The Best Roomba Vacuum
The best Roomba can clean your floors without getting stuck on your furniture. We tested seven of iRobot's most promising models for cleaning power, navigation, and the ability to tackle common obstacles. In the end, we found that more money didn’t always buy better results.
Simplicity is a beautiful thing. Just one button gets you a surprisingly powerful clean, but you’ll have to be there to press it.
With scheduling and zoning abilities, this basic bot has just enough tech to take vacuuming totally out of human hands.
The perfect roommate: super tidy, detail-oriented, and quiet — even when it stays up late!
This top-of-the-line Roomba boasts high-tech cleaning abilities, but all that power generates a lot of noise. We only recommend it for daytime use, not overnight cleaning.
The Best Roomba Vacuum
In our Best Robot Vacuums review, we pitted robovacs from a range of top manufacturers against each other and found that iRobot’s Roombas swept the competition. This review dives deep into the iRobot world to understand the company’s first-in-class technology, to discover which models best package that tech, and to get a glimpse into the smart home future that iRobot suggests is just around the (very clean) corner.
Depending on your priorities, the best Roomba may be one that boasts top-of-the-line features and controls, or one that offers solid cleaning power while going easy on technology. But the divide between high-tech and low-tech in robot vacuums is wider than you’d think, so we set out to take a critical look at Roombas from both camps, finding the best of each.
Our favorite basic model is the $300 Roomba 614. If you’re looking to keep your floors clean but don’t need smartphone alerts when it is, you’ll be pleased with the 614’s capabilities. It doesn’t offer any programming, but solid navigation skills coupled with truly powerful cleaning make it an excellent vacuum. It does require a little human help, though — just enough to push its start button. The 614 is most effective in a sparsely furnished space.
While testing Roombas, we found that more money doesn’t necessarily buy better results. The two top-tier models, part of the WiFi-equipped 900 series, are intelligent and well-designed, but the $700 Roomba 960 seemed to have better control over its abilities than the 980 model ($900). Reined-in power led to better obstacle avoidance and less noise, without sacrificing the quality of the clean.
Robot vacuums exude personality, and we quickly grew attached to ours. We’re betting that your Roomba is going to become a sort of roommate, which means that the shopping process is more akin to selecting a pet than a tool. We’ll walk you through all the strengths and quirks of the Roomba line so you can choose a perfect match.
How We Found the Best Roomba Vacuum
We started our search for the best Roomba by comparing all models readily available. As it turned out, there were a lot — we found 26 different models online, but some of those are discontinued; others are store exclusives; and a few are international models. Any of the above means that they are only available to US consumers via third-party sellers. When we talked to iRobot, we were advised to buy only from the company or from authorized retailers. These purchasing routes ensure warranty coverage. That cut our list down quite a bit.
Amazon — it’s a jungle. Amazon is one of iRobot’s authorized retailers, but be alert to third-party sellers within that space, as well. Make sure that the product description says “ships from and sold by Amazon.com.”
Out of the 16 models sold within iRobot’s recommended bounds, the iRobot website only offers five. Four of these are its hot-out-of-the-oven, WiFi-enabled bots: The 690, 890, 960, and 980 models, which were released in 2016 and 2017 and come compatible with both the iRobot HOME app and Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, meaning you have to lift even fewer fingers to get your floors clean. The 614 is the only Roomba on iRobot’s website that doesn’t have wireless capabilities; it’s a basic bot that preserves a lot of early generation features, but gets a 2017 face-lift — a sleek black cover with just one visible button.
From a bare-bones perspective, the WiFi-enabled 690 and 890 repackage the 600 and 800 series, respectively, and add connectivity. For example: The 690 is an upgraded 650. We decided to bring in these parent models (the 650 and the 860) to round out our in-person testing of iRobot’s newest issues. Our complete round-up:
Comparing Apples to Apples
There are three series currently in production — 600, 800, and 900. The different models within each series (for instance, the 614, 650, and 690) share similar levels of power and controllability, all of which get upgraded in subsequent series.
First-generation iAdapt and Aerovac technology means basic dirt-detection skills and typical brushes: the kind with bristles that do a fair job at scraping up debris but are super prone to becoming ensnared in hair. While their navigation style is random, 600 models display iRobot’s patented cleaning algorithms that enable the device to cover an entire room (given enough time) by first locating perimeters and then bouncing between obstacles.
iAdapt 2.0 allows Roombas to navigate multiple rooms and track down dirt wherever it hides, using both optical and acoustic sensors. Extractors (textured rubber brushes) knead the floor to lift debris, but avoid getting caught in coils of hair. The extractors alone make the 800 series a big step up from the 600, as they eliminate a lot of human maintenance time.
