Do I want a Roomba?
December 3, 2018 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Does a Roomba work amidst clutter, and on two floors, and with a cat, and on a mat, and etc?

I don't know anything about vacuuming except that it sucks. Am considering a Roomba. Will it work for me?

1. STAIRS - I live in a two-level place. Can a Roomba learn both storeys to clean them on alternate days? Will it fall down the stairs?

2. NOISE - I don't want too much noise to transfer through the floors and be heard on the storey below where it's running. How loud is it?

3. CLUTTER - I have a lot of projects on the go, which means a lot of ephemeral piles and objects, most of which stay in their temporary locations for about a month at a time. How will the Roomba manage that?

4. DURATION - How long does it take to clean a storey of a house that has, say, 4 rooms?

5. CAT - I have a neurotic cat who's afraid of the real vacuum and dustbuster (and everything else in life). How badly will it freak her out? Will she pee on things? Less dust but more pee would be a bad trade.

6. ETC - Tell me more about Roombae; anything else I should know? Thanks!
posted by pseudostrabismus to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
1) Roomba will stop at the edge of the stairs. You'll have to physically move it to the next level.
2) It's really noisy. Really.
3) If the projects are large, like a box, Roomba will butt up and go around them. If the projects are small, like paper or paperclips, it will scrunch them up as it goes over the top or suck them up.
4) It will take hours to clean four rooms. It might have to recharge to finish, so it might stop before they're all done.
5) If your cat is freaked out by a normal vacuum cleaner, she'll hate this. She may eventually get used to it. It's erratic and goes for hours. Most likely she'll hide. I have no idea if she'll pee, just like I have no idea if you will ;)
6) Roomba is great but if you're not the kind of person who likes to pick up small things first to enable it to clean, it won't work for you. These will just jam or break the cleaner. Also, Roomba can get trapped trying to get around objects so there's that too.
posted by Jubey at 12:11 AM on December 4 [8 favorites]


Jubey covered that all quite well. I would like to also mention that cat vomit may be a concern, if you are not home when the vacuum is running (ask me how I know!).
posted by kellyblah at 12:19 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


My no name robotic sweeper would last about an hour before needing a recharge and had only a tiny pocket (not a bag) requiring more emptying than I expected. It also hid itself under my bed and I didn't find it for ages. Being no name, not as smart as a Roomba. Also incredibly disappointing, my elderly cat did not want to take rides on it and disliked it. Anyway, it's sitting on a shelf and has for months while I get up the energy to foist it onto someone else.
posted by b33j at 1:01 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


Roomba will inevitably find all your weak spots, i.e. that thing you forgot to pick up or that bundle of cords you didn't think it would gobble up or that piece of furniture you didn't think it'd get stuck in. It's fantastic for large areas without clutter on the floor but it sucks in cluttered environments. (We used to run it 3x weekly pre-kids - or should I say pre-Legos - but we hardly ever use it now, because first we have to pick up all the Legos and other small toys and then it runs for at least an hour and during this time there can be no Lego-playing so we have to do it in the morning while we're already running around and it's just too much trouble.)

And if you have long hair (or your cat does), the hair gets tangled in the brushes and you have to pull it out of the brushes after a couple of runs. (We have two long-haired persons in our household and I had to do it after every run.)

OTOH, I still love our Roomba. When we used it regularly, there was much less dust on all the surfaces, and the place looked cleaner even though we rarely mopped or cleaned otherwise.

Perhaps try to find a friend who'll lend you a Roomba for a test run first? Or pick up a cheap used one?
posted by gakiko at 1:06 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Jubey's covered this well except another bit of cat anecdata - mine hate regular vacuum cleaners but thought the Roomba was fab.

You need to keep the floor clear. One time my Roomba caught my running shoes shoe laces and dragged them all over the apartment.

It does teach you to keep things clean because the joy of having something else vacuum is well worth effort. You basically become cat slave and Roomba slave but it's totally worth it.

Further to them not falling down stairs, they'll also avoid area rugs with dark borders as they can read it as a cliff.
posted by kitten magic at 1:10 AM on December 4 [6 favorites]


Oh and if it dies it will inevitably be under something really hard to to reach like middle of king sized bed) so you have to crawl after it. But mine said 'uh oh' in an adorable robot voice so I would mostly forgive it.
posted by kitten magic at 1:13 AM on December 4 [15 favorites]


My friend has cats. Well. Now cat. :( And a Roomba. And the cat, who is pretty skittish, doesn't mind it, and her house is pretty cluttered.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:23 AM on December 4


Just got the swankiest roomba on the market after years of waffling about it. We hate hate hate vacuuming and are super cluttered hairy people with hairy cats and it's a whole thing.

So far, yes, I have had to cut off massive hairballs from the roomba after each sessions, but they're all *my* hair, the long cat hair seems to be dealt with no problem. To test it we've left crap all over the floor including paper things and cat toys. It just kind of bumps those around and goes on its way. The cat toys being moved around actually means the cats are finally interested in some old ones again! There are plenty of places it can't go, like areas full of jumbled cords and it gets confused by wheelie chair bottoms.

It is slowly learning the layout of the house. Evidently once it learns it I can tell it to clean just an individual room. I think it can learn different layouts and keep them sorted so you can be like "now you are upstairs" and it will be smarter about cleaning that layout. I won't be bothering with that because my upstairs almost never has more than a few square feet of floor showing.

Today we had an incident where it starting eating the squishy cat food, it was alarmingly aggressive about the whole thing and I had to flip it like a turtle to get it to chill so I could move the cat food out of the way, but it comes with a no-go sensor thing that I should put by the cat dishes and just never bothered. It can switch between a virtual wall or a halo circle thing (which is what I will use to protect the cat dishes later.) I suspect you can get extra ones that you could put in your project piles to protect them from roomba consumption.

It's not nearly as noisy as I was expecting. Certainly a lot quieter than a regular vacuum! I have one rambunctious cat and one chill cat, both of whom are scared of the regular vacuum. Rambunctious cat is curious about the roomba but not aggressive about it. Chill cat gives it the beady eyeball from afar. But neither of them are scared of it and appear to be regarding it as similar to when I move furniture around - something to be away from but not traumatized by. I would say that it's maybe as loud as the dishwasher? We don't have a very fancy dishwasher.

It's not the end of all floor cleaning by humans in the house, of course. But so far it really is making incremental change in the overall grossness of this place. Because some vacuuming is better than none at all, you know? We've got, like, tumbleweeds of cat hair and crumbs blowing around the place that are slowly being excavated by the roomba, one or two on each pass.

It seems pretty solid and I can clearly understand its construction so I'm comfortable doing maintenance on it, much more so than the mysterious and complex Dyson I've got that I hate using. I'm not sure if it ultimately will be worth the thousand dollars we plunked down on it, but so far it's going okay.
posted by Mizu at 3:29 AM on December 4 [7 favorites]


Less dust but more pee would be a bad trade.

Then unless you enjoy cleaning up cat urine or vomit that has been blown everywhere, including up the walls, by a Roomba that has also now spread cat pee through its internal parts, I would not get a Roomba.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:15 AM on December 4 [3 favorites]


I absolutely love our Eufy robovac.
1) It doesn't climb stairs, but it does have sensors that prevent it from falling down the stairs.
2) Our Eufy is one of the quieter ones on the market, and it is very quiet indeed. It's no louder than a large box fan.
3) Stable piles of things should be fine. The big no-nos are cords/cables/strings/hair elastics which will tangle or small things that will get sucked up but interfere with airflow/suction (think bobby pins, coins, receipts, etc) It will happily shove aside things like cat toys or work around larger things. You probably will want to tidy up before running it to get the best performance, but it's not essential and takes less than 5 minutes on my ~1200 sq ft first floor.
4) Ours has a charge of about an hour and then it goes back to it's base. It is not designed to get your floor spotless on a single run, but the idea is that you do it daily (or so) and over the course of a couple days it gets to 98% perfect and (here's the crucial bit) then it stays at 98% clean as long as you push a button once a day. Bliss.
5) Three of our four cats are terrified of the vacuum cleaner, but none of them are particularly bothered by the robot. Honestly they get more freaked out by me dashing about the house for a few minutes tidying up before I run it. They do occasionally get spooked by it coming up behind them (it's that quiet!) but it is by far less stress than vacuuming.
6) Here is the Wirecutter article that made us choose the Eufy.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:16 AM on December 4 [5 favorites]


Roombas are no good with clutter. Best case scenario is it just pushes the stuff around; worst case scenario is it’ll try to pick it up, choke on it, and stop without finishing the rest of your floor. If you’re extra lucky, it will crawl under a couch to die and you’ll forget to fish it out and then three weeks later wonder why you have cat-fur tumbleweeds everywhere. It’s mostly stringy or cloth-y clutter that gets tangled up, so if you have a habit of leaving socks on the floor the Roomba may not be for you.

