Is the Roomba Worth It?
One household name rings familiar when it comes to robovacs: Roomba. But the popularity of the iRobot’s flagship bot extends far beyond its longevity in the market — major robot vacuum reports and customer reviews echo the Roomba’s reputation for reliability. In fact, even after a year and countless strides made in robovac technology, the Roomba 960 outpaced other models across manufacturers in our second round of Reviews.com testing.
I’ve spoken with three different robovac experts about what to look for in a saturated market and asked users about what they liked and disliked most about their machines. In general, most people can agree that as long as their bot cleans the dirt off their floors, doesn’t require excessive babysitting, and doesn’t waste battery life unwittingly tracing the same circle of carpet, owning a robovac is well worth the money. I took stock of these considerations when experimenting with the 960 and then checked to see whether it exceeded or leveled with iRobot’s marketing claims.
What I Learned
The Roomba 960 is a powerful cleaner
Shedding dogs — and humans — are no match for the Roomba 960. It works well on both carpet and hardwood flooring and, during testing, picked up more of our flour-coffee challenge mix than any other bot in our robot vacuum testing lineup (an impressive, but not perfect, 71%). So for the pet dander, dirt, and long hair accumulating under your bed (and doing your allergies no good), you can trust this robot to consume it all with ease.
…but only for certain types of messes
Larger particles are a bit more difficult for the Roomba to chew and swallow. When I threw cups of Cheerios onto the ground, the 960 managed to deploy its “dirt detection” function a few times (this is where it circles the mess until it thinks all the dirt is gone). But there is a certain threshold on what your Roomba can digest — after a while, this bot started leaving behind a trail of cereal crumbs.
It’s best for daily maintenance
The Roomba 960 is a useful addition to your home’s cleaning suite. Stickier or larger messes don’t typically create the best environment for your Roomba to succeed — your mop and upright vacs still have a place in the cleaning sphere. Think of it this way: The Roomba 960 can do everything your everyday sweeper does and far, far more. If our $10 brooms could reliably scoop the topical dirt off of our carpets — not just hard surfaces — I’m sure there’d be less hype around pricey robots.
So: Is the Roomba 960 Worth It?
Yes — for hands-off vacuuming
If coming home from work, kicking off your shoes, and not having to worry about the grime from your kitchen floor clinging to the bottom of your bare feet appeals to you — you’d probably enjoy welcoming this robot into your home. Starting a cleaning cycle can be as easy as pressing the large green “clean” button at the very center of the app from your desk — 20 miles from your home. But if this still sounds like too much work, you can use the app to schedule all your Roombas to clean every Wednesday at 8 a.m. for the rest of the year. With an impressive 4.8 stars on the App Store and a 4.2 Google Play rating, it’s safe to say most people agree controlling a Roomba from your phone is a breeze.
“Roomba vacuums are designed as maintenance robots — you want to run them more frequently than you would a regular vacuum, because they’re automatic. I think that’s another thing that’s important — [these robots] keep up with the daily dirt in the house, and that’s a different paradigm.”
Ken Bazydola Director of Product Management, iRobot
Technically, you don’t have to touch this robot until it’s time to empty the dustbin, because it “recharges and resumes” cleaning on its own. This means even a dead battery won’t keep it from finishing a job: It’ll simply scoot back to its home base for some extra juice and head back out to finish what it started after an hour or so. This keeps you from having to later use the upright to pick up what your partially-charged robot neglected.
Yes — if it fits in your budget
The Roomba 960’s price tag is on the higher end, but it’s actually becoming more of a mid-grade level bot as the market continues to advance. Bazydola told us that the Roomba i7 will eventually replace the 960 in terms of functionality and price — but for now, you can save some money by choosing the 960 over the more advanced iRobot model. You don’t necessarily have to worry about forfeiting a better clean when choosing the 960 over the i7(+), but you will be giving up some extra tech features, like smart mapping and a self-cleaning dustbin.
Yes — for tackling dirt in hard-to-reach spaces
Another one of the main perks of having a robot vacuum is that it can clean everywhere you and your handheld can’t reach. This one likes to venture under lower-clearance furniture, even though at 3.6” tall it’s not the slimmest model on the market. But overall, tackling the dirt under your bed, kitchen table, couch, etc. are all manageable feats for the 960, and you can even customize how you want it to clean a certain room. Selecting “edge clean” on the app will send the Roomba on a mission to trail the walls and furniture legs at the end of a job — perfect for the dust accumulating alongside your baseboards.
