Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop (2023 update cleaning guide)
I have a love-hate relationship with robovacs – I love the ones that work, and I hate those that don’t. Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop might just save you from an expensive mistake.
Perhaps the most important tip is that you cannot expect most robovacs to do it all. Left unsupervised, it can be a disaster. You need to prepare the house for a robovac and understand that it will likely snag and choke on every errant charging cable, shoelace, children’s toy or rug tassel.
What are the basic differences?
When you go shopping for a robovac, you may not know what to look for. There are currently more than 20 brands/models on offer, including (note that each generation includes features from previous generations).
- Generation 1 ‘Dumbots’ (<$500, bump/pattern cleaning, no intelligence easily identified by no top LiDAR turret).
- Gen 2 ‘Dimbots’ (<$1000 2D LiDAR mapping, bumper obstacle avoidance, and preprogrammed cleaning patterns, cliff detection).
- Gen 3 ‘Averagebots’ (<$1500 with 2D LiDAR mapping, basic IR obstacle detection, basic AI navigation, Basic App).
- Gen 4 Brainybots’ ($1500+ 3D Mapping, extra sensors, AI navigation, Comprehensive App, Voice control and beginnings of one-pass clean).
- Gen 5 ‘SmartBots’ ($2000+ with cameras, extra sensors like ToF, higher levels of AI like object recognition, cleaning stations, better mopping systems and more).
Gen 5 robots combine several types of mapping; 2D and 360° 3D LiDar, dToF (Time-of-Flight) IR sensor, with multiple obstacle avoidance (camera, IR, sensors, AI detection) advanced AI (auto-suction levels, floor type identification, and furniture types). The hard part for potential buyers will be to justify spending $2000 or more.
Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop
How do they see?
Generation 1 Dumbots do not see. They simply bump their way around the area and perform a set cleaning pattern. Don’t bother with these unless low-cost is your driver.
Generation 2 Dimbots 2D LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging radar) and SLAM (Simultaneous localisation and mapping software). Add to this collision bumper avoidance, which describes 90% of robovacs. Pro: lower cost. Con: limited to no AI to improve the experience.
Generation 3 Averagebots add IR object detection sensors to LiDAR to reduce the need for bumper collision avoidance.
Generation 4 Brainybots add 360° 3D LiDAR that can see around the robovac (2D) and up and down, giving it a 3D image. They also have more sensors (dToF and IR) and an Ultrasonic sensor (for carpet or hard floor detection). These are vastly superior in navigation and larger obstacle avoidance.
Generation 5 SmartBots rely heavily on AI and cameras for small object recognition. Some can even recognise and avoid pet poo. The EcoVacs Debot X2 and T2 Omni are in this category.
What are the different types?
Most are round, with about a 16cm rotating brush supplemented by one or two side whisker brushes. These usually have a mop attachment enabled by swapping the vacuum dust bin for a water tank and a static microfibre mop pad.
D-shape are harder to find and usually have a larger rotating brush that cleans faster. But this is not a big issue as round robovacs are getting faster and more powerful.
Some have a cleaning station that empties the robovac and charges it. The Ecovacs Deebot X2 Omni – can a robot vacuum/mop get any better? really does add a convenience factor but costs close to $2,600.
How do smarter robovacs know the areas to clean?
During the first setup, the Wi-Fi recharge base station acts as the ‘anchor’ for robovac to build a map from and return to. Home Wi-Fi is typically 2.4Ghz with an effective indoor transmission distance of about 30 metres. If the robovac loses the signal, it cannot get home, so make sure you have decent Wi-Fi. 90% of complaints about dropout are due to the cheap router supplied by so many NBN resellers – see Crappy NBN FTTN Modem – here are a few better ones (guide).
Gen 2 or later robovacs ‘see’ the area and track around all walls and fixed objects like furniture. This is stage one of its map – an outline drawing of your home. Next, it cleans in between those outlines using a zig-zag or U-shape cleaning pattern to finish the map. Once saved, you can name rooms, set no-go zones, set up schedules and get feedback on cleaning. If you have a multi-story home, you can carry the base station (or buy another – they are usually pretty low cost) and repeat the process on different floors – most store about three maps. The Ecovacs X2 Omni is the only one that we know of that stores three levels and does not need a base station on each level.