Our cats ignore the Roomba unless it’s headed straight for them, and occasionally it will corner them in a room with a door that opens from the inside and essentially shut them in. If your doors latch shut easily, set up doorstops so your cat doesn’t get stuck.

If you want to vacuum around clutter, I love our Dyson stick vacuum - it’s super easy to maneuver, and less hassle than a traditional vacuum. More work upfront than with a Roomba, sure, but less troubleshooting and less playing Clue with your misplaced strangled robot. It might seem like overkill to have both a Dyson and a Roomba, but I find that they cover each other’s shortcomings really well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:29 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


We also have a Eufy. We got this one on Prime Day for nearly half off. We have 3 cats and 2 humans with a lot of hair. Our house is cluttered. My Eufy prep is mostly picking up random things cats have thrown on the floor and putting them back on the table (from which the cats will just throw them again). It shoves larger things like cat bowls out of the way, but I always pick up the cat toys just to stop it from getting tangled in them. The Eufy is much much quieter than a vacuum. Two out of three of our cats don't mind being in the room with it. The most neurotic one just goes in the closet while it runs.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:22 AM on December 4


1. STAIRS - covered by other answers above

2. NOISE - Louder than you'd expect, but quieter than a full upright vac

3. CLUTTER - don't leave socks around on the floor, or it will choke on them

4. DURATION - My dumb Roomba (without mapping) would probably take forever. the Neato took 1.5 hours to do 730 square feet upstairs and an 50 minutes to do 409 sq ft downstairs. I know this because the app provides me with a map of cleaned areas and run time.

5. CAT - Mine didn't seem to care about them. one wouldn't get out of the way until it was just about to bump into her.

6. ETC - I have a older basic roomba (random navigation only, no mapping). I did have to stop it every 15 minutes to remove fur from the brushes and especially the bearings thereof. It's entirely possible that the design has improved since then.

We also have a much newer Neato D3 which seems to do a much better job of not knotting itself up in hair, as I only have to clean the brushes every 2-4 sessions (which are about an hour). The neato will do a whole level of the house, and return to its charging dock as necessary to get the job done.

Whatever brand you get, it's definitely worth getting the charging dock (as opposed to plug-in charger) which may be available as a separate accessory so that the thing doesn't die under furniture like other people have talked about.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:39 AM on December 4


I have a bottom-of-the-line Eufy, and it has changed my life for the better. That said, caveats that would apply to roombas too:

- It's pretty quiet, but going by the reviews, the roomba is LOUD. Also, I mean, it's not silent? It's started up in the middle of the night (I suspect there's a weird connection somewhere, see above in re: bottom of the line.) and woken both me and the cat up.

- I had beautiful daydreams of the cat riding, victorious, on the Eufy. This has not happened, and not just because my cat is a 14-lb monster. He was absolutely terrified at first, and after six months or so has downgraded to watching suspiciously as she* cleans the apartment.

- Before I run her, I do a sweep of cat toys, shoes, cords, anything likely to get sucked up and fouled and/or destroyed. I find having very tidy floors soothing. Now that I have a Christmas tree up, I think I'll mostly be running the vacuum with the remote control, since I otherwise don't see this going well.

Honestly, it's made me a vastly happier person to be able to just set something to clean and not worry, but there is prep work involved, and I do about half the work by just getting stuff up off the floor. If that change is worth it for you, believe me, it is worth it.

* her name is Grace Hopper and she is my cat's little sister as far as I'm concerned.
posted by kalimac at 8:05 AM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Roomba is an adjustment in lifestyle. You can’t leave stuff on the floor. This is mostly a good thing, you will be more tidy.

If you don’t have kids and legos in your life, it’s WONDERFUL.
posted by jbenben at 8:12 AM on December 4


> I have a neurotic cat who's afraid of the real vacuum and dustbuster (and everything else in life). How badly will it freak her out?

My cat -- also named Hopper -- is terrified of my regular vacuum cleaner, but tolerates Roombas.

I agree with jbenben and others who say it forces you to change. I used to be a "vacuum around the clutter" person, and now my floors, at least, are much better. I have small handweights I put around the cats' dishes to stop Rosie from snacking on them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:15 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Honestly, a Roomba sounds like your cat's worst nightmare... like, the movie of "The Roomba that haunted my house" would be too scary for her.

