Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop (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 every up in errant charging cable or shoelace or 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

  • Generation 1 ‘Dumbots’ (<$500, bump/pattern cleaning, no intelligence easil;y identified by no top LiDAR turret)
  • Gen 2 ‘Dimbots’ (<$1000 2D LiDAR mapping and some AI)
  • Gen 3 ‘Brainybots’ ($1000+ 3D Mapping, extra sensors, cameras, higher levels of AI).
  • Then you have those with cleaning stations, better mopping systems and more.

Now we have a new breed of Gen 4 robots that combine several types of mapping (2D and 3D LiDar, dToF, camera, IR) 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?

Most use 2D LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging radar) and SLAM (Simultaneous localisation and mapping software). Add to this collision bumper avoidance, and that describes 90% of robovacs.

Some add a forward-facing camera that can help avoid obstacles. The better ones add 3D LiDAR that can see around the robovac (2D) and up and down, giving it a 3D image. These are vastly superior in navigation and obstacle avoidance.

What are the different types?

The majority 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.

I am not a fan of the narrow cleaning path, preferring the D-shape that usually has a 28cm rotating brush and cleans faster. But this is not a big issue as round robovacs get faster and more powerful.

Some have a cleaning station that empties the robovac and charges it.

How do they 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).

The robovac ‘sees’ the area and tracks 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 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 X1 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?

Some Gen 3 or later model robovacs are better at obstacle avoidance, but it is far better to make sure you prepare the home first.

  • Remove clothes/shoes/bags off the floor
  • Tie up loose cables off the floor
  • Lift dining chairs, stools, side tables, 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, make sure 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. The new Gen 4 robovac/mops have a mop/no mop feature and a carpet sensor to turn off mopping while on the carpet.

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! And they need considerable home preparation before being set free.

We use 100g of test detritus ranging from dust to rice bubbles to 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, a Dyson V15 Detect (that counts both the dust size particles and the amount collected) gets 100%. But if you run the robovac twice a week, 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 pile.

Robomops are, at best, a maintenance mop. The typical dragging a microfibre cloth around lacks the ‘elbow-grease’ needed to remove dried milk/coffee/soft drink stains and cut through grime. The exception is the Hobot Legee 7 that uses a vibrating plate. It is more a robomops first with a conventional vacuum, but it is the only one that comes close to proper mop results.

The new Ecovacs X1 has dual 180RPM rotating pads and a 6N downward pulsating force to add elbow grease to mopping.

So don’t expect the combo robovac/robomop to do it all. You will still need a good stick vac and do a thorough mop if you want a clean and healthy home.

Cybershack Robovac. Five tips for choosing a robovac/mop

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