Status as of last update April, 2012 (at the end): Batteries replaced with an affordable generic. Works great! Also generic filters work well.
Are you starting to think you might want to try a robotic vacuum cleaner despite knowing better? This post will be about my experience over time with one. Likely, it will not be the most helpful, outside of links, until I have had it for awhile. I thought I would update and share anyway as time goes. I will give my initial thoughts, the type of home it will be working in, the model, and various other input. The input on my actual experiences is a little further down if you need to skip ahead (have run it in every room as of this posting). I will make notes in the body of the post, as well, on whether what I researched actually holds up to actual use. So this site is still in the works. Updates will be added as time goes. This will be updated for at least a year, barring the unexpected.
The lead up: I always thought the idea of a little robot going around cleaning seemed like a splendid idea. Well, anything or anyone cleaning for me is a splendid idea. I will take what I can get. But when I first heard about Roomba, I was skeptical. And yes, it seemed like I should be. I had not heard much of anything good about them and the few I have seen in action, was lacking. Bad cleaning and they break easy. So I wrote it off and moved on. Years pass and then the other week I see them for sale in our local Bed Bath and Beyond. I grew curious and started to research them online. My thinking was that if they are coming out with new ones after all this time and all of the bad reviews, they might have fixed something. And I mainly started looking because I am a nerd and I was curious. Really, I cannot afford to go buy something like this and it turn out to be a gimmick. But darn it, I want something to clean for me AND a new toy!
Want to post a comment? Feel free! But give enough detail about your home, model, and anything else that might help someone trying to decide on whether to buy one if it is an opinion comment. Have a question? I will try to answer realistic questions in a timely manner and as best I can based on my little bit of experience. Also see the link to a forum below. I posted this early to get people jump started. Take it for what it is (not a professional opinion). No spam will be allowed.
Quick research results (prior to owning one): I will post links of some of the useful sites I found as I go. But in summary , here is what I have found so far. Do not take this as expert. I tried to summarize what I found that agreed and do my best with a few fuzzy areas. For more information, see my “links” section further down. I am assuming that if you are reading this, you have the basics of what a Roomba actually is. I will not go into that in detail.
The originals (400 series) are not really worth getting though the price tag, compared to the new models, is tempting. They break and really under perform. They are also not good with change in floors (hard to carpet) cords and tassels. Generally they cannot find their charging station. Though I have read exceptions to this. I will not be able to do a personal comparison. I bought a 500 series model as my first.
The newer 500 series (there are newer yet but I definitely cannot afford those so I did not look) solved some of these problems, so they say. They still break a lot. But they adjust to floor changes, spit out cords and tassels, are a bit better about finding their home base to charge and a better battery life.They are also built so less crud gets inside. As far as breaking, they are now put together in individual units. So if one part breaks, you can pop it out and replace it. Heck, there are sites about hacking and rebuilding them if you want to go crazy. The warranty is a year (new, not refurbished) and they are apparently decent about replacing items in that time (this varied on where you read). There are a variety of 500 series. The pet series does not seem to be worth the extra if you are getting one for pet hair. Slightly different brush, maybe, and that is it, other than a higher price. From what I am finding, all 500 series perform about the same. It is the bells and whistles that differ. Among the biggest difference between a low 500 models and a higher is the ability to program it so it starts to clean at a preset day and time. Other than that, you can pretty much upgrade by buying parts later if you would like them, I will describe one that mine comes with in another section. I think you may be able to add the programmable feature too, but I am not sure. This is something I stopped worrying about as I will explain later. Also, there are brushes that reach out from the unit to sweep debris under the device as well as reach edges and corners. These too easily break, at least the original six armed brushes, rather than the newer 3 armed. It is also supposed to detect areas that are more dirty and focus on that. Charge time is around 3 hours. Battery time lasts perhaps 2 hours? I am still determining this. Basically, pay attention to what comes in the box when you are comparing. This can vary with the same model between different sites/stores. To extend the life of the unit, you have to do regular cleaning and maintenance of the Roomba. For some, this is not worth it. For me, I do not mind tinkering and it is faster than vacuuming constantly and a more interesting task.
What you should expect from it (again, from research, not experience-I will modify this after owning mine for a bit): Not deep cleaning. This is what your main vacuum is for. You run the Roomba on a regular basis to keep the crud down and deep clean here and there with the regular vac. In other words, it should reduce the number of times you run the regular vacuum. This means this fragile thing will get run a lot. It has plastic parts. It breaks. But to use better, metal parts, it would cost too much. We shall see. It will miss some bits of your floor but, from what I read, it really does help. You will have to keep up the clutter or it will not do as good of a job or may get stuck. If you have high furniture, it will go underneath. The first few times you use it, you should stop it and empty out the bin before it finishes. Watch it and learn how it works so you know how to arrange your place. As you use it on a regular basis, it will not fill up as fast. Makes sense. We shall see.
