Being the gadget freak that I am, my wife surprised me earlier this year and bought me an iRobot Roomba automatic vacuum cleaner. I had of course seen all of the various infomercials for this product in the past, but never gave it a second thought to purchase one of these vacuums because I wasn’t so sure it could actually clean as well as they showed. And at a price of just over $300, I didn’t want to risk spending that much money on a gadget that I was pretty sure wouldn’t be useful for anything much more than showing off to friendswhen they stopped by to visit. But since my wife bought it for me, I was happy to now own it and looked forward to seeing what all the “hype” about it was.
Ok, let’s get started with my iRobot Roomba Review:
The model package that my wife bought for me was the iRobot Roomba 500 series Vacuum Cleaning Robot. It consisted of an iRobot Roomba device, a self-charging “Home Base”, and a single “Virtual Wall”.
Basically, the way the Roomba works is it rolls along in a somewhat random pattern in each room and vacuums up any dirt in its path. As the Roomba “bumps” into different items, such as walls, appliances, chair legs, pets, etc., it then changes directions. Because of the randomness of the path that the Roomba travels, an average sized room (10′ x 12′) takes approximately 30-40 minutes to fully clean.
The way it only cleans one room at a time is by the use of a “Virtual Wall”. The virtual wall is a small device that sends out an infrared beam from itself to another location…in my case, it’s usually a wall. The infrared beam that is sent out blocks the Roomba from passing through the beam, thus acting as a wall. I can adjust how far out the beam is sent from a choice of 3 ranges which are 0-3 feet, 4-7 feet, and 8+ feet.
I have found that most of the time, the beam does a good job of preventing the Roomba from passing. There have, however, been some instances of the Roomba completely passing through the beam. This usually doesn’t cause a problem for me because I prefer to run the Roomba when I’m home and usually notice it has crossed the beam right away and can intervene. For those who run the Roomba while they are away from the home, I’d recommend they have certain safeguards in place to prevent the Roomba from traveling to areas you’d prefer it not go to. I have found that lining up a row of shoes or sneakers does a good job of stopping the Roomba from traveling through to the next room.
When the Roomba has either finished cleaning a room, or has almost depleted its battery, it automatically travels back to its “Home Base”, where it begins the recharging process. If the Roomba was not finished cleaning a room prior to recharging, it will back out of the Home Base once fully charged again and will continue cleaning the room where it left off at.
The first time I watched the Roomba travel back to its Home Base, I was really amazed. It’s pretty cool to see the Roomba find its way home and drive right into the exact spot needed in order to recharge. And as of yet, I have not had any occasions where my Roomba could not find the Base Station. (If the area you block with the Virtual Wall prevents the Roomba from traveling back to the Home Base, it simply turns off and waits for its owner to pick it up and place it in the Home Base charger.)
How good of a job does the iRobot Roomba do?
First of all, I must disclose that our family owns 4 cats (don’t ask). And although these are short-haired cats, they still shed a lot of hair. I also have 3 young daughters, who love eating snacks in all rooms of our house…especially popcorn, although I don’t think they actually put the popcorn into their mouths, but rather instead create some type of new modern art on our living room floor with it.
The Roomba does an excellent job of keeping my ceramic-tiled kitchen floor clean. I used to have to sweep my kitchen floor almost daily in order to clean up cereal, toast crumbs, raisins, ramen noodles (after they’ve hardened of course), etc. I’ll usually run the Roomba 3-4 times per week in my kitchen. When the Roomba is finished with the kitchen, I’ll then empty it out and think to myself how gross our household is as I pour the Roomba’s vacuumed-up contents into my trash can. The amount of crap that accumulates on our kitchen floor is shocking to say the least.
After my Roomba has fully charged, I’ll then run it in my living room. I run it in the living room about once per week, although I should be running it at least 2-3 times per week. Because we own 4 loving, adorable, well-mannered cats that I love so much (again, don’t ask), if I only run it once per week, I usually end up having to clean out the Roomba’s brushes halfway during the cleaning process. (The Roomba detects the accumulation of hair and debris in the brushes and will stop and sound an audible alarm to indicate it needs cleaning.) The cleaning of the Roomba’s brushes is very simple and only takes about 2-3 minutes.
