I have a dog and he has a lot of hair, so about a year and a half ago I decided to get a floor-cleaning robot ((Actually, I decided to ask for one for my birthday, and my parents obliged.)). It’s been a while now and, spoiler alert, I’m going through some robot-related changes at the moment, so I figured this would be a good time to write a review of the experience.
I’m not very good at cleaning. I don’t have a problem doing the actual cleaning, but I lack cleaning skills like I lack nunchuck skills and bow-hunting skills, so every time I try to clean an apartment, it ends up dirtier than when I started. This was more pronounced when I lived in Israel, where there are no mops and normally apartments are cleaned by flooding the linoleum floors with soapy, perfumed water and then squeegee-ing it all out through a hole in the floor (seriously), but cleaning – especially cleaning floors – has continued to be trouble for in San Francisco and New York, whether my floors had carpets, rugs or bare hardwood.
While I have usually hired apartment cleaners by Craigslist, eventually shifting to Handy, going even a week between cleanings means that my floor will be covered in mounds of dog hair. Since my preferred time between cleanings is two to four weeks, I’ve always needed either to sweep or vacuum every few days, or keep having the place cleaned more frequently.
So that’s why I decided to look into getting a floor-cleaning robot: even if it would be expensive to buy, if it could reduce my reliance on professionals who charge between fifty and one hundred dollars a pop for cleaning, it could pay for itself over just a few months by letting me have the apartment cleaned less frequently. And my place would feel much cleaner all the time, since there wouldn’t be a chance for dog hair to accumulate anywhere.
Enter The Sweethome
Roomba is the main brand of these robots, but there are others, so I read a bunch of reviews online. The Sweethome‘s review is pretty good and it helped me settle on the model they recommended, the Roomba 650.
In particular, I chose Roomba over Neato because I felt that the Roomba’s navigation system would work better for my apartment’s layout (big bedroom connected to big living room by narrow hallway): Roomba starts going and continues semi-randomly until its battery starts wearing out, at which point it begins listening for its dock, finding it and navigating to it. Neato, on the other hand, actually maps out a room in an attempt to pass over each area once, before returning to its dock, the location of which it knows.
I went specifically with the 650 model because I thought The Sweethome’s advice was sound: more expensive models would not give me much more bang for my buck, and less expensive models were going to be sub-optimal for my dog’s hair (and some lower-end Roombas lack scheduling capabilities).
Adapting Roomba to my life
If you get a Roomba, plug it in and press the button, it will work. But I suspect that a lot of people who get Roombas and don’t like them actually didn’t invest in making the Roomba fit into their lifestyles – it’s ugly, they have to press the button to make it go, it goes where they don’t want. So I put some effort into making it actually work for me.
Where the Roomba should live
The first thing I had to decide when setting up my Roomba was where it would live. Its charging dock needs to be on the floor somewhere, preferably in a central place in the apartment, but it’s also kind of an eyesore and it takes up space that could be used for other things. Fortunately, I have a large red leather chair in my living room that has six-inch wooden legs, and I was able to set up the Roomba’s charging dock under the chair. This keeps it completely concealed from view when it’s not cleaning, and then in case I ever need to get to it for something, the chair is super easy to move.
The downside of this setup is that the chair is all the way on one end of my apartment, so not centrally located at all, which makes it more difficult for the Roomba to get back to it once its battery starts wearing out at the end of a cleaning session. But the chair does have a pretty good diagonal view of the hallway that leads from my living room to the rest of my apartment, so it works out pretty nicely.
Scheduling the Roomba
Roomba makes noise, so I didn’t want it to clean while I’d be at home, awake and reading, listening to music or watching movies. But the noise it makes is pretty gray, so I also didn’t think I’d mind if it did its sessions while I slept. I tend to close my bedroom door when I go to bed at night, and I did want the Roomba to clean in the bedroom, so overnight cleanings were out of the question.
For weekdays, I opted to go with daytime cleanings at the hours I was most likely to be at work: 1 pm.
For weekends, I had a much more difficult time figuring out when to schedule the cleanings, since I don’t have a consistent schedule for weekend days. For a while I was doing Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, but that got changed around a lot. Then I just didn’t run the Roomba at all on weekends for a while. Most recently its weekend schedule has been similar to its weekday schedule, except I’m much more likely to cancel a cleaning on a weekend, returning it to its dock to wait for a time when I’m not home.
Walling off areas
Roomba comes with one electronic wall, which is a battery-powered device (C batteries not included, ugh) that emits a bit of light that prevents a Roomba from attempting to cross it. I didn’t think I’d need the wall for anything, but I soon discovered that wasn’t the case.
My bathroom floor is tiled and elevated over the rest of my hardwood apartment by about four inches, which is too much for Roomba to climb. When it gets to my bathroom, it interprets it as a wall, and just bounces off it and goes somewhere else.
Half of my kitchen floor, however, is tiled and elevated over the rest of my hardwood apartment only by about two inches. This is not high enough for Roomba to interpret it as a wall, but it is too high for Roomba to climb. What this means is that Roomba continuously attempts to climb into my kitchen and fails.
