To see which robot vacuum is really the best for getting your floors to shine, we conducted extensive research, then bought all of the best 'bots available today to test head-to-head. We've spent over two years reviewing and testing these products, so have come to love — and hate — all of their various quirks and other odd behaviors that we have seen over the years. We've conducted over 30 different evaluations to score and rank these products, grouping them into six weighted rating metrics. The sections below detail our exact testing and scoring procedures in each test. If you are curious about how specific models performed and which robot vacuum truly reigned supreme, head on over to our comprehensive robot vacuum best-in-class review here.
Our most important testing metric, navigation, constitutes 30% of the overall score for each product. After all, what good is a robot vacuum if it can't even find its way to the mess in the first place? The majority of each product's score for this metric is based on how it performed in our furniture navigation challenge. For this test, we set up a course full of furniture — a dining room table, chairs, a coffee table, a sofa, a lamp, and a comfy armchair — to see how well each robot cleaned and maneuvered around them.
We primarily focused on the robot's ability to navigate the room without assistance, instead of how much of the room it cleaned. (Our next metric covers overall cleaning effectiveness.) Robots lost points for overly erratic behaviors, such as repeatedly cleaning under a table for the bulk of the time.
We also added a poo-avoidance challenge, that evaluated each model's ability to detect and avoid two sizes of simulated pet waste. Robots were awarded points for avoidance, as well as how close to the poop and how thoroughly they clean near the mess.
Lastly, we evaluated each robot's ability to navigate back to a docking station for a recharge, and award points for efficient travel, and furniture avoidance.
Next, we looked at how efficiently each vacuum can clean your home. This differs from the previous metric, as it judges where each robot actually cleans, compared to its ability to navigate around obstacles and essentially not become stuck. It accounts for 20% of the total score for each robot vacuum.
First, and most important for this metric, we tested how well each vacuum does at cleaning multiple rooms. The majority of the vacuums have mapping capabilities, allowing them to clean multiple rooms during cleaning, returning to their docking station, and recharging as necessary.
However, there are still a few that bounce around randomly, meaning they can't really reliably clean multiple rooms, causing them to be penalized in this assessment. We also checked that each vacuum could clear a standard threshold, which they all could do easily.
Next we tested edge and corner coverage. For the test, we spread coffee grounds along the edges of a robot pen we made, then ran each vacuum. We used the coffee grounds for maximum contrast and scored each product based on the measured distance of the effective cleaning area from edges and corners.
Lastly, we tested how well each vacuum did at cleaning a single room, as well as how effective its spot cleaning abilities are.
After scoring how well each robot moved throughout your home, we moved on to scoring how each robot did at actually cleaning. We started off by evaluating and scoring how well each robot did at keeping soft floors clean, using a variety of different debris as sample messes, as well as comparing how close each vacuum cleaned to the walls or other edges of a room. This metric is responsible for 15% of the total score.
For all of our debris tests, we spread a consistent amount of the material on the floor, then scored each robot vacuum by comparing the before and after photos. We thoroughly cleaned the carpet in between trials with an upright vacuum, to ensure that there was no residual mess carried over between products.
For the first test, we used flour as our fine debris. We only conducted this test on flat, low-pile carpet, as extracting flour from fluffy carpets is really beyond the current cleaning capabilities of these products.
After flour, we repeated the test with both rice and oats, for our medium debris, though this time we did the test on both flatter, low-pile carpet and on fluffier, medium-pile carpet.
Finally, we used the small size of Mini-Wheat for our large debris test, to see if the vacuums had sufficient power to crush them up or had the ability to just suck them up whole. We also did this test on both types of carpet.
Hard Surface Cleaning
For our next metric, we repeated the exact same set of tests that we did on carpet, though this time they were all conducted on a section of hardwood laminate flooring. This group of tests is also worth 15% of the total score.
We paid particularly close attention to see if the vacuums flung debris around, rather than cleaning it, as they were much more prone to do this on the smoother surface.
We also looked closely at the suction power and abilty of models to lift flour out of cracks and seems.
Next, we scored how well each robot dealt with the extra hair that the furry members of your home leave behind. We visited a local groomer who kindly donated a substantial amount of leftover fur to use as our supply, then spread out a predetermined amount on a section of both fluffy and flat carpet. These tests account for 10% of the total score.
We scored each vacuum on how much it picked up, as well as how much actually ended up in the collection bin of each product, rather than tangled up in the main extractor brush or the undercarriage of the robot.
For the final 10% of the total score, we evaluated how convenient each model is. This metric evaluated the docking station features that increase convenience, like a dirt disposal system, as well as the size of the tower, and dirt collection capacity.
While docking and dust disposal are important factors user-friendliness of operation is arguably more important. Our team primarily awarded points for robot apps and functions that enhance convenience. We awarded points for remote control functions, whether a physical remote or control via the app, the ability to draw a virtual barrier, battery life indicator, spot cleaning requests, suction power adjustment, maintenance tracking, robot finder, history reports, a repeat function, and cleaning maps.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with some more insight into how we tested these products and why they scored what they did in our complete review of robot vacuums. For even more background information on these products, such as why you would even want one and what to look for when shopping for a new one, head on over to our Buying Advice guide for a complete breakdown of the products.