Questions about long-term robot planning
September 4, 2012 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I have long-term planning related questions about (home cleaning) robots and the acquisition, set up and maintenance therein.

Newly a single homeowner, I have carte blanche to manage my affairs the way I see fit, but I also need to keep the house up as I may have guests, and while I'm not horrible at housekeeping, one of the things I tend to neglect more than my guests would like is my floors.

So I can hire a human to do that work and/or I can buy a robot to do that work. Obviously they have different economical impacts, but I'm wondering about robots since humans are easier to hire and I'm familiar with the risks, limitations and wherefores of hiring humans for contract jobs.

I am also asking my geeky/geek friendly/reasonably well off friends about these sorts of things.

Questions I could use help with, that AskMe would be particularly helpful for:
  • So obviously I'm looking at the iRobot line. What other lines should I look at?
  • Are robots like this worth it in the long run? Do they not break down for long enough to be worth the price (versus traditional maid services for floor maintenance)?
  • How are they with self-maintenance? With both kinds (wet and dry) I'm assuming you have to empty them periodically. Do they tell you obviously enough that you remember to do it?
  • How many would you get for a house with 5 maintainable rooms (kitchen, dining room, living room, 2 bedrooms) and a full bathroom?
  • If you have the Scooba, are the cleaning substances it uses pet-friendly? I just heard alarming things about the Swiffer and pets, so I'm curious.
  • What about their batteries? How much do they cost to replace and how often do you have to do that?
  • What other questions should I be asking/logistics should I be thinking about?
Thoughts? Answers? Questions?

Thank you in advance for helping me out.
posted by kalessin to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on the size of your pets, they may decide to ride the Roomba or swat at it, or be afraid of it. (Imagine Fluffy terrorized by the robot.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:07 AM on September 4, 2012

No help on the robots, but the swiffer rumors are false.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:12 AM on September 4, 2012

We got a Roomba vacuum last Christmas and have been generally happy with it. Since we haven't had ours for that long, I can't speak to the issue of the long run, but here's my assessment so far:

- Once I get it going, I can GENERALLY leave it more or less alone to do its thing, though I've found it's a good idea to check on it once in a while.
- It can get places I couldn't get to with our old upright vacuum, like under the bed, and that's pretty helpful for us.
- It can often spit out cords it accidentally sucks up; if it can't, it will stop, beep, and announce it has an error. Same deal when the dirt reservoir fills up--stop, beep, announce error. If you don't come and rescue it right away, it will shut down to preserve the battery.

- You have to survey the room for hazards before you get it going, like cords, "traps," fabric hanging off beds, etc. By traps, I mean tight spaces that it might be able to get into and not get out of; it doesn't do as well at escaping small spaces as I'd hoped. I would never turn it on and leave the house.
- The dirt reservoir fills up quickly, especially with cat hair. We have two cats, one with long hair; I wouldn't recommend this thing if you have more than one long-haired pet. And cleaning the brushes and all that is pretty fiddly and a bit of a hassle.
- I can usually only get one room done on a charge, then I have to charge it. If you want to do your whole house in a day, it probably won't happen. Just as a point of reference, we have a 3-bedroom, 1400 sq. ft. house that is mostly carpeted.

So, in general, we like it, but it's not as "push a button and go" as I thought it would be.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:27 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

To answer a couple of your questions more specifically, there's also a brand called Neato that's a Roomba competitor. I don't know anything about them, though I did have a coworker who loved hers. You might take a look at the Amazon reviews of the different products.

A single Roomba would be fine for a house like yours, unless you wanted to vacuum the whole house quickly, as I said above. You definitely sacrifice speed with a Roomba; if you like to do the whole "let it get disgusting, then rush around and do a quick clean before my guests come over" thing, it won't work well for that. I'm a student and at home most of the time, so I usually do a room every day or every other day.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:33 AM on September 4, 2012

We got a Roomba nearly two years ago, and while it was great to start with, it conked after about a year. The cat hair (we used to have two cats) not just gummed up the brushes, it eventually helped in wearing out the machine. Major parts now need to be replaced/a new one purchased. YMMV.
posted by LN at 9:35 AM on September 4, 2012

I loved my Roomba 530 until it died. It definitely was pushed over the edge when we got a dog (this was before the pet version came out). It kept jamming and giving me errors, so I unplugged it and put it away because I was super busy and didn't want to deal with it...then when I took it out again, the battery had totally died. It was out of warranty, and iRobot wouldn't sell me a new battery (but offered 25% off a new one, no thanks). Maybe the newer ones are more sturdy but unfortunately I can't really recommend one. Just hire a cleaning lady.
posted by radioamy at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2012

Also, a Roomba is good until it runs over that little pile of puppy poo and spreads it into every corner of every room.
posted by essexjan at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have a Roomba that lives in the living room and is set to automatically turn itself on every afternoon. It's supposed to run until the battery gets low, then return to its dock to recharge, but I rarely find that it has managed to do this; more often it has gotten itself stuck trying to climb a power strip or has sucked up a piece of yarn or something else that was left on the floor (the scheduled auto-vacuum makes a good incentive to keep the floor clear of debris but we're far from perfect.) Still, it does a decent job of keeping the cat hair in check.

On the weekends when I'm doing other chores I pick it up and set it running in other rooms while I work on dusting or tidying or folding, it's a nice efficiency boost to turn vacuuming from a chore where you're manually doing the work to one where just overseeing a machine that does the work a la a dishwasher or washing machine. It's held up really well, and I like that all the parts are replaceable and readily available on Amazon. You should look into this if considering other lines.

On preview: yeah, essexjan, it hasn't happened yet but I await the day I have to clean congealed cat barf out of those nice removable brushes. What they should do is add a moisture sensor that will just automatically stop the whole show and sound an alarm.
posted by contraption at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2012

I'm a big Roomba fan. I have one of the bare-bones sweeping Roombas -- an early 500, I think - and love it. It's held up well and my house is definitely cleaner because of it. I've had to do some maintenance on it but I enjoy that sort of thing.

The Scoobas are trickier. I had one that worked well at first, but it was a pain to take it apart to clean after every use, and it died pretty quickly. I don't see it on their website any longer.

I just was given the new small Scooba last week, and so far I like it. You need to sweep -- or run a Roomba -- before running it, because all it does is mop. This is actually an improvement, because cleaning it takes just a few seconds and isn't gross. It fits around the sides of a toilet, which I appreciate because cleaning the bathroom is my least favorite household chore. I don't know how well it really scrubs, but it definitely leaves the floor cleaner.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:47 AM on September 4, 2012

I have owned two Roombas. Both died within a year and a half of purchase. I've since given up on them. Neat idea, too difficult to keep working, and too expensive to keep replacing.
posted by ellF at 9:48 AM on September 4, 2012

Okay, I don't have a puppy and am on the plastic hermit crab plan (which means losing pets by attrition and not replacing them). I do have a 9 year old, slightly demented (in a good way) Egyptian Mau cat, who is single-coated, very short haired, so I'm not TOO worried about that. There is the cat barf problem, though. I think that what I would probably do is use a robot not in a fully automated mode but using it in a room by room basis in a slightly supervised way as I go about my business mostly working from home.
posted by kalessin at 9:49 AM on September 4, 2012

I previously asked about cleaning options for my house, and soon after bought a Mint Plus robot. My house has an open floorplan, wood floors everywhere (including bathrooms) with minimal furniture and only one area rug in the entire house, which we may have to put away in the winter due to in-floor radiant heating – pretty much an ideal situation for the robot. Upstairs, it easily enters, cleans and leaves separate rooms from the shared landing.

We've had it since May and it's been a lifesaver. It is whisper quiet and can be started at night. It does an incredibly thorough job with the Swiffer sheets, much better than vacuuming alone, and picks up dust and pet hair like a magnet. It works for us because dust and dog hair are usually the only things on the floor – no crumbs, etc. The mopping function is a dream. Start the robot, go for a walk with my dog, and come home to clean floors everywhere! I bought the same robot for my parents, who love it and have been raving about it to family and friends.

Maintenance involves charging (it takes two hours and a charge is enough to sweep then mop my entire house), changing Swiffer sheets with each run (I buy the giant package at Costco or Amazon), and refilling the little tank with tap water when I use it for mopping. I also use Bona pet-friendly cleaner in the tank when I have it on hand, but water works well. Also, remembering to throw the mopping cloths in the wash every time they're used so we don't end up with streaks on the floor, but we have a few spare ones.
posted by halogen at 9:56 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

An alternative to the iRobot is the Neato Series, I've had mine for about a year. Love mine.

To answer your questions point by point about the Neato:

-I've been running mine at least twice a week for just under a year and it hasn't broken down once
-The Neato will remind you to empty the bin if it is full, and as a general rule of thumb depending on how big your house is and how messy, it may take between 1-3 cleanings to fill
-One would do it for your situation, my Neato goes from room to room, will go back to charge, and then pick up where it left off
-I haven't had to replace the battery, but it looks like Amazon sells a pair of two for $59
-It has a stair sensor, so it will not accidentally fall down the stairs. It also isn't great on corners or on edges. It's great for maintaining a clean house, but won't be the end-all.
posted by petah at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

A couple personal experience observations from a Roomba owner:

Overall: love it! It may not totally replace using a "real" vacuum cleaner, but it keeps things tidy until you can get around to a deeper cleaning.

Caveat: Clearing onstacles. I've pretty much arranged things so that obstacles are not a problem. This means making sure electical cords, etc. are either off the floor or totally tucked flush to the wall. But this is preferable to me anyway.

Battery Life: It's better to use the Roomba often. Too much downtime, even in the charger, will kill the battery. I left mine dormant during packing and moving (an unpacking) and the several weeks out of commission, coupled with it being a few years old, killed the battery.
posted by The Deej at 10:01 AM on September 4, 2012

I also had a Roomba die after about a year (just after the warranty ran out). I liked it a lot while it was working, but it was an expensive indulgence.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:13 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is another aspect you need to consider: cats on roombas. Seriously, your Mau may be a Rider.
posted by likeso at 10:55 AM on September 4, 2012

I have the Scooba. The cleaning liquid is fine for pets and hardwood floors. I've had it about a year and a half, and it still works perfectly fine. The battery life isn't terrific—gets about two tankfuls on a charge. The tanks are pretty small, so a full tank will do one medium-sized bedroom, but I usually just let it roam free. It has a couple of different tone sequences it plays so you can tell, "Oh, the robot is stuck," "Oh, the robot is full and needs to be emptied/filled," or, "Oh, the robot has victoriously cleaned the area I set it to clean. Good job, Robot!"

It's really loud when it's doing it's thing, so it might be a distraction while you're trying to work at home, particularly if your work has any audio component like conference calls or listening to things.

It requires maintenance, especially if you have a pet and pet fur associated with that. Every time I empty the tank, I remove the brush and clean it, wipe down the bottom, and clean out a couple little valves/catches. This keeps it in good working order, but is kind of gross and kind of a pain.

All of the drawbacks aside, though, it's way more economical than hiring someone to come and clean the floors. And since I myself can't force myself to mop the floors (despite being a generally clean person and being perfectly willing to do other forms of cleaning all the damn time), having the robot means the floors get cleaned, when otherwise we would be living among layers of our own filth. It's completely worthwhile.
posted by booknerd at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a Roomba and Scooba. If you have hard floors, the Scooba is great. It washes and squeegees the floor. iRobot has a new Scooba out. There is also a new model that is small and meant for a bathroom. The Roomba does a good job of light vacuuming. They will get stuck and need help occasionally. They are worth the money if you really hate to clean floors and don't want to hire a cleaning person.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 10:45 PM on September 4, 2012

I went through 3 iRobot devices before I gave up and just switched to a Dyson plus a Mint floor cleaner. The first Roomba was awesome - refurb'ed from Woot - until the battery died at 91 days (you can guess what the warranty was). The second Roomba we bought brand new and died just after one year. The Scooba died at 3 months, they replaced it.. we got another one, it also died, they replaced it *again*, at which point I just decided to sell the new one.

It seems like their quality was awesome before they got so huge. I maintained all the machines properly and didn't do anything goofy with them... it didn't matter.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2012

I decided for now to hire a maid. This is mostly because the house is still a mess from my move-in and I'm not settled with a good look or layout and I've still got a lot of wall/curtain work planned (painting, stripping, etc.).

The maid service will cost, for floors, about $90/visit, which I'll do twice a month until the house is more settled.

Then I'll have what sounds like a house pretty ideal for robots since I'm going to have two area rugs and the rest of the floors will be hardwood. Then I may revisit the robot idea, but it's not sounding too encouraging. Thank you all for your answers. It sounds like iRobot may not be the best choice.

Also, I am a little afeared that my cat will not like the Roomba. Maybe a Mint.

Again, thanks!
posted by kalessin at 7:22 PM on October 9, 2012

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