Roomba? I hardly know 'a!
December 1, 2013 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a cat. My girlfriend is allergic to cats (previously). I'd like to get a Roomba, since we've noticed that regular vacuuming with my HEPA-filter vacuum helps a lot. The theory here is "set robot to vacuum at 9am, come home at 7pm to cleaner apartment (with dust settled, since the roomba ran at 9am, not 7pm).

The Roomba 780 pet/HEPA version can be had for $400+tax after various discounts, these days. There's an 880 that's just been released by iRobot. No discounts available, looks like it's $700+tax no matter how I slice it. It looks like the main difference is some kind of rubber, non-bristly carpet beaters that supposedly require manual cleaning less frequently.

Other context: I have about 750sqft of wall-to-wall carpeted apartment (and about 5 months on my lease, after which point I'm going to seriously investigate moving somewhere with hard floors). I have an air purifier that she says helps a lot. My upright vacuum has a HEPA filter that I clean frequently. We're pretty serious and spending a lot of time together, so "vacuum the day before she comes over" isn't feasible, and we're both talking about how to manage the allergy situation long-term.

So, question: Historically, is the incremental upgrade (780-880, etc) worth it? I realize probably nobody reading this has the particular models in question, but if you've upgraded in the past, was there a noticeable difference between models or is it just marketing-speak?
posted by Alterscape to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Roombas, even the pet one, are only okay. They are not the definitive vaccum of the future. We have the pet friendly roomba and a dyson pet vac (41RC iirc). By far, the Dyson is a much better vaccum.

Think of the roomba as something that will extend the time between vaccs, but unless you live somewhere extremely small, it cannot compete with pet dander - even with a daily scuedule where it can run and not fill the bin and clog the roller. I have a dog that sheds a lot, and the roomba moves us from having to run the real vaccum from every week to every other week.

Dont get me wrong, it is nice to have, but it will not solve a real problem with alergies.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify: I know that nothing's going to replace weekly vacuuming with my upright vac (Hoover Pro Pet, which Consumer Reports says is pretty close to the Dyson in terms of dirt pickup). The goal here is to make the allergy problem vs. time-after-vacuuming curve a bit flatter, between weekly vacuumings. If that's severely misguided, please let me know. $400 is a lot to spend on a "well, not actually going to make a perceptible difference" solution for me.
posted by Alterscape at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2013

Not really an answer to your question, but would you consider vacuuming daily? I know many people who do because of pet allergies, and it's a lot cheaper than a roomba.
posted by amro at 12:52 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have 2 cats and have owned 2 Roombas, because the idea of the vacuuming doing itself is just irresistible. However. A) I would not trust a Roomba to do a thorough enough job for an allergic person and B) Both Roombas I have owned have had a fatal sensor malfunction within a couple of weeks of the warranty running out. So, yes, if you want to try to extend the time between real vacuumings get the Roomba, but be prepared to buy a new one every year.
posted by agent99 at 12:58 PM on December 1, 2013

I find it hard to believe that there's an improvement worth $400 in the 880 as compared to the previous version. Perhaps you could wait a few months to see some of the initial consumer reviews?

(I am sorry that I missed your previous thread, as I have a terrible cat allergy yet lived with my parents' cats for years and years. Six years of allergy shots did absolutely zilch. They key was keeping the cats off the furniture, especially the bed, and vacuuming frequently. My parents had lots of kitty beds in every room so they had a comfy place for themselves that wasn't the couch. If this isn't feasible, put a throw blanket on the couch/bed and take it off and wash it when your gf visits. I also washed my hands as frequently as possible, and was careful to not touch my eyes or face without washing immediately beforehand.).
posted by snarfles at 1:10 PM on December 1, 2013

Best answer: I feel like your dander problems would not be substantially solved by a Roomba. A major recurring source of allergens is inevitably coming not from your carpet, but from your furniture. Your cat is almost certainly getting up on your furniture and shedding dander into upholstered things like couches and beds, which then gets stirred up whenever someone sits down. A Roomba is not going to help with that, and probably won't make a big difference over the vacuuming that you're already doing since a good traditional vacuum is more powerful and consistent than a Roomba and is going to pull up a lot of things that a Roomba can't.

