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You’ve probably seen them by now, in plenty of shapes, colors, and sizes: robotic vacuums! They’re usually easy to identify, with a recognizably flat or puck-like body that stands out among traditional upright vacuums. Some of the earliest models were sweeping the sales floors with brand names like Roomba and, while it’s been a few years, it seems like these little dust busters are here to stay.

Part of the rise in popularity of robot vacuums points to the boom in smarthome technology. The ability to digitize and control more and more of your household amenities with the click of a button is not just convenient, it’s alluring. In a way, it calls to a not so distant past where people were speculating about what the “House of the Future” would be like. But is the robot vacuum trend really something worth investing in, or is it just that–a trend? Before you dream about tossing your Hoover curbside for its cutesy counterpart, let’s take a look at how the robot vacuums of today measure up.

What They Do Best

Better All the Time

Since the introduction of the first novelty robotic vacuum model as early as 1996, robotic vacuums have seen a lot of growth–and a lot of trial and error. People who could afford those initial models will recall issues with sensors that would cause their robovacs to hurl themselves down stairs or stop too far away from walls and other obstacles. Fortunately, manufacturers have learned from user feedback and the functionality of these past machines. Many robot vacuums now have great design perks like edging for better corner sweeps, more advanced docking stations, and better sensors to prevent tumbles.

Convenient Features

Improved features mean that users can, for the most part, turn their robotic vacuums on and just let them do their thing. They’ll vacuum from room to room, returning to their docking station when they need a charge or to empty their dirt canister, and get back to cleaning. Some higher-end machines even have timers and programmable grid-like systems.

Affordability

With time, the cost of robovacs has also improved, opening up options for households where the price was a limiting factor before. Name brands used to define the market but functional budget models go for as low as $200. While the name brands will still often have better design features and higher-quality performance, more low-cost competitors mean that more people can afford a robot vacuum.

In Good Company

This isn’t so much a house cleaning benefit, but lots of people love their robot vacuums because, well, just because! People get emotionally attached to their robot vacuums like they would pets, projecting personalities onto them, and even putting those pet-like bonds before concerns about mechanical performance.

Humans are funny like that–we love to anthropomorphize or put human characteristics onto lots of things, and science shows it may actually help with feelings of social isolation! Think Tom Hanks in Castaway. You may not start taking your Roomba for walks, but plenty of people name their robovacs, put stickers and decorations on them, or do other things to claim them as part of the family.

Where They Miss the Mark

 Not Totally Automated

Where the expectation may be to set it and forget it, robotic vacuums still need a decent amount of human involvement. Their collection bins are small and even though docking stations may have larger bins they can periodically empty into, they do need to be cleared frequently. Not all robovacs can auto-charge at docking stations, needing to be manually recharged with use. For people who don’t like being tethered by their electronic devices, remembering to charge one more may feel like a chore.

Going Low and Slow

Compared to their up-right counterparts, robot vacuums have low horsepower, missing out on deep-cleaning capabilities. They won’t pick up as much and high-pile carpets and rugs can wear down their batteries faster or stop them altogether. Robovacs are limited in the spaces they can reach, with clutter stopping them in their tracks and one-story homes having the most effective room layouts for robot vacuum coverage. Of course, the recent affordability of robot vacuums means some households buy one for each floor of their house to maximize that efficiency.

Robovacs are also slow and methodical, taking a deliberate and relaxed path that gets more organized the more complex the technology is. So for spills and messes, they aren’t the most efficient picker-uppers. If you discover you’ve laid a line of dirt across the laminate floor after walking a holey trash bag out the back door, it may take your robot vacuum a while to get to it.

How Do They Compare?

Side by side, robot vacuums aren’t a replacement for an upright vacuum. They cost more and have less functionality overall. But that doesn’t count them out completely. In tandem with a stick or traditional vacuum, as well as regular house cleaning services, they can be a great way to supplement your cleaning routine. Robotic vacuums can go where standing vacuums can’t–namely underneath low-clearance furniture–as long as there’s minimal clutter to trap them. They also help to keep up with regular irritants, like dust, pet hair, and all the outside that manages to get tracked inside daily.

 It may seem counter-intuitive to get a robot vacuum if you already have a weekly or bi-monthly house cleaning service, but cutting down on the everyday “light” cleaning may free up some of your house cleaner’s time so they can get some of the more nitty-gritty stuff. That doesn’t mean you should clean before your house cleaner comes, but if they don’t have to focus on cleaning up the dust-bunnies that have gathered in the corners they can get right to the furniture polish on some of your favorite antiques or even start a little sooner on waxing the floors.

If the robot vacuums on the market today aren’t quite what you’re looking for, you could always wait and check again in a year or two. Robovacs have come a long way, but they still have a ways to go with designs and costs improving all the time. While they may never replace the classic vacuum cleaner, they are a trend with some staying power!

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