Why I am trying one: I have too much going on to run the vacuum as much as needed to keep up with pets and other things/work/hobbies going on in my life right now. It is driving me crazy. I saved, I ordered, and now I am hoping I did the right thing. It will hopefully force my husband and, yes, myself to keep the floor clear. Also, I have a vacuum that I was talked into getting during a week moment that caused me to give up my Dyson rather than fix a part on it. I regretted it since. I hate this thing (Simplicity = Rip off). Costs too much and does not do what was promised. The teeny bags are expensive too. I also have to deal with the often irritating sales people when I have to go in and buy them at the Vacuum Center. (No I am not a dumb blond. No I do not want to schedule preventative maintenance on this thing and so stop pushing it every other minute!….OK…focus….). Why this side track and rant? I hope the Roomba will reduce the number of bags I have to buy. It will pay for itself right there if so. (One of these days, I am getting a Dyson again. Best vac I ever had. Just did not take punishment…or something. Sigh.)
House setting that the Roomba will deal with:
- 2 indoor cats = fur, lots of it. Kitty litter. Toy clutter (spoiled kitties).
- 3 birds = seeds and feathers. Mostly around the cage but they do come out of the cage.
- dense, short carpet
- linoleum floors in bathrooms and kitchen
- Shoes not worn in house (besides the dirt, these things have been in public restrooms, just saying. I have cultured the bacteria on the bottom of these suckers……bathrooms).
- Husband and myself (yes, my husband really is very helpful around the house)
- lots of hobbies that create debris
- We could dust more, ahem….
- Sand often gets tracked in as much as dirt (Florida)
- no kids and no indoor/outdoor pets
- I do not mind tinkering with it to keep it maintained
- Furniture is not quality so we do not worry about any wear (We rent. We hope to find better jobs. So “dorm decor”)
- stiff, plastic vertical blinds (fine if lower than the vac or closed)
Model I ordered and why:
- iRobot® Roomba® Vacuum-Cleaning Robot with Aero-Vac™ Bin. Model 536.
This is a 530 with the Aero-Vac Bin. I sacrifice one wall for the bin (a 530 usually come with two walls). The 530 does not have pre-programmable ability or otherwise it is much like the 560s. But that is fine for me. Cat toys all over will slow it down. If I preset it to run on its own, I will forget to clean clutter ahead of time. It is easy enough for me to come home, put it in the room I want, and then either go out and do my next thing or work in another room. The price difference was not worth getting that feature for me, but may be excellent for you. From what I read, the Aero-Vac Bin improves the Roomba’s cleaning so that it pulls up more fine particles and reduces how many times you need to empty the bin. I can improvise the wall ( infrared beam that prevents it from trying to clean an adjoining room) by shutting the door or putting something in the way (also there are mats that fools it into thinking it will fall down stairs and therefore prevent it from crossing-again, not cheap). The light houses seem to be offered less so I am suspicious of those. I really wanted this bin. The only other unit in the 500 series that comes with it is through Costco or some unheard of online sites that look like garage operations. I am not a member of Costco (must maintain membership to keep warranty) and the online sites (unknown types) may be selling refurbished, I was warned. I do not always mind refurbished items but as fragile as these are, I figured I should not push my luck, nor do I want to pay full price for one. There are many refurbished through trusted sites, though, that are much less expensive and worth looking into. So I hunted and compared prices. Some places I had coupons and others not. I had to determine how much it would cost to add the bin later, taxes, what accessories I could do without, etc. This one seemed among my best bets. That, and I was just sick of looking and guessing. I ordered through hsn.com (sold out as of this posting). My first purchase through these site. It was still more than I wanted to spend (when unsure if it will work) but if it works, I will not regret it at all. I did not get their extended warranty because if I have to constantly pay to ship the thing when it needs work, it will cost me more in the long run. I might as well order parts on my own (irobot.com sends out a coupon for a percentage off of an accessory when you register). This is something else to consider when buying one of these. If you get it through a place where you can walk in, you can save on shipping. Best Buy, for instance, has warranties you can buy and you can drop the vac off there. But this worked best for me as far as budget and getting the gimmick….I mean….Aero-Vac Bin….that I wanted.
- There is a competitor, Neato, that you may want to look into. I hear both good and bad. From the what little I could gather though, this will be a serious competitor after a few models down the road.
Links: Here are a few useful links I have found. These are not all of the ones I have read. Just a few of the most helpful in one sitting. Robot Reviews. This forum is by people who own these things. Type in your question/problem/or what models to compare. These are people discussing those same things. Takes some digging but you learn a lot. Look up the accessories too. http://www.robotreviews.com/chat/viewforum.php?f=1 iRobot. The home site. http://www.irobot.com/
- More soon. The links are on my computer at work. (shhhhhh…)
Also check Youtube for videos of it in action. The hsn link within the post also has a video.
Roomba Diary, My Personal Experience with a 536 Model:
The following will be updated over time for at least a year, or until it blows up (ha…um…ha). If you want to see some real time dealing with this, check back. I expect to have several initial entries and then a gap as I let this thing work for awhile.