What do you need to do to prepare for a robovac?
Gen 3 or later model robovacs are better at obstacle avoidance, but it is far better to make sure you prepare the home first. Let’s put it this way – none we have tested can complete the clean without some issues.
- Remove clothes/shoes/bags off the floor
- Tie up loose cables off the floor
- Lift dining chairs, stools, side tables, and wastebins off the ground
- Lift floor rugs (especially those with tassels) that could tangle in the brush
- Close doors to areas you don’t want to map or clean
If you use the robomop attachment, ensure no-go lines are drawn, and doors are closed to carpeted areas, or it will mop them. For example, this is a pain if you want to mop a bathroom off a carpeted bedroom.
Whole of home clean – fact or fantasy
The new Gen 4 or later robovac/mops have a mop/no mop feature and a carpet sensor to lift and turn off mopping/water while on the carpet. In theory, these can do a one-pass clean and mop on a mix of hard and carpeted floors.
In practice, carpet comes in many styles and pile heights. The lowest pile or sisal weave style need a 7-10mm lift to avoid the mopping pads. Longer pile will need the mopping pads removed.
Most can go for at least an hour or 100m2 of cleaning. Then they need a recharge – typically 4-6 hours. The better ones restart and continue cleaning.
How good are they?
No matter what any salesperson or website hypes, a robovac or robomop does not substitute for a traditional vacuum or mop. It comes down to how acceptable that is to you.
All robovacs are reasonably efficient on hard surfaces – tiles to laminated timber but can be inefficient on carpet, particularly sisal (ridged) and longer pile. Forget feature carpets or shag pile. They don’t do steps or edges! And most need considerable home preparation before being set free.
We use 100g of test detritus ranging from dust to Nutirgrain test efficiency. Most will only pick up about 40-50g because they don’t do edges very well. Some whisker brushes are of little help, often flicking larger detritus out of the vacuum path.
By comparison, Dyson Gen5detect – the evolution continues counts both the dust size particles and the amount collected) and gets 100%. But if you run the robovac twice weekly, its efficiency figure gets closer to 70%. On carpet, most robovacs do poorly. The Dyson V15 Detect with the carpet head gets the dirt out of the woven pile.
Robomops are, at best, a maintenance mop
They typically drag a microfibre cloth around that lacks the ‘elbow-grease’ needed to remove dried milk/coffee/soft drink stains and cut through grime. The exception is the Hobot Legee 7, which uses a vibrating plate. It is more a robomops first with a small conventional vacuum, but it is the only one that comes close to proper mop results.
So don’t expect the combo robovac/robomop to do it all. You will still need a good stick vac for edges and stairs, and do a thorough mop if you want a clean and healthy home.
Update – CyberShack’s view late 2023
We have reviewed most of the better robovacs – at least Generation 4 or 5 this year. There is a definite improvement in AI navigation and AI/Camera obstacle avoidance, including pet poo. The most impressive and expensive is the Gen 5 $2499 Ecovacs Deebot X2 Omni – can a robot vacuum/mop get any better? (full cleaning station), which has more smarts and AI than all the others combined. This could be overkill for some, particularly if you have a smaller home/apartment and hard floors.
The $1799 Ecovacs Deebot T20 Omni – faster, cheaper, and better (cleaning station) is a Gen 4.5 (extra smarts like an AI camera) that did a near-perfect one-pass whole-of-house vacuum and mop on 70/30 hard floors and sisal carpet.
The $1499 Eufy X9 Pro robot vacuum and mop – one of the best of 2023 (mop cleaning station) is a Gen 4.5 (extra smarts like an AI camera), perfect for smaller homes/apartments with hard floors.
We are just finishing a review of the Hobot Legee D8 and LuLo cleaning station ($1250 bundle price November 2023). While it is strictly a Gen 4 (no AI camera for intelligent obstacle recognition), it does a terrific one-pass whole-of-house vacuum and mop on 70/30 hard floors and sisal carpet.
We are also finishing the $2799 Dreame L20 Ultra – a competitor for The Ecovacs X2 Omni.
While these are all great for weekly maintenance cleans, none reach nirvana – there are still edges, stairs, under furniture and more that need a decent stick vac to finish off.
Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop