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Should You Get a Robot Vacuum or a Regular Vacuum?

It's time for a robot (vacuum) battle.

Get a regular vacuum. That was easy, huh?

More seriously: While the little hockey puck-shaped robot vacuums are really neat, especially as they’re beginning to integrate with smarthome tech, they’re not anything close to a replacement for a conventional vacuum cleaner. Even a budget vacuum will blow a robot out of the water in terms of power, speed, and (most of the time) even ease of use. If you can only afford one, or even if you only want one, go for a standard upright vacuum or a stick vacuum every time.

Let’s take this point by point.

Robot Vacuums Lack Power

This should be obvious, but if you haven’t bought a modern vacuum cleaner in a while, it might not be. Due to small sizes and smaller power allowances in batteries, robo-vacs just don’t have the sucking power. And I’m not even talking about top-of-the-line Dyson-style vacuums, here: An $80 Hoover grabbed off a supermarket shelf will be able to out-suck an $800 robot vacuum. Due to more weight and torque, it’ll be better at deep cleaning messes in your carpet and picking up larger messes.

Conventional Vacuums Are Cheaper

This excellent Shark vacuum is only $250.

Even for a budget model, a robo-vac will run you almost $200. And that’s the smallest, most low-power option from a less reliable supplier. At the same budget level, you can afford a high-power upright vacuum like the Shark Navigator or a budget stick vacuum, both of which will be faster and more effective for either spot cleaning or a whole-house cleaning day. And if your budget will stretch to the $250-300 range, you can afford a cordless stick vacuum, including some Dyson models. In terms of utility, it’s just a better way to spend your money.

Robo-Vacuums Still Need Some Work from You

The fantasy of a robot that does all of a cleaning task for you is appealing, but unfortunately, it’s still a fantasy. You might think of a robot vacuum as a tiny Rosie from The Jetsons, but the reality is that its tiny dirt reservoir can hold only about four rooms’ worth of dirt maximum before you’ll need to empty it out. Even the much more expensive models, which can empty into a larger bin, will still need to be cleaned out at least as often as a stick vacuum. With modern bagless designs that make emptying the vacuum quick and painless, the only real difference in work is the elbow grease you need to move them around.

Even this relatively large robo-vac has a tiny reservoir for dirt, which needs constant emptying.
Even this relatively large robo-vac has a tiny reservoir for dirt, which needs constant emptying. Michael Crider / Review Geek

And it’s worth pointing out that robot vacuums aren’t exactly flawless in terms of paths and obstacles. Some models are better at this than others, but even the best will occasionally get stuck on furniture or get clogged and alert you to clear an obstruction. Once again, these little annoyances will need your help to clear, requiring time and attention.

Robot Vacuums Are Slow

Imagine you’re cleaning house for a dinner party or a game night. You save the vacuum run for last because you want your carpets to be pristine when your guests arrive. Unfortunately, all that cleaning has exhausted you, and you clumsily knock over a houseplant, spreading soil all over. Party time is in an hour. If you assign a robot vacuum to go on its regular round, it might take an hour or two for it to make its full rounds. Even in spot cleaning mode, it could need multiple passes—and multiple reservoir empties from you—to get the job done, and still leave dirt on the carpet due to its low power.

A handheld Dyson vacuum cleaning hair and fur on a chair.
Conventional vacuums are unbeatable for big messes. Dyson

Or you could grab an upright or stick vacuum and be done in ten minutes. Even for a full house cleaning, you’ll get it done much faster and much more effectively by doing it yourself.

So Why Get a Robot at All?

If you’re only going to get one vacuum, don’t make it a robot. That being the case, what IS a robot vacuum good for anyway?

This budget Eufy model is great for low-power cleaning on a schedule, with only a little supervision.
This budget Eufy model is great for low-power cleaning on a schedule, with only a little supervision. Jennifer Allen

Well, it’s great for periodic cleaning of light messes, especially in smaller spaces. A robo-vac could save you a weekly cleaning session if your home doesn’t have pets or kids (or, um, stairs), or other factors that regularly lead to more serious carpet messes. That extra boost to cleanliness without 30 minutes to an hour of regular cleaning every week or two might be worth it to you if you revel in a spotless home, or if you have accessibility issues that make regularly cleaning harder than usual.

Is that extra cleanliness worth $200-600? That’s entirely up to you and your budget. Set realistic expectations, and a robo-vac can be a fun, handy addition to your cleaning regimen. Just don’t expect it to replace a more serious vacuum.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »