What Is a Robot Vacuum Cleaner & Why You Should Buy It?

By Michael Fisher·May 31, 2018· 7 min read

We've previously talked about why you actually might want to buy a robot vacuum cleaner. Now we want to dive deeper into this niche: what is a robot cleaner, what is the difference between most of them, how does it work, what features it could have.

Let's start with basics every (almost) robo is equipped with.

Cliff & Anti-collision Sensors

These are the sensors that located all over a robot's body preventing it from falling down from stairs and help to avoid bumping into things on its way. Most of the cleaners have these things. It doesn't mean your device will not bump at all but the machines are pretty good at recognizing big objects such as walls or couches etc.

robot vacuum cliff and anti-collision sensors

When the unit "sees" the wall, it slows down, slightly touch it and turns left/right to keep going further. It couldn't notice chair legs so the robot could bump into it and then change its direction to avoid it onсe again. Fairly to notice that some robots are equipped with more sensitive sensors so some of them are not that good at recognizing obstacles but still do a good job. Even budget models with a cost of $200-300 perform well here.


Most robot vacuums automatically return to the charging dock to recharge. When the battery runs out the cleaner use sensors to find where the charging base is and goes towards it till docks itself.

robot vacuum auto recharge

Some cheapest models though don't come with a base. The robo such as Housmile only has an AC power adapter, so to charge it, you need to manually plug the machine into the charger.


Most of the robot cleaners have a round shape but some of them come with a D-shape form that supposed to better cleaning corners and edges. D-shape works great when it comes to cleaning corners but often gets stuck in tight places. The round ones don't clean corners as good leaving some spots untouched.

Why does the robot's height matter?

It might not be an issue of how tall you robo is but it does become a problem with some of them that are taller than average. Consider how many furnitures do you have in your home. Do you manually vacuum it all the time? Just let's be honest here. We don't like cleaning there, do we?

robot vacuum height

That's why it is very important for your cleaner to go to the hard-to-reach areas. Let's have a look at Dyson 360 Eye. It might be the tallest robovac on the market and it does have a hard time reaching some places. In average, you maybe don't pay attention to the height since if your furniture is not too close to the floor these few inches doesn't change too much.


All the robots come with a high-efficient filtration system that captures fine dust particles and reduces allergens in the air making it ideal for those who suffers from asthma and allergy.

How does a robot vacuum actually work?

There are three components that work together to make a robo clean:

  • a side sweeper (1 or 2)
  • the main brush
  • a motor that sucks dust.

robot vacuum cleaning system

Some cleaners such as Samsung come without a side brush.

Side sweeper catches dust and debris from corners and sends it to the center of the robot where a motor sucks it inside a dustbin. The main cleaning brush scratches a floor collecting pet hair, and dirt transferring it to the dustbin. Some robots have two cleaning brushes that clean better on mixed surfaces.

Mostly cleaning brushes have bristles that help it to handle pet hair and better cleaning a carpet. Some of them are designed for long human hair or pet hair and these types work better on bare floors. Mostly they are made of silicone or rubber preventing hair tangling over the roller.

robot vacuum how it works

Bristle rollers are the best for carpet flooring but they easily get hair wrapped so you have to clean it after every cleaning session. On the other hand, silicone brushes are easy to clean and works the best on bare floors, not as good on rugs though. Machines such as ILIFE A8 have both.

When it comes to actual suction, the more powerful it is, the better it performs on carpets and rugs. Most of the high-end models have the strong suction that is able to clean thin and medium-pile carpets. Those that are not this powerful also do the job good on thin carpets but most of them cannot deep clean it.

If you have pets it may be a challenge to take care of the fur. On a hardwood floor or vinyl, it is not a problem to get rid of the pet hair, almost all the robots can do that. Not the cheapest ones (about $100 cost) though but Housmile is good at it which is rather an exception in this price range. If you have some carpets have a look at these cleaners with a strong suction power and bristle brushes. Some of the robots are designed for pet hair: mostly all the BobSweep and Neato robots.

There is also a virtual wall that blocks no-go areas so the robo can't cross it. Sometimes it looks like a magnetic strip or a physical block, but most of the top-level machines allow to create virtual walls using the app.

Wet Mopping

Have you seen these robots that can mop and sweep? Yes, such a thing exists on the market. A robot contains a water container and a mop cloth or only the mop cloth. All you need is to fill the container with water, insert it inside and add the mop.

robot vacuum with mopping feature

This feature is not able to get rid of stubborn stains but substantially reduces the amount of time you spend on cleaning.

2-in-1 cleaners are ideal for home without carpets but most of them can sweep thin carpets too.


Most of the robots have a possibility to schedule its cleaning at a specific time. It is a cool feature if you want the robo to clean your home before you wake up but these devices that do not have mapping stuck from time to time so you probably need to babysit it.

Those that don't come with a charging base is not available to schedule.

How to control a robot vacuum cleaner?

There are a few ways to manage your robot's run: IR remote control, app or voice commands.

Budget machines usually come with an IR remote control where you can schedule, manually manage the robot's movements, turn it on/off, and switch between cleaning modes.

Those that support Wi-Fi most-likely have an app to control it from anywhere. Depending on a model, with the app, you can do basically the same plus viewing a cleaning map, create virtual walls etc.

robot vacuum app remote control

Also, the models that have an integrated app often are compatible with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant or both. Isn't it cool to make you robo move just by using your voice?

Movement Algorithm

There are two types of movement: random pattern and smart navigation.

What does each of them mean? A random pattern does not make the robo to remember where it has been. Thus the machine can run over the same spots it already cleaned. The random pattern is a good thing, it does a great job with cleaning if you use the robot more than once a week making it cover the whole area. Ideal for small and average-sized homes with not a lot of furniture around. Generally speaking, budget robots comes with this type of movement algorithms.

robot vacuum with mapping and path planning

Smart navigation works along with mapping and only because of mapping. The high-end (not necessarily though) models have a laser or a camera that scan an interior to build a map after which the processor located inside builds the way to clean. It is called smart navigation. Based on the built map the robot moves around. It does not mean that the device will not bump into things at all but mapping decreases the chances constantly. Mapping makes the robo to remember where has it been so it does not miss a spot when cleaning. Ideal for bigger homes but please note that mapping does not cover the second floor.

The difference between the laser-based and the camera sensor mapping technology?

Both types build a map of an interior. Based on what we've figured out from thousands of reviews, a laser is more accurate and allows a robot to clean in the dark while the camera needs keeping the light on.

Smart Voice Assistant support

Most of the robots that have an app offers Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant integration so you can control your robot vacuum cleaner using your voice.

Recharge & Resume

Those that come with mapping usually have a recharge & resume feature. Because of the built map, the robot knows where it has been, when its battery needs to recharge, the machine docks itself and resume its job from the place it left off based on the map data.

Accessories in the box & Replacement

Some robots come with an extra filter, and an extra side brush, some of them don't. Take note that you need to replace a filter in about every six months depending on usage. The most popular models have additional accessory kits on Amazon so it's easy to find it.


What is the most important thing to do with your robot to make it live longer? Taking care of it. And no, emptying its dustbin is not enough. Firstly you should figure out how to clean filters or at least to know where it is when you need to replace it. Empty the dustbin as often as it needs to, we recommend to do it after every cleaning session but it's okay if you don't want to do it that frequently (if you have pets, the dustbin most likely would be full often that you thought). Check out all the sensors. These things should not be covered with the dust. Hair is probably the biggest issue that causes a robot to stop working. Have a look at the main cleaning brush. If it is not a silicone one, it would be tangled with hair. And if in your family there is someone with long hair that might become a challenge to unwrap all that beautiful hair from the roller. Also, the hair could get stuck in the wheel areas and around side sweepers as well. Check these places carefully because you may not notice the issues at a glance.

These simple manipulation will help you to keep your robo working for years.

In The End

We've tried to shed the light on everything that is related to a robot cleaner, the way it works, the difference between them etc. What else would you like to know about it that we might forget to tell about here? Please, write in the comment section down below.

Where to buy

Since English is not our first language, you may notice spelling and grammatical errors in the article. We would be very grateful if you could help us fix the mistakes. Just select the confusing part of the text with your mouse and press Ctrl + Enter, then you will be able to send us a corrected version of the text. Thank you for your effort!

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