For a few months until I figured out exactly what was going on, about one third of the time I’d come home at the end of a day and see that Roomba had ended its cleaning session by attempting to get into the tiled part of my kitchen and getting marooned there, half on one side and half on the other. By strategically reorganizing and placing the electronic wall in the right spot, I was able to prevent Roomba from trying this, and now it almost never happens.
Adapting my life to Roomba
Just like I had to change some of the ways that Roomba did things to fit into my life and meet my needs, I also found that I needed to change some things about my own habits in order to let the Roomba be effective. It’s my hunch that some Roomba detractors are the people least willing or able to make these changes.
Furniture that sits directly on the floor often has dust and dog hair collecting behind it. If Roomba could get under that furniture regularly, it would be able to keep that entire space clean. One of the first things I did after getting Roomba was screw the legs onto my couch, so Roomba could clean under and behind that area. I also raised a lamp in my living room. And I bought shelving for my foyer area to keep all my shoes off the floor, letting Roomba get the dust and dog hair that tended to collect in the big shoe pile.
Any time I buy furniture in the future, I’ll now be very biased towards getting pieces with legs under which Roomba can maneuver.
Keeping things off the floor
I already have to keep a wide range of things off of my floor, and also out of Sharav’s reach, because there’s a chance he may want to eat them: paper, which he loves to tear to shreds; wires, which he used to chew if given the opportunity; and fresh food. But because Roomba needs access to the entire floor and can get caught in things, I’ve had to get more disciplined about never leaving things like clothes lying around. This is ironic because, in all the years that I’ve had a dog, my floors have never been cleaner than they are now, and therefore I’ve never been as tempted just to leave things on them.
Cleaning the Roomba’s brush cage
Roomba cleans my apartment’s floor, vacuuming up dust, dirt, crumbs and various forms of detritus. Where does all that schmutz go? It goes inside the Roomba. That’s right: in Roomba, there’s a compartment that’s easily removable, and which the Roomba’s person must open periodically to dump out all the crap that’s collected in there. Also, there are parts of the Roomba that sometimes need some human attention, like the brushes that sweep up all the stuff into the cage area.
This is exactly like using a regular vacuum cleaner.
And yet… one would hope that Roomba could perhaps take care of itself, finding a way to empty its own debris container into the garbage can at regular intervals.
No such luck. I try to make a point to empty mine every weekend. If I don’t, then nothing bad will happen – until one day, when I get home from work and see Roomba lying on my floor, unable to move forward because it’s too full. Then I clean it out.
What Roomba doesn’t do
As I mentioned above, Roomba can not clean Roomba. At least for now, its rather dumb artificial intelligence has not progressed to the point where humans are not necessary.
Roomba’s built-in scheduling system also does not allow me to set it to clean more than once per day. I get exactly zero cleanings or exactly one cleaning that can be scheduled per day of the week, and any others must be run manually. I guess they keep it this way to encourage people to buy the fancier and more expensive versions.
- Roomba does not wash my dishes.
- Roomba does not scrub my toilet.
- Roomba does not tuck me in at night.
About a month ago, Roomba ritually killed itself in front of my very eyes.
While I was reading in my living room one afternoon, Roomba was spinning around the apartment. My dog’s crate door was open, and attached to the inside of the door was a water bowl that was filled with water.
Roomba approached the crate, seemed to hesitate, and then rammed itself directly into the door. The water inside the bowl jostled, splashed around a bit, and then came out over the side of the bowl and dripped right down onto the top of the Roomba.
I immediately gasped.
I didn’t know what to do.
The water quickly seeped inside the Roomba, so it didn’t seem like there was anything I could do.
But before I had a chance to do anything at all, Roomba approached the crate again, seemed to hesitate again, and then rammed itself directly into the door again, except much harder the second time. And again the water inside the bowl jostled, and again it splashed around a bit, and then again it came out over the side of the bowl and dripped right down onto the top of the Roomba, except much more the second time.
I immediately tried to turn Roomba off, but it was too late: none of its controls worked. And all it would do was spin around in a circle, hopelessly and mindlessly taunting me, or possibly begging for mercy, I’m not sure which. Since it was at the beginning of a cleaning session when this happened, its battery was fully charged, which meant that it took hours before it finally died.
To be clear, this event was a crazy fluke and does not affect my judgment of Roomba as a product. Of course it was my fault because it ran into the crate door with the water bowl that I’d set up, but I don’t think it’s something I reasonably could have predicted. This disaster was not covered by the warranty, so I needed to look elsewhere for repairs. But that’s another story.
I love the Roomba 650 and recommend it warmly for almost anyone. It does a fine job of keeping my apartment floors looking very nice between professional cleanings – so nice that I’ve been able to extend the time between cleanings, saving myself money and hassle.
Here are the types of people who should not get a Roomba:
- People who really enjoy cleaning and are good at it.
- People who have lots of stuff all over their floors and no interest in removing that stuff.
- People who refuse to clean the Roomba’s brushes or empty its debris compartment.