Exclusive to the 900 series, recharge-and-resume technology helps expand upon the multi-room navigation capabilities of the 800s: Making a pit stop to recharge before heading back out means a 900-series Roomba can clean an entire level of your home with the single push of a button. In the 980 model, “Carpet Boost” automatically increases air wattage when it senses thicker-pile flooring.
Let the robot games begin
We split up Roomba testing to better observe key traits:
- Cleaning and navigation
For the first act, we cleared a 13-by-11-foot space of everything but an artfully scattered cup of Cheerios and an 8 oz. pile of baking soda. We were interested in how much debris the Roombas could collect in half an hour — a fraction of their typical battery life. We decided to forego furniture in this first test to better observe their pure navigation, and any targeted-cleaning skills. Did they follow a set pattern, spiral randomly, identify the messes and zero in? We mounted a camera to observe each Roomba do its thing.
We expected to be satisfied with the 600 series Roombas, impressed with the 800, and blown away by the 900. We also expected that the 600 series would suffer most from the half-hour restriction: Their random cleaning style depends on the sheer probability that, given enough time, they will hit all areas of a room.
We will never judge a Roomba by its series again. All models, despite wide variations in cleaning approach, gobbled up the whole cup of Cheerios and a good quantity of the baking soda. The 600 series tended to scatter the cereal out in front of them before sucking them back up — a divide-and-conquer method that worked well in our closed-off arena but may be problematic in high-traffic rooms. A couple of models from the 800 and 900 series notified us that their bins were full before their 30 minutes were up (Roomba’s standard 0.6-liter bin capacity equates to about 2.5 cups), but that also meant they were in the winner’s circle for amount of debris gathered.
None of the Roombas left more than a single Cheerio on the floor, meaning that 0.9 oz of their dustbin contents came from the wholesome goodness of General Mills. Their baking soda contents ranged from 3.1 to 5.8 oz, about 40 to 70 percent of the baking soda we deposited. For cleaning efficacy, 980 and 860 tied for first, and a dark horse pick took the bronze: The 614 gathered an impressive 4.9 oz. of baking soda — more than even the 960, our high-tech favorite, managed to get.
Iron Roomba Competition
Most bots tend to get hung up on the same obstacles, but some power through better than others. In order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each Roomba’s sensors, we built a robovac obstacle course.
- Thick carpet and rugs: iRobot tells you right on the box that Roombas are designed for hard floors and low carpet, but we would expect a sophisticated bot to climb normal rugs and transition over molding. To measure their climbing skills, we used a high-pile rug.
- Dark flooring: Cliff-avoidance technology, particularly in earlier Roomba models, has the potential downside of keeping them from cleaning dark rugs or carpet. Infrared sensors can mistake dark colors for empty space. To test their ability to distinguish dark floors from open air, we set them on a pure white surface facing a black rug.
- Low furniture: One of the main selling points of robovacs is that they can slide underneath furniture, hitting those dusty zones that are too low for an upright vacuum. But with the popularity of low-slung furniture, we were keen to find out how well they manage tight spots. We set up an adjustable shelving unit that was sure to get them stuck.
- Cords and rug tassels: This is one obstacle that, in day-to-day Roomba use, is pretty easy to avoid. Tucking away cords and tassels ensures that your Roomba won’t choke them down, which might damage both the vacuum and their victims. But you don’t always have time for a thorough pre-clean, so we set the Roombas loose on a pasta platter of thin charger cords and bulky extension cords.
We guessed that as we progressed through the three series, the Roombas would show continuous improvement and better deal with every obstacle. But even the lowest models made two of our so-called obstacles seem like child’s play.
Though we had read many consumer accounts of Roombas refusing to tread on dark rugs, even the low-tech 614 crossed over to the dark side without a moment’s hesitation. The same goes for thick pile carpeting: We doubled up with a faux fur rug on top of a normal runner, and even sprinkled a few Cheerios on top. We were curious if it could crest the incline and still suck up debris through the shag. The short answer to both questions: yes.
