The dishwasher, the washing machine the tumble dryer…just some of the automated appliances that have changed our lives. No longer are we required to spend large swathes of our precious time washing and drying dishes and clothes. Vacuuming, however, is still one job that most of us must fit into our busy lives. But could that be changing? Robot vacuum cleaners have actually been on the scene for decades now. Are we at the stage that we can add the robot vacuum cleaner to our arsenal of appliances to reduce the burden of cleaning?
Originally envisioned in a science fiction novel, and then realised into a relatively valid vacuum cleaner in the 1990s the robot vacuum has come a long way. The first devices were bulky, clumsy and tended to leave large areas uncleaned. They were considered fascinatingly futuristic, so much so that a prototype warranted an appearance on the BBC’s tv program Tomorrow’s World. This particular model didn’t last too long on the market but certainly paved the way for newer improved versions that are available today.
Which leads to the question ‘What are the pros and cons of robot vacuum cleaners?’
Pros of Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Who wouldn’t agree that someone or something else doing a chore on your behalf isn’t a good thing? To sit down and relax, saving time, energy (and maybe a sore back) has got to be a bonus. Most robots can be programmed in advance to operate while you aren’t home. Some newer models are also Wi-Fi compatible, so you can press ‘play’ while you are out and arrive home to find the dreaded job done already. Now that’s definitely a bonus.
The knowledge that the vacuuming is being done when I’m not even in the same room as the vacuum cleaner gives me great satisfaction, but for people with sensitive airways this benefit is much more consequential: it can reduce exposure to airborne particles and allergens thereby being a benefit to health.
These vacuums are great at reaching to places that are hard to access by us mere humans as their lower profile allows them whiz around under the bed or the sofa. They are particularly helpful if vacuuming is difficult due to physical disability or injury.
It’s possible to set no-go areas or block off rooms you don’t want to be cleaned. Robot vacuums work by using sensors to avoid bumping into furniture and they can map where they’ve been around the room. The original vacuums used ultrasonic sensors, only allowing them to come within an inch of objects. This has been replaced by new technology, evolving over the years to using camera based navigation systems (vSLAM) and then to the newer more accurate type of laser-based navigation (LiDAR). LiDAR navigates better as cameras lose accuracy in poor light. Also, the LiDAR laser scans through the entire room to get a clearer picture of obstacles on the ground. The laser technology means no-go lines can be drawn with higher accuracy, so fewer areas are missed.
Some robots also have a dirt sensor so they know which areas of your floor to pay more attention to. The smart models offer a wide range of features like voice control, room mapping and even automatic dirt disposal (although the larger receptacle still needs to be emptied manually). Many will also send you error alerts if your robot is in trouble. Integrated webcams allow you remotely watch it hard at work (a novelty factor that may quickly wear off!) or indeed, watch it being chased by your pets!
The latest models even feature an innovative mopping system with a technology combining an intelligent auto lift feature and a sonic mopping system with carpet recognition. This means the robot can recognise when it is on carpeted surfaces, automatically lifting the mop so as not to soak the carpet, allowing it to vacuum and mop in one go, without the need for manual intervention.
Finally, these appliances are compact and easily stored -more so than a traditional vacuum- and will not take up too much additional space in your home.
Cons of Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Robot vacuums are ideal for cleaning individual rooms and single storey homes. However stair cleaning is beyond their capability. That being said, while robot vacuums are unable to go upstairs, their built-in sensors thankfully prevent them from falling down the stairs.
Laser technology means these robots have come a long way but cables, rugs and similar obstacles can cause difficulties and your robot may need rescuing from time to time.
Robot vacuums are relatively noisy. It’s unlikely you will be able to tolerate your robot doing its job while you sleep, watch a movie or take part in a zoom meeting. It’s not just the noise of the appliance itself but they regularly bang into furniture and walls.
Robot vacuums’ smaller motors can’t generate as much suction as normal vacuums so to do a similar job, cleaning cycles must be more frequent. Manual vacuuming, unfortunately will still be necessary to do a comparable job. This is especially true on carpets. Receptacles are generally smaller than traditional vacuums, so need emptying more often. Plus, the nozzle is often equipped with side rotating brushes. These factors are all relevant for indoor air quality as each has the potential to increase airborne particles and allergens. The design of a robot vacuum cleaner is critical to how much it impacts indoor air quality so it’s crucial to choose a model that has been proven to be capable of adequate suctioning, does not result in excessive allergen or particulate exposure when in use, and doesn’t release excess allergen into the air when changing the bag or emptying the receptacle.
There is no doubt that there are good quality robot vacuums in the market that do an effective job of cleaning your floors. However they cannot reach areas like curtains or upholstery so a traditional vacuum with a hose attachment has to take up the slack in this regard. This, I’m sorry to say, is an unavoidable chore to reduce dust and allergens in your home.
Robot vacuums are more likely to break and are harder to fix .With inbuilt computers, sensors and app integration, the robot vacuum is a much more complex machine than the traditional vacuum. Not only do they need more regular maintenance (cleaning out wheels and brushes, for example), but they can also be harder and more expensive to fix. To make your life easier, it’s always wise to look for models whose replacement parts- brushes, batteries, and wheels- are easy to find.
There is no doubt that robot vacuums have come a long way. Cameras, lasers, webcams and app integration have all contributed to a much more effective, user-friendly appliance than the early models. Having one can pleasantly reduce how often you need to use your traditional vacuum. However, in terms of cleaning power, reliability and ability to adequately remove dust and allergens from your home, the robot has to be considered as a great addition to the home appliance collection but not as a replacement.
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Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O’Donovan
About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author
Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.