I want to get a Roomba: will it work for my house?
September 24, 2004 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Roomba! How smart is your Roomba? (MI)

In my (older) apartment I've got substantial door jams, will it cross over? Is pet hair a problem? My cat sheds like it's going out of style. Does the floor plan need to be fairly open? I've got a couch that juts out into the middle of the room.
posted by rschroed to Technology (15 answers total)
I've always wondered if those things had enough suction power to really get up dust, etc.
posted by adampsyche at 8:11 AM on September 24, 2004

I wouldn't call my Roomba real smart, exactly, but it can get into nooks and crannies in your floor plan if you let it go long enough. It also doesn't have a problem jumping from hardwood floor to sisal rug so I suppose it could make it over door jams. The real issue is more its capacity. If you have a whole lot of pet hair lying around you'll have to empty the Roomba's bin several times per session. That thing is tiny. It gets up dust and birdseed ok though.
posted by furiousthought at 8:15 AM on September 24, 2004

1. Door jambs, unknown. I have a 1" marble jamb at the entry to my bathroom. It's got a square edge, and the machine won't climb it, that I recall. No other jambs in the house.

2. Pet hair, not a problem, in the sense that it won't break the machine. The machine will cope with it. The machine started life as a non-vacuuming sweeper and thus does well with such, mostly. However, I find that the carpet my cats prefer to use as a shedding device usually needs multiple attacks - this appears to be specific to the carpet, a fine-knap, deep-pile area rug. I often end up vacuuming it with the regular vacuum. If you have an area of your home in which the cat-shed sort of 'sticks,' and which is a challenge to clean using either a regular broom or a conventional vacuum, Roomba will not clean it as efficiently as either.

3. The floor plan does need to be open, but most furniture is not a problem. The machine goes under most of our furniture. How much room is available under your couch?

Other points:

1. Fringes on rugs are murder, and will halt the 'bot unless hermetically sealed away. I still have not found an optimal methodology for doing this. I taped several 6" strips of medium-weight carpet-pad, backed with a light adhesive, together, and lay these over all the fringes in a given room before releasing the hounds.

2. Pet hair may not be a problem for the machine in terms of harming it, but strings, thread, tooth floss, and human hair certainly are. Every time I use the machine, I scrape and pick at the guts of it (a brush and a rubber beater) to get the windings off. I tried doing this once a week or so and some floss actually sliced through the beaters all the way though the metal before the roller-parts simply jammed up. Not a happy experience, either part.

3. The cleaning process is extremely dusty. My machine does not hold the crud in a disposable bag, like a full-size cleaner, but in a series of compartments, all of which must be cleaned each time you use the machine. I am usually lightly coated with fine grit by the time I'm done.

4. The machine offers three 'room-size' settings. Our 80-year-old apartment is prodigiously dusty. I find I only ever run it on the 'large' setting, which maximizes run-time, and therefore multiplies cleaning effectiveness. Roombas are not 'smart.' They run a randomized pattern that provides a high statistical likelihood of providing one-pass coverage in a given area. Restrict the area and increase the run time, and you can achieve multiple-pass coverage.

5. Stereo cables and extension cords on the floor can also disrupt the Roomba; it can run over them and get them tangled in the rollers.

Even considering these caveats, I find that the overall cleanliness of our living environment is very considerably increased. We try to run it once every other day. It takes 24 hours to recharge unless you spring for the fast charger. We rotate it through the living areas of our home. Once I learned how to prep the rooms, getting each area ready only takes about a minute, and cleaning it takes less than five. It's significantly less time consuming than using a conventional vacuum. Keep in mind, however, that the manufacturer repeatedly emphasizes that the Roomba is not a vacuum replacement and that one should not use it as such.

We do, of course. Our pre-Roomba vacuuming frequency was somewhere between biannual and never. Now it's approaching quarterly. This is partly because in attempting to understand the Roomba as a technology gadget, cleaning became a technical problem, and therefore fun and subject to systemic problem-solving.

Hope this answers your questions.
posted by mwhybark at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2004

We thought about a Roomba, but in the end we bought a Dyson. While it requires a human pilot, the thing is so damn cool (and sparkly!) that it's still fun to use, six months later. During the first few weeks, we used it so many times we almost sucked the pile off our living room rug.

I'd actually love to have both. A Roomba to send around on a daily mission, and then I'd make with the Dyson a couple times a week for heavy suckage. And in a perfect world, all of my expensive dirt-sucking whims would be so indulged.
posted by padraigin at 8:45 AM on September 24, 2004

Nitpick: unless the Roomba can climb walls, I think you mean sill instead of jamb.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled robotic vacuum discussion.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: Yup, I figured it wasn't really a jamb (or jam) but couldn't find the right word.

Thanks for the great info mwhybark.