Low furniture and cords were another story. Dimensional differences between all models are slight — within tenths of an inch of each other for both height and diameter — so we weren’t interested in testing their measurements. Rather, we wanted to observe their reaction to getting stuck. We set up an adjustable shelf to stand taller in the front than in the back, meaning the Roombas could get under, but they couldn’t pass through. Most of the Roombas appeared panic-stricken when they got caught. Some ping ponged their way out without much fuss, but the two 800 models dragged the shelf around with them as they attempted to dislodge.
The aggression of the 800 series carried over into the cord test. The showdown between bots and a concentrated pile of cords was pretty intimidating to watch across the board, but the 800s seemed particularly determined to power through. Each round started the same: The Roombas would partially digest the tiny phone charger cord we threw in their way, and then drag it around like a tail. Only one model managed not to digest it: the 960, our top high-tech pick here and our old favorite from the Robot Vacuum review.
When it came to hauling the cord out of the guts of the other models, those rubber extractors made all the difference. They’re advertised as tangle-free, and sure enough, all we had to do was give it a good yank to remove the cord.
Our Picks for the Best Roomba Vacuum
Best Basic Roomba
A great basic bot sticks to its primary function: vacuuming. We expected these Roombas would accomplish that essential task fairly well, and that our test results would show which among them did it best. Instead, one ended up cleaning better than several of the high-end models. The 614 sucked up an incredible 5.8 oz. of baking soda and Cheerios (part of a complete Roomba breakfast), beating out models that cost three times as much.
We were impressed with the 614’s performance, but to be fair, our cleaning test took place in a bare room. The higher-numbered basic models, the 650 and the 860, proved their mettle when confronted with furniture. Both showed a lot of determination to explore around obstacles (and accomplished a more thorough clean in the process), but they seemed unable to modulate their power, crashing into shelving and charging over extension cords at full tilt. Our general impression of the 800 series was that you were paying more money to increase the risk of damaged furniture.
The 614’s suction success made it our top pick, but the choice between this and the 650 is really a toss-up. If scheduling and zoning are more important to you than sheer cleaning strength, go with the 650. While no low-tech bot offers advanced control options, the Roomba 650 can still be programmed to clean every day of the week and is compatible with iRobot’s Virtual Wall Barrier, allowing you to stake off no-clean zones. The 650 offers a happy balance between being able to control your bot and not being burdened with extra features.
Honestly, having experienced the iRobot HOME app’s notifications, diagrams, and cleaning logs, we think there is something to be said for remaining disconnected. Do you really need a push notification that your Roomba’s cleaning mission was aborted at 9:35 PM on Aug. 18th, especially if you’re the one that turned it off? Probably not. Still, the one real benefit of the HOME app — scheduling — is a little fussier to do the old-fashioned way. It involves the same kind of hold-one-button-and-repeatedly-press-another as setting an alarm clock, and we appreciated the convenience of scheduling a cleaning session through the app.
The only other technical difference among our 600 series favs: The 614 uses a charge-holding lithium-ion battery; the 650 runs on nickel-metal hydride (a holdover from older Roomba designs). If you turn them belly-up, every other feature is identical.
On the iRobot website, the 614 retails at $300, while the 650 will cost you an extra $75. Here’s the kicker when it comes to the 650: You’ll pay the same if you upgrade to the WiFi-enabled 690. But while that extra tech might not come at a monetary cost, it may come at the cost of cleaning power: Our testing proved that what the earlier models lack in advanced technology, they make up for in rugged cleaning. The low-tech models outperformed their high-tech peers in both the 600 and 800 series.
Best High-Tech Roomba
If you're looking for the best Roomba money can buy, you'll be spending at least $700. But we were so impressed with the 960's overall testing results, user-friendliness, and value, that amount started to sound reasonable.
The two super-powerful 900-series Roombas boast advanced navigation skills and a hefty upgrade in suction. Though the company says air watt stats are proprietary, it reports the 900s have a 10X increase in air power over the 600 series. Both the 960 and 980 are more than up to the challenge of thick, dense carpeting and a complex floor plan, but they’re not identical: For an extra $200, the 980 offers longer battery life (120 minutes vs. 75) and a feature called “Carpet Boost,” which automatically intensifies suction as needed. Our testing, however, suggests you should pocket that Benjamin and go with the 960.
