Buyers' Guide: Tips and Tricks for Choosing the Right Robot Vacuum Cleaner or Mop

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a new cleaning robot
Buyers' Guide: Tips and Tricks for Choosing the Right Robot Vacuum Cleaner or Mop
The Mi Robot Vacuum-Mop P can both vacuum and mop simultaneously

Cleaning robots can either, vacuum, mop, or do both

Vacuum suction power is an important spec to look out for

An app with proper home mapping is important for a good experience

What's the best robot vacuum to buy, and what are the different factors you need to keep in mind when choosing an automated cleaning device? The extended phase of working from home may have its benefits in the form of spending less time in commute and more time with your family, but it also means you need to do more cleaning up around the house as it's never empty. People are looking for efficient and labour-saving ways to clean the home, preferably ones that can work with minimum human involvement. One of the most interesting solutions, and one that has taken off in India, is the concept of the cleaning robot.

It might seem like a simple enough idea at first, but there's a lot that goes into the workings of a cleaning robot. There are a number of mainstream options available today in India that can vacuum, mop, or do both simultaneously. However, there are a few things to look out for, in order to make sure you choose the right kind of cleaning device for your needs. Here's a guide of tips and tricks to keep in mind when buying a robot vacuum cleaner or mop in India.

What type of cleaning robot should I buy?

Most cleaning robots are typically referred to as ‘robot vacuum cleaners', and this is indeed the case with most mainstream options available today. These devices have a powerful suction mechanism to pull dust, dirt, and small impurities off the floor, and are able to drive themselves around on a set route to vacuum as much of the floor space of your home as possible. This is the most basic type of cleaning robot you can buy right now.

You can also get yourself a robot mop, which offers a wet cleaning function for hard floors. Dedicated mop robots have a reservoir for water, and a mechanism to either spray or drip the water onto the floor for an attached mop cloth to run over and spread evenly. This is usually the second step in the cleaning process, and follows either vacuuming or manually sweeping the floor to clear the first layer of impurities.

The third major type of cleaning robot is a combination of vacuuming and mopping, and many popular options today have both of these functions in a single device. This is very convenient, as these robots are usually able to vacuum and mop simultaneously to save time, and of course, you don't need to own two separate devices for these functions.

Apart from these, there are many other types of cleaning and household robots, for functions that include swimming pool cleaning, lawn mowing, roof gutter cleaning, folding clothes, and cleaning windows and air conditioning ducts. However, for this guide we're only going to be talking specifically about floor cleaning robots for typical households.

How robot-friendly is your home?

Most floor cleaning robots today rely on wheels to move around, so the way your home is laid out, the kind of flooring you have, and the presence of any barriers and partitions will play a significant role in how effective the device is. Most cleaning robots perform best on hard floors such as granite or marble, since this allows the wheels to grip the floor and roll freely. However, some robot vacuum cleaners should also be able to tackle slim rugs and carpets.

That said, loose rugs and carpets could get stuck in the suction mechanism and halt the cleaning, so you'll want to move these aside when the robot is operating. Additionally, most cleaning robots are able to climb heights of less than a centimetre, so thick carpets or big joints in the flooring will prevent the device from moving freely around the home.

Similarly, things like partitions, stairways, and low furniture will prevent the robot from moving around freely, and you might often have to lift the device and place it in rooms you want cleaned. Most cleaning robots do have drop protection that will prevent them from rolling off edges, and some also come with hardware-based laser fences, so the well-being of your gadget isn't really something you should be too concerned about.

To charge the cleaning robot, you'll need to place the charging dock on the floor at a location where the robot is able to directly drive itself onto the dock. This can be anywhere convenient, including in a corner, or under a sofa, as long as the dock can plug into a power outlet. Most cleaning robots are recommended to be left on at all times, and stay charged when parked on the charging dock and ready to go in a second.

How does the robot know where to go?

Cleaning robots are able to navigate around the home in different ways. The simplest of these is a camera, which lets the robot ‘see' boundaries such as walls, and obstacles such as furniture and other objects. A complex algorithm allows the device to process what the camera sees in order to navigate around the home, and even return to the charging dock when the task is completed.

More advanced robots today come with laser-based navigation, which use Lidar - a form of laser based radar - to scan for walls and obstacles. This is generally more accurate than the camera-based navigation, allowing the robot to move quickly and remember key locations such as rooms, no-go zones, and the location of the charging dock, even when it's outside the line-of-sight. This also typically allows maps to be saved, modified, and customised using an app.

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All things considered, most cleaning robots are held back by their form, and aren't able to access some parts of the home to clean. This includes the inability to go under low furniture or pass through narrow gaps, properly reach corners, or even react suitably to changes in the layout of furniture. You can't entirely rely on a cleaning robot alone to keep the home clean, no matter how good it is.

How often can you run a cleaning robot?

Most cleaning robots, both of the vacuuming and mopping kind, can be run multiple times a day if needed. Some of the moving parts, including sweeping brushes, mop cloths, and dust filters, are considered consumables, and therefore have a limited number of hours of use before they need to be replaced, so you should keep this in mind when choosing how often to run a cleaning robot.

Another key factor in deciding the run time is battery life; depending on the size of the battery and the home itself, a robot may not be able to clean an entire space in a single run. While most robots are able to remember where they left off and return to complete the task after charging, it might also make sense to plan your cleaning with battery life in mind.