Does anyone have the "Home Base Automatic Recharger"? Seems like it wouldn't be necc. in a smallish apartment.
posted by rschroed at 9:20 AM on September 24, 2004

Eh, my mother sent her roomba back. It's fine for sweeping, but did a poor job with pet hair on carpet, and unless you have some place not in your house to take it to clean it, you're going to end up with 30% of the dirt it picked up back in your house anyway, because cleaning it out is a pain in the ass of epic proportions.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:43 AM on September 24, 2004

With regards to pet hair: I use my Roomba mainly to control the sub-carpet of hair my 2 cats leave. Just be sure to clean out the brushes, along with the tray.

On preview - Yes, it can be easy to spill the thing. I grab a fresh plastic bag and empty it in there.
posted by Sangre Azul at 9:51 AM on September 24, 2004

How does the Roomba handle hay? It's shedding season, so it'd have to pick up bunny hair and hay from a hardwood floor.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:42 AM on September 24, 2004

Anybody have the new Roomba Discovery? I think it's supposed to have a bigger capacity, automatically charge itself, etc. Is it really any better than the old ones? Is it still a hassle to clean out?
posted by rorycberger at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2004

Response by poster: from the early reviews I've sounds like they hold a lot more dirt so don't need to empty, and the parts are a bit easier to remove for cleaning. (Just what I've read today)
posted by rschroed at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2004

I had the original roomba, actually used it until it broke, they sent me a new one, and now I'm on to the Discovery.

Here's my review of the Discovery:

Compared to the old one, emptying it and cleaning it are a joy. The comparment is much bigger and has the filter built in, so it just a matter of holding the roomba by its handle in one hand, and pulling off the entire back end with the other and emptying it into a trash can. we have a smallish kitchen trash can with a plastic bag that works pretty well. then I set down the roomba and pull the filter out of the collection bin and bang it inside the trash can to empty out the dust. it's much easier than the old one which tended to jamb.

the brushes are easier to clean also...we have two long-haired dogs so i'm doing this a lot...maybe every 4 to 5 runs. the old one needed a screwdriver and a special tool to get the brushes out. they now pop right out..

the home base thing is kind of cool, though i'm disappointed that it can't find its way home every time. we do have it stashed away under a shelf next to the stove. it does find its way home every now so that's a pleasant surprise to come home and find it's already charged up.

charging time is very quick compared to the old one (3 hours vs. 14-20 hours)

it comes with a remote which is nice if you don't want to bend over and push the button, but otherwise not really that special. it supposedly lets you drive it around but doesn't really work that well and I find it easier to just pick it up.

we have lots of various sized thresholds in our house which is mostly hardwood or linoleum. i'd say it could climb a 1 cm threshold but not much higher than that. our kitchen is slightly raised so if it falls off out into the hallway it can't get back in. the virtual wall units work pretty well, but tend to keep the roomba a foot away from the doorway rather than allowing it to clean right up to the edge of the room. sometimes we lay a stick across the doorway to keep the roomba in, or use a baby-gate.

the only rugs we have don't have tassles and are pretty short haired and the roomba does a decent job on them, though not as good as our full-strength vac.

it is great for keeping control of the massive piles of dog hair that tend to accumulate in corners and along walls if we don't run it daily.

as far as its smarts, i kind of feel that the discovery has been a step backwards. i don't know if its because the home base and the virtual wall units might be interfering with it, but it seems to get stuck in corners more than the old one did. also, sometimes it backs off the home base, turns around to face the room, and then instead of heading out into the room, it turns around and attacks the home base. maybe they don't like each other?

one thing i've been very impressed with is the customer service. they replaced my original roomba for free when it broke down, and have been very good about sending me replacement parts when i've needed them. this also shows that it's not the most robust product in the world, but I think I tend to really put it through its paces with all the dog hair we've got.

ok, that's probably more than anyone wanted to read...enjoy!

Oh, i should say that the reason we bought the discovery was that I eventually plan to use both of them simultanesly, but I admit I haven't bothered to use the old one since I got the Discovery.
posted by jacobsee at 5:09 PM on September 24, 2004

as far as the hay and bunny hair: I think it would do fine but might have trouble on long pieces of hay...and you might have to empty it quite often, depending on how much hay is flying around.

a tip: empty the bin more often than you think and less pet hair will get wrapped around the rollers
posted by jacobsee at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2004

one other thought. if you have furniture that is just the right height off the floor...I think about 2 inches, the roomba can jam itself in there pretty good. ours gets wedged under the front edge of our dishwasher, and also under a coffee table in the living room. i might attach a small bumper of wood under the edge of the table so the roomba will bounce off rather than get stuck
posted by jacobsee at 5:13 PM on September 24, 2004

Also, in case you just want to read more about what others have said, there's a Roomba community.
posted by taz at 2:46 AM on September 25, 2004

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