In the cleaning test, the 980 sucked up about an ounce more debris, but when we added obstacles to the mix, we discovered extra power didn’t necessarily make for a smarter robovac. Only the 960 made it through the snake pit of cords without getting any caught in its extractors. And while it did get momentarily lodged on the rug tassels, it promptly reversed and spat them back out. The 980, on the other hand, flipped the rug over and proceeded to climb on top.
We saw similar results during the height test. The 960 did its fair share of bonking against the shelf — bonking seems to be a pretty unavoidable robot vacuum trait. But compared to other high-powered models, the 960’s contact with furniture is gentle. It even stopped itself short a few times when it sensed the shelf nearby. The 980, on the other hand, knocked into the shelf hard enough that any fragile items resting on it could have been knocked off.
That said, some people don’t fear for their china as much as others. If you're looking for a truly powerful bot, and can put up with a little heavy-duty furniture bonking, go with the 980. We were blown away by its cleaning abilities, and would recommend it based on its targeted-cleaning abilities alone. But for us, the noisy side effects of the 980’s power trumped its benefits.
Our testing results proved that the 980 has the most powerful suction, but that power was unpleasantly audible. Of all the bots we tested, it sounds the most like a typical manual vacuum, but the familiar vacuumy growl is made infinitely worse by an underlying high-pitched screech. You definitely wouldn’t want to schedule the 980 to clean at night. And that’s a pretty big limitation for a product that boasts flexible scheduling as a key selling point. Still, for looks alone, we love the 980. The 960’s glossy silver surface has nothing on the 980’s elegant taupe ombré.
Did You Know?
Choosing a high-tech bot is a step toward a smart home future. The most recent generation of Roombas have mapping capabilities that draw a working diagram of your home, and that information will soon be highly valuable as the market develops intuitive, automated home devices. But be advised that privacy and smart devices do not get along. In order to be helpful and intuitive, tech needs to know as much about you as possible, and seeks to gather identity data known in marketing as “psychographics.”
For most of us, smart homes still sound like the premise of a made-for-TV movie. But actually, they're in the imminent future, and iRobot is actively involved. If you’re wondering why a vacuum company is leading the smart home revolution, the answer is simple: It’s not really a vacuum company. The three MIT grads who started iRobot back in 1990 didn’t set out to make vacuums — they were just looking for a practicable, everyday use for robotics.
Roombas may amaze us with their autonomous skills, but so far they’ve only shown what iRobot can do while playing it safe. After all, iRobot has long been capable of doing more than sucking up pet hair. For well over a decade, it has supplied specialty models to military, policing, and rescue units, with advanced tasks like disposing bombs in hazard zones. The simple Roomba in many ways disguises iRobot’s potential, but the newest connected models point ahead to a brave new world of home automation.
Like Google Maps, but for your house
There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the mapping feature on the WiFi-enabled Roombas. At first blush, this mapping technology just seems useful: Thanks to optical and aural sensors, bots perceive furniture, walls, and other obstacles and devise a map to help them navigate.
But then what happens with that map? People started bringing up privacy concerns as soon as iRobot representatives shared news of this technology in early 2017.
Of course, iRobot insists there’s no cause for concern: Map memory gets wiped after each run. But smart home technology is still in its infancy, so we’ve only just begun to understand how that kind of information can be used. Still, iRobot insists it will always make the choice to share or not to share a consumer prerogative. Another reason to read you User Agreement.
Roomba in Uniform
Those MIT grads didn't start out making vacuums. They used their knowledge of robotics to engineer artificial intelligence for space exploration and military defense well before the first Roomba was released in 2002.
Among their military-grade inventions is the PackBot. With its caterpillar track, the PackBot has been deployed in military situations to dispose of explosives, explore unsafe terrain, and help sift through debris in the aftermath of tragedies like the collapse of the World Trade Center and the 2011 earthquake destruction of the nuclear plant in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture.
How do they know?
iRobot isn’t the only company producing self-navigating robots — it’s just making the best. Roombas derive their abilities from a multitude of sensors (depending on the model, some combination of optical, aural, and infrared) to collect environmental data, run it through a microprocessor, and direct the Roomba’s behavior accordingly. According to iRobot, this “collect, process, direct” loop repeats up to 67 times per second.
Put robotics to work throughout your home.
While their excursions into other avenues of home robotics have been less successful, you can find iRobot products to mop floors, clean pools, muck out gutters, and, perhaps in the near future, mow lawns.