Can a robot vacuum replace your existing vacuum cleaner?

iRobot roomba i7+
(Image credit: iRobot)

For most of us, spending our free time cleaning the house isn’t something we want to be doing -  we’d much rather put our feet-up and enjoy a good book or movie. However, getting on top of those chores is necessary, even if it's not enjoyable. 

In fact, research by online directory Yelp revealed that over a third of Americans find housework such a drag, they claim they’d be willing to give up alcohol if it meant they would never do housework again. 

The best robot vacuums can certainly help when it comes to cleaning your floors, taking the hard work off your hands by making their own way around your home collecting dirt and debris from carpets and hard floors. So it's no wonder they’re proving popular - the number of US households with a robot vacuum grew by 11% to 14.2 million in 2018, according to market research firm Statista

This may leave you wondering if you can outsource floor cleaning to a robot vacuum completely and replace your existing vacuum cleaner with one of the best robovacs. 

If you’re certain you want to get your hands on one of the best robot vacuums rather than read on to discover whether you can replace your existing vacuum with a robovac, then check out these great deals for some of the best on the market.  

Good but not as thorough

Robot vacuums do a great job of collecting daily dirt and debris from hard floors and carpets, however, at present we’ve yet to find a model that can match the suction power of some of the best vacuums on the market, which means ground-in dust and dander won’t be collected by even the best robot vacuum models. 

This is less of an issue with hard floors, although if you have floorboards there may be dirt and debris trapped in the cracks between the boards that requires powerful suction to be removed, but if you have carpet in your home, this is something that may well make a difference.

We’ve tested a wide array of robot vacuum designs, and no matter the manufacturer or price point, we’ve found robot vacuums struggle to remove ground-in dirt in the same way a traditional vacuum cleaner would. If you were to only use a robot vacuum cleaner in your home, your floors wouldn’t be as thoroughly cleaned as if you combined regular robot vacuum sessions, with a once-a-week use of one of the most powerful cordless vacuum cleaners, or a corded vacuum. 

It’s also worth noting that some robot vacuums automatically increase the suction on carpet, which drains the battery faster than when used on the default power. This could see the robot vacuum failing to finish a clean of your home from one charge. 

Some models are smart enough to return to where they stopped and finish the job, however, other models don’t offer this feature, which may leave you unsure about which areas of your home have been cleaned, and those that need vacuuming. And currently, no vacuum on the market is able to see if it missed an area of your floors, and return to clean it, just as you would do when using an existing vacuum cleaner. 

Stairs, chairs and obstacles

Robot vacuum cleaners work best in uncluttered areas, and while slimmer models will be able to clean under furniture with low clearance, you may find they struggle to fit between dining room chairs, and other furniture in your home - leaving some areas on your floors untouched. 

Similarly, most robot vacuums struggle to clean around obstacles on the floor, so whether its a sock that accidentally fell from the washing pile being carried to the laundry room, or a stray charging cable, you could find yourself spending hours untangling items from the brush roller in the robot vacuum. 

Robot vacuums move at a relatively slow pace and if they do bump into obstacles they have plastic bumpers that ensure the impact isn’t too powerful, however these plastic bumpers could potentially topple delicate items such as vases, so it’s worth considering what items you have in rooms around your house that could suffer at the hands (or bumpers) or a robot vacuum. 

They also can’t navigate up or down flights of stairs, although they are smart enough to plunge to the bottom of them. If you have several floors in your home, then you’ll find yourself carrying the robot vacuum between the different storeys of your home. 

The iRobot Roomba J7+ on its charging station in a hallway while a man with a dog enters the room

(Image credit: iRobot)

So, can I replace my existing cleaner with a robot vacuum

In short, we wouldn’t recommend replacing an existing vacuum with a robot vacuum completely, as whether you have hard floors or carpets, they are unlikely to get a regular thorough clean, and areas that sit beneath narrow furniture may not get cleaned at all. 

They also can’t clean furniture or upholstery as a handheld vacuum can. Instead, we think the best course of action is to invest in a robot vacuum to take on the bulk of your floor cleaning, retaining your existing vacuum for occasional thorough cleans and your floors will be as clean as possible. 

Carrie-Ann Skinner

Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.