When the Roomba has finished cleaning my living room, I’ll empty out the contents it vacuumed up. Again, the amount of crap that I find in the collection tray is startling. I’ll find popcorn, popcorn kernels, Nerds candy pieces, sweet tarts, as well as a ton of cat hair. The Roomba leaves my living room floor looking freshly vacuumed with the appearance of vacuum-trails and a fluffed-up appearance.
Overall, I’d say the Roomba does a fantastic job of keeping hard-surfaced floors, such as ceramic tile and vinyl, clean. If you despise having to sweep your kitchen floor daily, I can’t say enough good things about the Roomba.
For carpet, I’d have to say that the Roomba does a pretty good job. I can’t say it does an excellent job because I’ve run my Roomba on my living room floor before and then immediately ran my regular upright vacuum and was still able to get a lot more cat hair up. However, I wouldn’t look at the Roomba as a replacement for your current vacuum. I would instead recommend you use the Roomba as a supplement to your regular vacuum cleaner, as it will do a great job of picking up most small particles that accumulate on your carpet each day.
Additional tidbits you might like to know:
- The Roomba 500 series has a built-in dirt sensor that causes the Roomba to circle around a continuous spot until it no longer senses any dirt in that area. If you have a rug in your foyer that you run the Roomba on, you’ll find that the dirt sensor indicator will illuminate often. I actually like it when I see that my Roomba senses the extra dirt.
- The Roomba has visual sensors on the front which cause it to slow down just before it “bumps” into walls, appliances, furniture legs, etc. to lower the possibility of scratching/damaging these items with continuous use. iRobot also recently modified the design of the Roomba’s front bumper by applying a soft, rubber strip across it which further helps lessen the possibility of damaging items it comes into contact with.
- There are fancier, more expensive, models of Roomba’s which come with additional features/accessories that make it even more impressive. For example, instead of a Virtual Wall, they have “Lighthouses”, which act just like a virtual wall while the Roomba cleans a single room. However, when the Roomba finishes with one room, it sends a signal to the Lighthouse indicating that it’s done. The Lighthouse then turns off the infrared beam and allows the Roomba to pass by it. Once the Roomba passes by it, it turns the beam back on and again blocks the Roomba from returning to the previous room it just finished cleaning. This allows the Roomba to then fully clean the next room. If you have more than 1 lighthouse, you can effectively set up your home so that the Roomba cleans every room…one-room-at-a-time. (Because the Roomba’s battery won’t last long enough to allow it to clean more than 1-2 rooms at a time, the Lighthouses are smart enough to let it back through so it can reach the Home Base, charge itself up again, and then return to finish cleaning where it left off at.
- The Roomba has built-in sensors that prevent it from falling down stairs. I have stairs in my house and have tested this. My findings are that the stair sensors do an excellent job at stopping the Roomba.
- I did have a charging problem with the initial Roomba unit that I received. Upon contacting iRobot, they sent me a new one. I did have to return the defective unit, however, I did NOT have to pay any shipping/handling charges.
- Since the Roomba unit itself is circular in shape, it’s not able to travel tightly into the corners of walls. To combat this issue, there is a rapidly spinning side-brush, which extends out past the Roomba unit and sweeps the dirt/debris out of the corners and into the path of the Roomba. Overall, these do a pretty good job of cleaning out the corners.
- The side brushes that my Roomba model came with were easily damaged and often needed to be replaced. This was a known issue, which I believe has been corrected now with a new type of side-brush design. When I contacted iRobot about this, they shipped me out 3 additional side-brushes to help me get by until the newly designed side-brushes were available. They again paid all shipping and handling charges. (I have yet to receive the newer style side-brushes from them, so it’s just a matter of time before I need to contact them again.)
- There is a handle that is built into the Roomba unit. Unfortunately for me, I just discovered this when putting this review together. Doh!
- I often catch myself staring at my Roomba while it’s cleaning a room. I’m not quite sure why, but there is something hypnotic about watching this gadget travel around a room by itself. After 10-15 minutes of staring, I’ll realize what I’m doing and will remind myself that by watching the Roomba vacuum, I’m defeating the whole purpose of owning it.