The good news is, I think you can probably see considerable improvement in your situation without actually spending much (or any) money! Mainly you want to vacuum more frequently and more thoroughly, with an emphasis on furniture and rugs. You also want to make sure that your vacuum has a clean, relatively new filter that is actually doing its job properly. It would be a good idea to try to do most of your vacuuming during times when your girlfriend is out of the house, since even with a HEPA filter you are going to be stirring up quite a bit of dust. You might also give the carpets an occasional steam cleaning, which will get deeper in there than a vacuum and which is nice for the carpeting in general.

Here are a few other free or very-low-cost tips. My apologies if some of these were already addressed in your previous question, I'm trying to put everything I can think of into one place.
  • Take any cushions, pillows, rugs, upholstered furniture, etc. outside and give it a good beating to get the dust out of it. If it's not brand new there will be an amazing amount of dust in there, much of which will be pet dander. Get as much of it out as you can, and then vacuum everything down. Wash any cushions or pillows that are washable.
  • Wash your bed sheets regularly, to remove hair and dander from them. Vacuum your mattress and then use a mattress protector in the future if you aren't already, and wash that too.
  • Consider declaring a room in the apartment, the bedroom perhaps, a cat-free zone. That way your girlfriend will have a refuge where she can get away from most of the allergens.
  • Try to keep the windows open as much as possible (I know this is hard during the winter) to let dander-free air circulate into the house.
  • Feed your cat high-quality food (I'm a fan or Orijen, but there are other good ones – something grain free, with lots of protein and fat and very few carbohydrates) which will improve your cat's skin and reduce shedding and dander. It will also improve your cat's health in general and its poop will stink less.
  • Brush your cat regularly so that loose hair and skin can be contained and thrown away rather than falling out and being distributed throughout the house. There are also apparently special pet wipes that are supposed to cut down on dander, but I have no idea if they work.
If you are willing to spend a little dough, which I guess you are since Roombas aren't cheap, then you have further options. I would look into some good, non-ugly coverslips (maybe pay someone to make custom-fitting ones?) for the couches and upholstered chairs, so that you can wash them. I would also consider investing in a HEPA air filter for the apartment, or if you are on central air just make sure that your central air unit's filter is up to par for pet dander and is being changed often. If you can swing it, hire a cleaning service to come through every so often and give the apartment a good going-over because they'll probably do a better, deeper cleaning job than you can even if you're trying to be very thorough. Finally, Claritin for your girlfriend – you said in your previous question that she's already taking it, but I'm including it for the sake of completeness.

I think that this strategy, while being more labor-intensive than a Roomba, would be much more effective at making your house a more livable place for your girlfriend. If you start with the free and low-cost options then you might also find that you get to a comfortable place without having to spend any significant amount of money. And as a not-inconsiderable side benefit, you'll end up with a super clean apartment with nice clean air. This is the way I would go, to be sure. I don't think a Roomba is worth bothering with.
posted by Scientist at 1:54 PM on December 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

A few things:

1) i really doubt that the newest Roomba is worth the additional dollars.
2) I have an older Roomba (560?). For the most part, I found the hassle of emptying the bin every day and cleaning wads of hair from the rollers to be worthwhile in exchange for fewer fur-bunnies and a longer time between breaking out the full sized vac.
3) giving your cats regular baths can help a lot, whether it is worth the trouble is up to you to judge.
4) they take a while (a year or more), but allergy shots seem to have reduced my sensitivityt o pet allergens considerably.
posted by Good Brain at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2013

Have you considered a Neato? It's a smaller investment and thus lower risk if the robot vacuum thing isn't what you hoped. A quick search shows Amazon selling the XV-21 pet & allergy model for $270.

I have a Neato and it does help, but I have never left it alone to do its thing. It seems to get stuck or jammed frequently enough that I like to be around when it's cleaning. Not sure if Roomba is the same way.
posted by payoto at 3:08 PM on December 1, 2013

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