Maybe you could just run it on certain days when your cat is kept in a bedroom?
posted by amtho at 8:30 AM on December 4


I got a Eufy but it keeps getting stuck underneath things. I live in a small house and I have area rugs, and it has trouble with that. It also keeps falling off the step down into the porch. Between that and the very small basket, I basically gave up on it.
posted by suelac at 9:27 AM on December 4


I am not a gadget person AT ALL but I also hate crumbs on the floor. Like some above, on a whim I got that eufy Boost IQ RoboVac 11S on sale for $199 from Amazon and I love it! I run it while I'm at home maybe every 3 days, and it's so quiet, I forget it's running. We have no pets though, so I can't speak to that. It navigates very well, and so far (perhaps 9 sorties), has never gotten stuck, never fallen down the stairs, and never failed to return to base. It runs on batteries for about 100 minutes and then returns on its own.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 9:28 AM on December 4


Meant to add, the level it cleans is all hardwood with a few small area rugs. It will occasionally catch on a rug corner, but I've only watched and never intervened, and it's always gotten itself safely unstuck.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 9:32 AM on December 4


I have a Neato Botvac - now 5 or 6 years old? - that is less loud than a regular vacuum. It cleans the whole main floor either on one charge, or he goes back to his dock to rest in the middle. It takes an hour or maybe 90 minutes? The entire joy of this is the not-paying-attention so I don't really know. His cleaning pattern is more grid-search than random-walk, but he makes lovely Japanese raked-garden swirls in the big carpet when he cleans around the legs of the ottoman and coffee-table. His bin is large enough for the whole level, but the cat hair accumulates fast enough that I empty it before every run. The brushes don't get too tangled, except with *my* hair (which cuts out easily with a seam ripper), and I think the newer models have a different roller design that's better.

As far as clutter goes -- he's pretty good about pushing around bigger cat toys and navigating piles/bags/or my particular cluttery vice = shoes, but I usually do a pre-robot sweep to pick up the cat's turkey feather collection and any stray hairbands. He (Mr. Robot) is fine about cords that are attached on both ends, but sometimes wants to gnaw on loose cord ends like phone chargers if they are on the floor in his path. He will chase bottle tops and yogurt lids around if they are on the floor (but so will the cat, so win-win). I usually arrange the dining chairs to make sure he isn't fenced out of any spots under the table. He is fine with most of my area rugs, including some with fringe and some that are very very dark. There is one very lightweight rug that he wrestles with so it ends up slightly folded up/moved from its spot.

The cat disapproves of Mr. Robot but isn't terrorized. She is terrorized by the actual vacuum and shop vac. Her food dishes are in a tray that Mr. Robot can't/won't climb into. I avoid the Automated-Redistribution-of-Gross-Cat-Emissions problems by running the Robot either on weekend mornings and/or right when I get home from work on weekdays.

Mr. Robot has never just died under the bed, but there are a few spots in my house where he gets scared and bleats for help (but those spots are near wood-latticed HVAC vents *flush set in the floor* which no one with modern construction would have). When he gets stuck more than once in the same spot I get annoyed, but his bleats are very pathetic (and his proud cheer when he finishes his job is very jaunty) so I get over it.

He does not fall down the stairs.

He does a great job with cat hair and crumbs. He is less good with, say, leaves.

His screen is lit up while he's cleaning so it can be pretty annoying to sleep if he's trying to clean after (my) bedtime. I mostly just don't start him cleaning late in the evening in case he'll need to charge/restart, but if it happens I'll just close doors/make barricades so he is excluded from certain rooms but the cat is not trapped.

I'd recommend you measure the height to bottom of your furniture and compare that against the height of various models (among other criteria for choosing a brand).
posted by janell at 10:19 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


I recently had an hour long conversation about cleaning robots at very boring party. The upshot is, they'll partially clean floors, but you'll still need to clean the floor at its corners and spots. Also, a single room clean takes an hour or two. Animals will hate it. It works well with animal hair. The sensor must be kept clean or it will fall down the stairs and break. The company is pretty good about sending you a refurbished model if one breaks.
posted by xammerboy at 10:20 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


As others have noted, it's a mixed bag. With it being necessary for us to remediate dust due to allergy issues, our Roomba 980 has done a fantastic job, doing 9 rooms of a ranch style house in about 6 hours, with one or two stops to charge. Running it three times a week is sufficient to keep the dustbin from filling while it is cleaning, which suggests the house is reasonably clean.

It takes a LOT longer to clean if there are a lot of obstacles. We put the dining room chairs up so that the Roomba doesn't have to meticulously circle each leg of each chair. Roombas will happily guzzle down paperclips, LEGO's, paper (only sometimes successfully, always completely ruined), gnaw away at thin exposed cords left lying on the floor, like USB, Apple, or laptop charging cables, causing damage to all but the hardiest of these. Pretty much the same as if you ran a full-sized vac over them. It will pick up and drag thin clothes left on the floor, sometimes getting stuck. It will treat thicker items as obstacles. It will sometimes get stuck on a rug that isn't taped down because it managed to spin in just the wrong direction. I have friends with Roombas that have given up on them, some because they feel it doesn't control the pet hair well enough.

As jbenben said above, it's a lifestyle adjustment thing. If you can adjust, a Roomba - or probably lots of the cheaper ones - are wonderful devices.

I hid a small HEPA-filtered and -bagged ShopVac near our Roomba's base along with a foot pedal switch, which makes cleaning it out fairly easy. The big win with the Roomba is that it is doing for you the repetitive work that you're unlikely to do yourself as often as it ought to be. Spending two minutes a day cleaning the Roomba's bin, and having to keep floors de-cluttered. is a great thing, and a small price to pay.
posted by jgreco at 11:35 AM on December 4


Oh, one more thing I forgot -- Grace is reasonably good about not getting stuck on area rugs, but be mindful of what furniture you do have. My kitchen table is a knockoff Saarinen tulip table, and if she can get to the base, she'll run up onto it but be unable to back up, leading to the sigh-inducing situation of having to rescue my actual-futuristic robot from my retro-futuristic furniture.
posted by kalimac at 1:26 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


I have a roomba 980 or something. it's totally worthless to actually clean an occasionally messy house. Unless you can get one close to 50% off or more, I'd not buy one.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:12 PM on December 4


I've had a EUFY for about two weeks now and so far I love it. Like you, I have endless projects and clutter, and there are currently two cats and dog that live in this house.
For me there is a learning curve. I don't find it loud at all, a light whirring sound, and the bedrooms are upstairs so we don't hear it on its nightly scheduled run which I've set it to be every night at midnight. There's currently a 50/50 chance when I come down in the morning that it has completed its entire run and redocked itself and is recharged. There's a chance it may have got itself stuck trying to climb onto the slightly higher kitchen floor if I forget to barricade it, or maybe got caught on a small cat toy. For a few days it wasn't charging properly and would die mid floor, but then I realized it's brush was clogged with my long hair and a giant bone shard my dog left lying about. Once cleaned (super easy to remove the roller brush on this model) it has operated fine.
It does take several runs to get the floors up to an acceptable level of pet hair free clean, and I'm thrilled to say that this has finally happened here. The main hallway of my house is the busiest thoroughfare for humans and animals alike, and sweeping and vacuuming it daily was the only way for it to not have a constant coating of hair. Today when the direct sun hit it(best time to see all the shed hair) there was no hair anywhere. Victory!
I like that you can program the Eufy to run while no one is home or during sleeping hours/I also really like that you can press a button on the remote and it will stick to the edges of the rooms for edge cleaning only, or spot cleaning in a particular dirty area, or program it for single room cleaning.
As mentioned, you do need to pick up smaller items, and clear the floor of cords, but that's also kinda a welcome lifestyle change for me, tidying up messy looking cords and stuff for a less visually cluttered look.
The one issue I had is that some of my chairs have splayed legs that it tries to mount and gets stuck. I remedied this by flipping them down (they're light) at night.
The 100 lb. dog is wary of the machine and the two cats like to follow it, the small cat is especially fond of it, and we think he thinks of it as another weird looking animal in the house. We have named the EUFY The FlatCat.
So far I'm very happy with it, I would say that having it run every night eliminates almost all of the visible pet hair, and the house is now only as messy as before I had the pets, so it's a noticeable step up. I am, however, very wary of it lasting long. I've had bad luck with these types of things lasting long in the past.
I would suggest in your case ordering one to try out to see if it works for you. You should be able to decide if you like it or not before the return window closes.
posted by newpotato at 7:33 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


This article might help? Addresses whether the robo-vac does all it's supposed to.
Robovacuums don’t replace regular vacuum cleaners and cost the environment, research finds
posted by freethefeet at 7:30 PM on December 5


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