Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner 2020
iRobot Roomba 966 review
Imagine pressing a button on your phone and then sitting down while the vacuuming gets done for you. With the iRobot Roomba 966, that’s exactly what you can do.
- Targeted edge cleaning
- Sensors detect high concentrations of dust, dirt and pet hair and focuses cleaning where it's needed most
- Powerful on all floor types – automatically adjusts to tackle carpets, tiles, hardwood and laminate flooring
- Simple but impressive technology
- Can’t vacuum stairs
- No plug included in the box
- Not suitable for pet bedding or upholstery
- Automatically docks to recharge then resumes until the job is done – this means that you’ll never run out of charge
- Can be used with the iRobot Home App
- High-efficiency cleaning pattern and a full suite of sensors for thorough coverage
- Edge-cleaning brushes
- Optical and acoustic sensors detect high concentrations of dirt, dust, and pet hair
- Self-adjusting cleaning head
- Aeroforce® High-Efficiency Filter captures allergens, pollen and particles – great if you have allergies
- Low-profile design allows for cleaning under furniture
- Cliff-detection sensors mean it won’t fall down stairs
- Soft-touch bumper
- 'Bin full' indicator
- Carry handle
- Anti-Tangle Technology
- Type: Robot
- Weight: 3.9kg
- Capacity: 0.6l
- Runtime: 75 minutes from fully charged
- Charge time: Will depend on how often it automatically docks to recharge
- Dimensions: 9.1 × 35 × 35cm
- Warranty: Two years
- RRP: £499.99
What’s in the box?
- iRobot Roomba 966
- Lithium-ion battery
- Home Base™ charging station
- Line cord
- Dual mode virtual wall barrier – keeps your vacuum away from items you want to protect
- Extra filter
- Extra side brush
- Two AA batteries
"I adore my Roomba. It does take some maintenance, but well worth it in my opinion."
How easy is the iRobot Roomba 966 to set up?
iRobot's Roomba 966 is quick and easy to unpack, and it takes just five minutes to get everything set up thanks to an easy-to-follow instruction manual and little to no assembly.
Handily, the robot vacuum cleaner also comes with an extra filter and side brush.
The Roomba comes with a two-year guarantee. There’s plenty of extra information on the iRobot website if you need more help and support, including contact details and troubleshooting tips.
There’s a help section on the app too – with information on maintenance, answers to common questions, copies of the warranty, an owner's guide, quick-start information, and a link to contact iRobot Support.
The first thing to do is to position the Home Base in an appropriate location. It needs to be flat up against a wall next to a plug with enough space around it for the machine to have a clear path back to recharge when it needs to – at least 0.5 metres clear on each side and 1.2 metres clear in front. It also needs to be 1.2 metres away from any stairs.
This can be a bit tricky if you have a house like our tester, Alison’s, with wonky skirting boards and awkwardly-shaped rooms. The Home Base also needs to be positioned somewhere where there is consistent wifi coverage.
Alison had no problem at all when it came to wifi. Just be aware of this if your wifi coverage tends to dip in and out.
The vacuum cleaner also doesn’t come with a charger, just a two-point adaptor that needs to be connected to a three-point plug.
While this enables the product to be distributed across several countries, it did come as a surprise to our tester considering the hefty cost of the vacuum cleaner itself.
The next thing to do is to set up the iRobot Home app, which will enable you to customise cleaning preferences. This is very self-explanatory and has simple steps that even the least tech-savvy are able to work with.
In contrast, the app for the Miele Scout RX2 (another robot vacuum cleaner we put through testing) was hard to set up and took a great deal of time – several frustrating attempts that, together, took a good couple of hours.
The final thing to do to get going with the Roomba is to turn it over, remove the bin insert and pull out the tabs underneath to activate the battery. You'll then need to place the machine on the Home Base to charge before first use.
Charge time will always depend on how empty the battery is at any one time.
What's the Roomba 966 like to use day-to-day?