Most compact and mid-sized urban apartments can typically be covered in a single cleaning task with battery life to spare. In our testing, we've found that typical vacuuming robots with batteries of about 5,000mAh capacity can clean up to a 1,500 square foot home in one go, while mopping robots are able to work for much longer.

While mopping is usually a noise-less function, vacuum cleaning can get quite noisy. This means that the robot will likely make a lot of noise while working, depending on the suction power and modes in use. Naturally, more suction power is better for a more thorough clean since this allows the device to pick up larger impurities, but this also means that the robot will run considerably louder.

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Suction power for vacuum cleaners is measured in Pascal pressure units, and most robot vacuum cleaners have rated suction power of around 2,000pa. A higher rating is better, since it will be more effective in picking up impurities.

While cleaning robots are more than capable of cleaning regular day-to-day dirt accumulation, not all are capable of clearing the really big messes. This, of course, depends on the suction power of the device and the nature of the mess you want to clean, but there will often be times where you'll have to pick up a broom and clean up yourself.

Maintaining your cleaning robot

The actual task of cleaning is an automated and hassle-free process, but it's important to remember that cleaning robots need to be regularly and properly maintained in order to function efficiently. This includes emptying out the vacuum bin after every few runs, cleaning and untangling the brushes periodically, filling water in the reservoir for mopping, and washing and drying the mop cloth every now and then.

Neglecting any of these will likely reduce the effectiveness of the cleaning, so it's vital to regularly see that the robot is maintained properly. It may seem like a lot of work, but these tasks take very little time and only need to be looked into every three to four days on average with a typical cleaning robot.

This does of course depend on factors such as the size of the vacuum bin and the capacity of the water reservoir, but practically every cleaning robot will require some amount of periodic maintenance and cleaning. This shouldn't be too big a factor in your buying decision, unless it would be physically inconvenient to the primary user of the cleaning robot.

You'll also need to keep an eye on the condition and rated life of consumable parts such as brushes and mop cloths. These details are usually visible within the companion app for the cleaning robot, but you can also figure out the condition and life of these consumables simply by looking at them. Most brands sell spare parts, so you should be able to purchase replacements easily depending on which cleaning robot you've purchased.

How important is the app to the smart cleaning experience?

Although practically every cleaning robot can function independently through the push of a button and navigate your home on its own, a good app changes the usage experience considerably. Many modern cleaning robots come with companion apps for both Android and iOS, which allow you to control the robot from anywhere with only an Internet connection.

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You can control, schedule, and set preferences such as vacuum power, mopping, and more with a good app. It's also possible to control a lot of modern cleaning robots with voice controls through Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, which you can use either on your smartphone or through a smart speaker, or from other smart devices. Depending on the method of navigation used, the app will also be able to maintain a map of your home, which you can use to have the robot clean specific rooms or areas, or even avoid going into certain zones.

Recommendations: Which cleaning robot should you buy?

Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum Mop-P: Perhaps the best value for money option available today, the Mi Robot Vacuum Mop-P is priced at Rs. 24,999 and offers vacuuming, mopping, laser navigation, and an excellent app for ease of use. The device does need very regular maintenance, though.

360 S7: Although a fair bit more expensive than the Mi Robot Vacuum-Mop P at Rs. 39,990, the 360 S7 offers an excellent overall cleaning experience and has a very good app that gives you a lot of control over the specific functions of this device. The mop functionality is ordinary at best, but the vacuum cleaning is very effective, and navigation is quick and accurate.

ILife A9s: Just a bit more expensive than the Mi Robot, the ILife A9s is priced at Rs. 28,900 and offers very thorough vacuuming and mopping. However, it can only work one of these functions at a time rather than simultaneously, uses less accurate camera navigation, and doesn't have very useful app and mapping features.

Milagrow iMap 10.0: The Milagrow iMap 10.0 is among the most expensive cleaning robots we've reviewed, priced at around Rs. 70,000 depending on the variant. However, this is a very capable device, offering good vacuuming and mopping, accurate laser navigation and mapping, and long battery life, and might well be worth the premium for those looking for the best experience.

Trifo Max Pet: Although expensive at launch, the Trifo Max range is currently priced at around Rs. 21,990 onwards. While it relies on camera navigation and has its drawbacks, you can use the camera for home surveillance, and the suction power is considerably higher than most competing options.

iRobot Braava Jet M6: Unlike our other recommendations which have vacuuming functionality, the Rs. 54,900 iRobot Braava Jet M6 is exclusively a mopping robot, and does an excellent job with that task. The large water reservoir, spraying mechanism and calculated cleaning make for a very thorough wet cleaning for hard floors.

Alternatives to cleaning robots

Despite all of their benefits, cleaning robots may not suit every use case; your home simply may not be robot-friendly, or you might prefer having a bit more control over the process. The most obvious of these is buying a good vacuum cleaner, and there are a number of options in this segment across price ranges.

Among the most affordable options are traditional drum-shaped vacuum cleaners, which have plenty of capacity to store dirt and are usually very powerful. However, these are loud, bulky, difficult to store, and need to be plugged into a power socket to work, therefore limiting mobility. Smaller handheld vacuum cleaners are much easier to handle, but cost more as well.

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Finally, high-end cordless vacuum cleaners such as the Dyson range are the most expensive and cost as much as robot vacuum cleaners, if not more. However, these are known to be very effective with cleaning, are easy to use, and usually run much quieter than traditional vacuum cleaners with losing out on suction power.

Is Mi 11X the best phone under Rs. 35,000? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Later (starting at 23:50), we jump over to the Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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