No — if you’re hoping to toss your upright vacuum
When we tested upright vacuums, the models with the most powerful suction picked up close to 100% of the mess in just two passes. The Roomba 960 beat all other robovacs during our pickup test, but after 30 minutes it had still only cleared 71% of the total mess. So if you’re looking to get rid of heavy-duty dirt quickly, waiting for your robot vacuum to navigate its way around the entire room (or level) probably won’t suffice.
“I think where we’re going in the marketplace is we’re transitioning from a bigger upright vacuum to a smaller stick vac and combination of robot. The robot cleans the house on a daily basis while the family is away or the kids are at school, and then you use your stick vac maybe once or twice a week based on how dusty some corner is that a robot couldn’t get to due to the shape of a wall or transition.”
Scott Ledterman General Manager, Ecovacs
Your robovac also can’t climb stairs, and may struggle in certain tight corners of your home. If you need to clean the crumbs off your carpeted stairs or clear the cobwebs out of that slanted basement closet beneath them, you’ll probably want to stick with the skinny handheld attachment on your upright.
No — if you expect it to be invincible
The term “robot” might make you think of a super-intelligent machine that knows how to avoid performance-hindering obstacles. Alas, this is not the current state of robovac technology. The 960 doesn’t get quite as confused as its entry-level siblings, but if you have a pile of loose scarves or extra-long, stringy curtains, your Roomba is likely to confuse them with normal debris and, in attempting to clean them, end up with your soft furnishings lodged in its wheels and require assistance. Having a Roomba means you also need to prepare your home a bit. When you want your regular vacuum to pick up the dirt under that wilting plant in the living room, you move the pot out of the way. The same idea applies to a robot vacuum.
No — if you want it to clean specific areas within a room
Some mapping bots build intricate floor plans of your home that you can then edit and manipulate to direct your robovac to clean certain areas and avoid others. The 960 doesn’t work this way, but it will send you cleaning reports — which include a map of your home — at the end of every clean. Using iAdapt 2.0 (the i7 uses 3.0), the 960 subsequently wipes its memory after each run, which can be an asset in some cases, especially if you don’t want to wait for the bot to learn floor plans or feel a little uncomfortable with a machine knowing every room of your home. The fast-learning 960 figures how to weave its way around your home pretty quickly and can handle navigating different levels of your home with ease (all you have to do is move it up and down the stairs). If you want a smart-mapping bot, check out the Roomba i7, i7+, and EcoVacs Deebot 900. The i7(+) spends a few runs learning your floor plan and then intuitively segments rooms, allowing you to direct it to clean one or two without venturing into others. Similarly, the Deebot 900 lets you target specific areas without having to wait several minutes (or over an hour) for the robot to traverse the entire room before making its way to the mess – like a spill under the kitchen table.
Alternatives to the Roomba 960
Eufy RoboVac 30C
Eufy introduced the “connected” (Wifi-compatible) Eufy 30C in September 2018, and while it won’t give you detailed mapping reports or clean your home in the (more or less) methodical, semi-intelligent manner of the 960, it’s a solid robot vacuum nonetheless. Its slim design allows it to slip under furniture with ease while maintaining strong suction and not being overly noisy. It also comes with a virtual and physical remote, which are handy when you need to wiggle your Eufy out of trouble or want to redirect its path.
EcoVacs Deebot 900
You don’t have to worry about a lengthy wait time when it comes to letting the EcoVacs Deebot 900 map your home — once it does, it also intuitively segments the rooms for you (like the i7). In the past, the EcoVacs app has had a reputation for being a tad finicky and “forgetting” mapped floor plans. But we didn’t encounter this when testing — we were actually relatively pleased with the degree of map customizability. We could tell the robot to clean a specific room without watching it sneak into another, and if we wanted to clean just the area around the coffee table, we simply drew a box around the area and watched the bot clean for three or four minutes before returning to its station. However, the Deebot 900 is not nearly as powerful as the 960 — so if you don’t care about quick mapping and sending your robot to clean specific areas, the 960 is the better bet.
Other Roomba models
You might have noticed that the internet is filled with different types of Roombas — the vast majority of these are no longer featured on iRobot’s official site, so it’s important to buy from an authorized retailer (like Amazon) to maintain warranty eligibility and optimal customer support. The vacuum models that are listed on iRobot’s website include the entry-level 690 and e5, the 960, and the new i Series. The basic bots exhibit a more haphazard way of roaming around your home, and the more advanced bots come with greater suction and smarter algorithms to (sometimes map) and navigate your floors. You can check out our robot vacuum for more specific details on each of the different models.
The Bottom Line
Considering the 960 is a worthwhile venture, as long as you set the right expectations for what it can do and its price tag suits your budget. It provides a balanced blend of suction and navigational power that can be difficult to find in an overwhelming market space. More importantly, it makes cleaning your floors a more frequent, less daunting task.