Before using your Roomba, make sure the space you want to clean is free of any clutter – watch out for wires in particular. You can buy extra room barriers (£49.99 each or £69.99 for a pair) that you can set up to stop it going into a room or to create barriers around things you want to protect.
You can turn the Roomba on using the app or by pressing the button on the machine itself.
Alison found the easiest thing to do was to set a cleaning schedule, programming in an option to do the edges once a room had been vacuumed. Then you can just let it vacuum according to the schedule.
It will follow its own path, which can be a little frustrating at first as it steadfastly avoids clumps of dog hair or the pile of spilled toast crumbs in the kitchen. You need to be patient and trust that it will get to them in its own time (it will!).
If the battery runs low, the Roomba will make its way back to the Home Base to recharge after its initial 75-minute runtime, before setting off again to finish the job.
That said, the runtime should be long enough to completely vacuum the entire house – Alison tested it in her three-bedroom, two-storey house with a total of 10 different rooms.
She found, however, that the Roomba didn’t always find its way back to the Home Base. This was due to it being very tricky for her to find a suitable spot for the base – if you have a house with wide, open doorways and spaces, this won’t be so much of a problem.
If you want to use the vacuum downstairs and then upstairs, you will need to carry it upstairs to vacuum the upper floor. You'll then need to take it back downstairs to the Home Base to recharge (there’s only one Home Base provided).
As such, you can't programme the vacuum to clean the whole house if you have more than one floor – only one level at a time.
Luckily, the Roomba is very light (at just under 4kg), so it can easily be carried from floor to floor. It's a particularly useful vacuum cleaner if you live in a smaller house or a flat as it can't be used to clean the stairs.
The Roomba will go anywhere in the house that's accessible and needs to be cleaned, i.e. under chairs, armchairs and beds (if it fits), and its cliff-detection sensors mean it won’t fall off edges. Alison has two steps leading down from her dining room to her kitchen and the Roomba moved right to the edge of the top step and then moved back again with ease.
If you have different floor types, the Roomba will automatically adjust to suit and it works equally well on all surfaces, including carpets, wood floors and lino.
The Roomba will also let you know if it gets stuck, if it’s going back to recharge, if the bin needs emptying or if any of the sensors need cleaning.
When it’s done vacuuming, you can look on the app to see whereabouts in the house the vacuum has cleaned. It will tell you if a job was interrupted and maps out the floor area covered. While the mapping is very accurate, it’s more interesting than useful – you can just as easily tell if the Roomba has cleaned thoroughly without it.
The Roomba will return to its Home Base to charge, and this is where it needs to be stored if you want it to always be ready for use or if you want it to clean to a set schedule.
This is one of the major benefits of a robot vacuum cleaner, but to do this the Roomba will need to be stored in a place from where it can easily set off to vacuum. Bear in mind then, when you select a place for it to charge, that this will be where you will need to store it full-time.
What extra features does the iRobot Home app have?
As long as you have wifi, you can clean remotely using the iRobot Home app. Just press the ‘clean’ button on your phone and the vacuum will start.
The only way to set up a cleaning schedule is via the app – simply set a start time for every day of the week that you need it to vacuum and your Roomba will automatically clean by itself.
You can also receive push notifications to your smartphone when your Roomba finishes a job.
The app is also compatible with Amazon Alexa devices.
How well does the iRobot Roomba 966 vacuum carpets?
For a robot vacuum, the Roomba gets impressively close to edges. The little brush sweeps away, pulling dirt and dust into its path. It was impressively powerful on both large and small debris during testing, picking up cereal, rice, sugar, and tea leaves.
The similarly-designed Neato Robotics Botvac D4 Connected, which we also tested, left rice in the grooves of Alison’s hard-wearing hall carpet whereas the Roomba picked up all debris in its entirety.
Unlike the Miele Scout RX2, it managed rugs too – moving from surface to surface easily without getting stuck, and picking up dirt, fluff and any other debris.
