, it’s quieter and less expensive upfront. Furthermore, widely available replacement parts make it cheaper and easier to maintain and repair.
The Roomba 650’s freewheeling navigation system might look aimless, but it covers a lot of ground during a cleaning cycle and does a great job of escaping or avoiding hazards.
The Roomba 650’s crowning feature is its tenacious navigation system. It might look kind of aimless as it drives headlong into walls, furniture, and other fixtures seemingly at random, but this is by design. This approach gives Roombas better obstacle avoidance compared to the more organized approach used by robot vacuums made by its competitor, Neato. And it can actually get floors cleaner because it ends up passing over many spots multiple times.
A longer battery life and a faster cleaning pace also give the Roomba 650 a competitive edge in many homes. It runs for 80 to 90 minutes per cycle, whereas the Neato Botvac D80 squeezes out about 60 minutes and also moves at about half the speed of the Roomba while it’s turning or cleaning the edges of a room. (It moves about as fast as the Roomba in straightaways.) Depending on the size of the space you’re cleaning, the Roomba can make two or even three passes over most of the floor, while the Neato D80 is designed to make only one pass.
Straight edge: The best pick for plush carpets and pet hair
In some homes, for some people, the Neato D80 will be a better robot than any Roomba model, including the 650. If you have a very big house, wall-to-wall plush carpet, or lots of pets, consider the Neato D80. It also looks smarter than the Roomba 650 because it takes an ordered approach to cleaning. Life can be chaotic, so if a robot that drives in straight lines will help bring you a small sense of order or peace or whatever, go with the Neato D80.
One advantage of the Neato D80 is that it picks up more pet hair from carpets than the Roomba 650, especially using the bristled combo brush (rather than the rubber-flap blade brush). In CNET’s tests, the Neato D85 (which is functionally identical to the D80) had a huge advantage with pet hair over the Roomba 880 on both short- and medium-pile carpet. We’ve also read several user reviews by people who have lots of carpeting and have owned both a Roomba and a Neato, and they swear that the Neato picks up more debris.
However, the Neato will get stuck more often than the Roomba. In one of our test sessions, it drove under a futon and just gave up when it couldn’t figure out how to get back out the same way it came in. It also tangles on cables more frequently and is more timid about getting close to obstacles. Representatives from Neato told us that the Botvac D series leaves a few millimeters around objects like walls and furniture—this avoids obstacles, but also leaves parts of the floor uncleaned. Furthermore, since the D80 also makes fewer passes over any given spot, it tends to pick up a bit less debris per session than the Roomba 650 in our experience.
Welcome to the future: the best pick for app control
Neato Botvac Connected
If app connectivity is a must-have for you, then we think the Neato Botvac Connected is a slightly better choice than the iRobot Roomba 980 because it costs less and has fewer navigational glitches. Since it’s basically a fancier D80, what we wrote above applies again here (both strengths and weaknesses), although the Connected seems more willing to drive into crowded areas and less prone to panicking. Yes, the Connected costs hundreds more than the next-cheapest Neato model, but at $700 at the time of this writing, it’s a few hundred bucks cheaper than its Roomba rival.
The Neato app isn’t flashy, but it works for scheduling and on-demand cleaning if you’re away from home. You can also manually control the bot through the app like an RC car, though you have to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the bot (so no ghost-riding while you’re out of the house). Unfortunately, the app can’t rescue your bot mid-cleaning if it gets stuck.
We’d also like it if Neato copied the Roomba app’s richer help and how-to sections, extra cleaning settings, and upkeep reminders. But overall, it’s a nice start and Neato can always update down the road. Is this worth an extra $300 to $400 compared to our all-around pick? Probably not, but it is nifty.
These picks may have been updated. To see the current recommendations, please read Sweethome’s guides.