Roomba (or equiv) for Elderly Couple?
November 9, 2017 1:15 PM   Subscribe

My mother and her husband are in their early seventies and recently face substantial physical limitations. Would something like a Roomba work for them?

He's in treatment for stage-IV cancer and isn't able to do much lately. My mother's always been unusually healthy, active, and youthful, but lately she's suffering from a herniated disc and some other pains and so, along with looking after her husband, she's been unable to do the housecleaning she prefers.

She's always kept a tidy and clean home and it is making her very anxious and unhappy that this lately hasn't been as much the case. Especially when there's company due to visit.

Vacuuming the carpets is a big, frequent job and so she's been wondering if a Roomba would help. They are both usually home, the house is mostly tidy, they have a dog, and there's two floors. He has an oxygen line and could switch to a portable unit or leave the room when the robot vacuums. The kitchen is a linoleum floor, otherwise the house is carpeted, excepting the main bathroom.

So we're wondering how well such a solution might work for them. We're interested in other people's experiences, especially for older couples in similar circumstances. How often would it need to run, what about the two different floors, and so forth. Would this take one big chore off her plate? Or would it not work well and come with a whole other set of problems?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
MY spouse and I used to have a Roomba which worked well for us (basically tidy people, no pets, large apartment). It got stuck under things a lot, but I’ve heard the new Roombas are much better about that. They aren’t perfect for things lie corners, but they do a fantastic job at keeping up with day-to-day dust/hair/etc. I am unable to vacuum now due to disability and very much want a Roomba again.
posted by epj at 1:25 PM on November 9, 2017

As far as how often it would run, that depends on the size of the space and how much the dog sheds. Roombas are programmable and relatively easy to change (iirc), so your mother could easily start out with once/week/floor and increase/decrease that depending on her satisfaction with the level of cleanliness. I think maybe the fanciest Roomba can handle stairs, but I’m not sure about that.
posted by epj at 1:28 PM on November 9, 2017

We bought a Roomba in 2015 because I hate vacuuming. I'm able to, but it's uncomfortable and ungainly. The Roomba was a godsend for me and worth every penny when we lived in a 1,200 sq. ft. carpeted house with our (short haired) dog. In my experience it works best if you run it every day; that ensures the best coverage since it doesn't sweep every single inch of carpet on every circuit (or at least ours didn't). I'd still be using it but I think it's damaging the hardwood floors in our new house :/

Things for your mom and her partner to think about:
-Roomba lives on the floor. Someone will need to be able to bend down and pull out the filter/dust trap and empty it every time it runs. Not a difficult job but if bending over is hard, it might be a problem.
-Roomba is heavy. I have long hair and that combined with the dog hair meant I had to pick it up, turn it over, pull the roller out and clean it, put it back together, put it back on the floor, and make sure it docked. The roller carriage is intuitive but might not be easy if people have dexterity issues; you might want to check the weight of the model you're considering and make sure your mom or her husband can lift that weight from the ground up.
-Roomba will eat cords and socks. This is actually one of the reasons I bought it, so we would have motivation to keep things up off the floor, but if people aren't good about clutter or little things falling on the floor, Roomba will eat them. It does okay with drapes that hang on the floor and area rugs (and hasn't knocked over any of my unbalanced plant stands).
-I think many people buy two Roombas; one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Programming them to stop at stairs might be an option; if they go the manual route with a baby gate, make SURE they don't do the idiotic "I don't need to take it down, I'll just step over it" thing we're all prone to.
posted by stellaluna at 1:57 PM on November 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Programming them to stop at stairs might be an option

Roombas have sensors that allow them to avoid flinging themselves off cliffs or down stairs.
posted by aubilenon at 2:23 PM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a fairly new Roomba (one of the fancy all the bells and whistles models) as well as an older, simpler one; both have to be rescued during almost every run because they've choked on a sock, a cat toy or the fringes of the area rug or they've gotten wedged under a dresser or tangled up in a lamp cord. "Beee booop! Error 1! Move Roomba to a new location, then press clean to restart" is, as far as I'm concerned, the song of their people.

Even when they aren't doing the above, they need to be flipped over and cleaned out fairly frequently especially if anyone in the house is a cat, a dog and/or has long hair.

I do like my Roombas but more for the 'daily cleaning up stray bits of kitty litter' aspect than as a rigorous vacuum cleaner replacement.
posted by jamaro at 3:10 PM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]


Anker makes one that is supposed to be cheaper and better. I don't know how I lived without it.
posted by jbenben at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2017

(Wanted to add: even my ancient Roomba has the ability to detect steps/drop offs and came with a pair of Virtual Walls.)
posted by jamaro at 3:20 PM on November 9, 2017

The main problems with our Roomba is how long it runs. It's a good hour or two for our living and dining room (maybe 16'x30'). We now turn it on before going to work so it doesn't matter to us but the one time I set it before going to bed upstairs was a huge mistake.
posted by noloveforned at 4:21 PM on November 9, 2017

My one concern would be that it could be a tripping hazard and could cause falls. With older adults this is something to consider. Particularly if there are any vision, hearing, or mobility issues.
posted by wilky at 4:26 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do NOT let the Roomba run over dog poop.
posted by bendy at 10:24 PM on November 9, 2017

Another similar option is the neato. Same type of product as the Roomba. I've had mine for about five years. And other than some replacement of batteries it has worked well. We have hardwood floors so I can't comment on how it well it will work on carpet but it truly is a game changer. And we have one dog and two cats so there's a lot of hair to vacuum up. Not sure how it compares to the Roomba but it's certainly a high quality product. Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 12:08 AM on November 10, 2017

I have four small humans and a dog at my house and we have a Samsung Powerbot that is amazing. It gets up dog hair like a champ, it can be set to run on a schedule or be turned on any time by the app or manually. It occasionally gets stuck but that's mostly because the oldest small human is seven so my house isn't as debris free as it could be.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 4:33 AM on November 10, 2017

Our Roomba is great but has a lot of little quirks. It's a 980 which is the current top of the line.

Roombas work best on a single floor dwelling with easy transitions and doors it cannot inadvertently close on itself. It is definitely possible to carry it between two different floors, but it is also an expensive device that you'd hate to drop.

The areas to be cleaned need to be relatively free of obstructions. Roombas will chew on (and likely destroy) lightweight cords such as USB or Apple lightning, especially if it can get the end. They will pick up all sorts of little objects if they can get them. If you leave larger objects such as socks on the floor, Roomba may try to eat them and get stuck. Roomba works best with wall-to-wall carpeting, as it may be able to pick up a corner of a rug or the fringe on a runner. Roomba can get into unexpected places and I've seen it drag a fairly heavy lamp off an endtable because it managed to catch the cord "just right". It can do some fairly aggressive stuff. We have some Ikea GLENN style stools and our Roomba gladly jumps up onto and over the base bars in what can only be described as frenzied humping, so we have to put those up on the counter or it gets stuck around 10% of the time. Houses need to be Roomba-proofed the same way you do for kids or pets. It is a bit of work.

Roombas are reportedly terrible with lots of dog hair but then I've also heard the opposite.

The Roomba consumables are expensive. Rollers need to be replaced at least yearly, assuming frequent runs, and the edge brush and HEPA filter a little more often. The app for the unit will guide you in how to clean it, something a child can do, but it *is* a bit of work.

The Roomba needs to be emptied after nearly every run, even running it daily, or at least that's how it is for us. Because I'm running this as part of a dust allergy remediation program for someone in the house, and because I found I was very lazy about emptying it if it involved running out to the garage, I purchased a small 5 gallon Shop Vac, stuck a HEPA filter and HEPA collection bag in it, and a fine cleaning tool set reducer nozzle. I bought a foot pedal for power control, made a wand stand out of some PVC pipe and 2x8 lumber, and stuffed it behind some furniture next to the Roomba's base. Still have to pull the dust bin out of the Roomba but now it is quick and easy. This is the most awesome Roomba hack I've found since it really makes Roomba nicer to use.

The Roomba is not a magic fix. It trades one set of problems for a different, possibly much better set of problems. If you're willing to put some effort into reducing that second set of problems, Roomba can be a real win.
posted by jgreco at 6:03 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a Eufy Robovac 11 which cleans our downstairs (tiled) floor. We occasionally bring it upstairs to have a go at the carpets.

It is generally pretty good. It sometimes gets stuck under things and struggles with very deep carpet. Cables or thin cord materials sometimes get wrapped around the rotors. It's easy to fix, but better if you don't have many of these in the house.

Emptying it is easy. As others have mentioned you'll need some way to pick it up for emptying and/or transporting to the upper floor.

It doesn't have a phone interface. Errors are shown by a series of bleeps in a particular sequence. Programming it to start at a particular time needs you to set the time on the robot first, and to do this you need to be pointing the remote at the robot when hitting the buttons, so this can sometimes be a bit tricky.

Our dog is not a fan. We were hoping to set it off during the night but it scared her, so we run it each day instead.

It's relatively cheap but does just as well as a Roomba (apparently) and is a lot quieter as well.
posted by Stark at 6:15 AM on November 10, 2017

I love our Roomba, but we're lazy housekeepers, so it just keeps the place cleaner than we would ourselves. Two quirky things about ours that haven't already been mentioned:

We have one of those anti-fatigue mats in the kitchen. It can get on top of it (which is fine), but then apparently the edge detection kicks in and it can't get off. We just try to move the mat out of the kitchen one days we put Roomba in there.

We also have a dog. She does not love Roomba. She learned to turn it off pretty quickly, and since we run it during the day, we're not home to turn it back on. I taped a plastic lid over the button, but that makes Roomba taller than it thinks it is, so sometimes it gets more stuck or scrapes the lid off itself. A flat piece of plastic would probably work better.
posted by natabat at 9:48 AM on November 10, 2017

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