How well does the iRobot Roomba 966 vacuum hard floors?
The Roomba does well on hard floors – if you’re patient. It may initially blow debris around a bit, but it'll all get vacuumed up in the end.
Don’t expect it to clean in the same way as a normal vacuum though. It will take several goings over to clean your floors, but, unlike an ordinary vacuum cleaner, it will keep going automatically until it has.
There's no need to change settings for different floor types as the Roomba moves seamlessly from one to the other, adjusting automatically as necessary.
How does the iRobot Roomba 966 cope with pet hair?
With three dogs and one cat in the house, the Roomba needed to perform well on pet hair for Alison to even consider rating it.
On hard floors there was nothing left behind, including pet hair lurking under chairs, as the Roomba could get under most of her furniture.
She saw impressive pet hair removal on carpets too – the Roomba also vacuumed up a great big clump of cat hair in one fell swoop.
The design does mean, of course, that the Roomba can’t be used on upholstery or pet bedding as it’s designed to work on flat surfaces only.
So, if you have pets, you may also need to invest in a handheld vacuum cleaner to tackle this, along with stairs, skirting boards, ceilings and blinds.
It’s best to view the Roomba 966 as an everyday cleaner that keeps things tidy in the short term, rather than as something to use regularly for a thorough, deep clean.
"You can set it on timer, come home from work and everything is clean! Definitely worth the money."
How loud is the iRobot Roomba 966?
Like all the robot vacuums we tested, the Roomba 966 is very quiet. At just 58 decibels, it was marginally louder than the Mumsnet-recommended Eufy RoboVac 11S.
While you can hear it in the same room, you can still hold a conversation while it’s working, although you’d struggle to hear the TV properly.
On the whole, robot vacuum cleaners are a good bet if noise is a serious issue for you.
How easy is the iRobot Roomba 966 to keep clean?
It’s quick and easy to empty the Roomba's bin, albeit a bit messy – the dirt is collected in the bin which you need to remove to empty. There are no levers or slides to push the dirt out, and some debris does occasionally get stuck.
That said, the bin is small so there isn’t a huge amount of dirt to contend with. This is generally the case with any robot vacuum cleaner and all those we tested had a similar design.
A sensor will let you know when the bin needs emptying, but it’s best to do this after each use, simply because the bin is small and likely to fill quickly (Alison found that the bin became full after two rounds of vacuuming). If you empty it each time the vacuum has finished cleaning, then it’s less likely to need emptying in the middle of a cleaning cycle.
To empty, press the release button, open the bin door and empty over a waste bin. If the full bin indicator comes on in the middle of vacuuming, you can pause the vacuum, empty the bin and then continue.
The filter is easy to remove too. It doesn’t need to be washed (just knock the dust off over a bin), so no need to wait for it to be air-dried. It will need to be replaced every two months, but two filters are supplied with the vacuum cleaner so you’ll already have at least one spare.
You'll need to wipe the sensors using a clean, dry cloth. The front castor wheel can be removed (just pull it off) so that you can clean any debris from the cavity. Spin the wheel by hand and, if there is any restriction, remove it from its housing, push firmly to remove the axle and clear any further debris or hair.
The side brush can be unscrewed and cleaned too as can the extractors which, again, are easy to remove.
Is the iRobot Roomba 966 good value for money?
At £499.99, the Roomba 966 isn’t cheap, but there are also more expensive robot vacuums around.
While Alison didn't think she could solely rely on the Roomba to clean her house – she felt a smaller, cheaper vacuum cleaner may also come in handy for pet bedding, skirting boards and blinds – she did note the lack of dirt build-up when using the Roomba everyday.
It does a very good job of keeping things clean without any effort at all so, for busy families, the Roomba may well be excellent value for money.
If you're unable to part with that amount of cash, then our recommended buy, the Eufy RoboVac 11S (£189.99) is a great choice too.
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All prices correct at time of publication
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