- March 19, 2011: I got an email that it has shipped. Now the wait. I will post pictures and my first experience after I get it. I think I will name it.
- March 22, 2011: It is out for delivery. To come today! Yay!I am home from work today so I can feel like a kid waiting for a present! <looks out window again>
It came!!!!! Yay!!! Drat. I have to charge it over night. Husband thought it was neat. Good!
- March 22, 2011: DAY #1 ! Up early to play with it. Purposely left cat toys and other obstacles out to see how it handle them. I could not test the wall. I did not realize I was out of “C” batteries.
Location for first run: Large central room with dense carpet. Lots of things to go around. I expect bigger than the average room that the Roomba indicates as an average size in its manual. No cat litter to test it on yet. But fur and bird seed is present. Vacuumed with the regular vac a day ago. Expect to have a full bin this first time around regardless (I did). So far I love it. Right now there is a learning curve on my part so I have to be fair.
- Well, it cleans for me. No complaints.
- Quiet. It makes noise but it is much quieter than expected. Can stand to be in the same room.
- Cats stopped worrying about it
- goes over cords and low obstacles well
- generally handled cat toys well
- does clean up fur and seed
- with one reasonable exception, handled the vertical blinds just fine
- little side brush gets into nooks
- does not bump into things hard
- handled throw rugs fine
- It is cute
- Error messages tell you what is wrong or what to do
- Seems to take punishment that it gets itself into, impressed
- Removing the bin to empty it does not require you to pick up or turn over the Roomba (you will need to for further cleaning though, but this is less often than bin emptying)
- Docks itself for charging
- The Wall works great, nothing to trip over
- Docks fine now that I put the charging station in the right place
Less Good, but not all bad:
- If it gets turned off, it starts over (but cannot blame it)
- throws cat food
When it needed to dock, it was away from the dock beacon. Went in circles trying to find the beacon until battery died. (may need to move the docking station)– fixed! Docks fine now.
- Did not finish the large room on one charge. (Again, probably not its fault. It had to start over due to a boo boo, see later)
- Higher vertical blinds hit the off button (fixed by closing the blinds first)
- may need more walls which = more $$
- Batteries start to die in under a year.
Picky, picky, picky: Its voice that tells you what it needs reminds me of the announcer in the movie “Airplane” telling you what the white zone is for. Would be neat to choose among voice types. But I am being finicky! The voice is pleasant. But…the white zone is for……
So far I love this thing. Part of it is the nerd in me loving this sort of thing. I have a robot!!! Too soon to say if this will be a long term love.
I got up early and wanted to watch how it worked so I would better know how to arrange and pick up ahead of time and know what it could handle. It is unfair to expect no changes in the place and expect it to work perfect.
Cat toys: It only sucked up a small pom-pom toy. All others it pushed aside or went around. The pom-pom bothered it as it became stuck in the brushes. The Roomba stopped and told me to take it out. Easy to do. The down side, which supported what I read in forums, was that if too many cat toys caused it to go around, it seems to throw it off a bit and extend cleaning time. Fair enough really. But now I know I can forget to pick some up and it will be OK.
Cleaning: It cleaned pretty good! Hair came right up. Its “Dirt Detect” mode did cause it to focus on some areas more. Bird seed was not a problem. It did not like cat food pellets as well. The side brush tended to throw the pellets away. But if the Roomba came across the pellets just right, it did suck them up. Because it died before finishing at the first run, I do not know if all cat food would have been sucked up (it did on a later run). To be fair, I had more than the usual amount on the floor. I am mixing in a new food for the cats and they picked out each pellet and spit it out. Usually they clean up the food that gets out of the bowl so the Roomba would only have to deal with smaller particles that would not get thrown. But I wanted to see how it would handle the big pellets. Maybe it is just the food, the cats hated it and so did the vac.
Cords and obstacles I w anted it to go over: Very good. It spit out cords (realize it may drag a few out first) and climbed over the bar under the bird cage. It even climbed up on the base of one of the cat scratch posts and cleaned that. It was half on and half off when it did so. It also cleaned along the wall where vertical blinds were hanging. Throw rugs were not a problem. It went right over them or backed off if they tried to tangle, then would go over them in a different direction that did n ot tangle. (More obstacle pictures further down.)
Vertical blinds: Handled these great except where they were hung a little higher so they were just a little big below the top of the Roomba.
(I rent so I have to live with these quirks). The blinds are the stiff, plastic type. The little guy plugged on through until the blinds got trapped in the concave power/clean button. This turned it off (picture). This caused the Roomba to start all over. I cannot really blame it. Maybe if the button was a different shape or protected, it would be avoided.
I fixed this by shutting the blinds before letting the Roomba go again. Second run went great.
Bumping: It slowed down before hitting anything. The bump really was gentle. It then backs up a little and turns. It only rubs if it cannot back up for some reason.
Side brush: There is a 3-armed, spinning side brush on this model that extends beyond the body of the vac. This thing did pretty good getting along walls, under doors, and in nooks. It also swept more under the vac so it could suck them up. I hear these break, but so far no problem.
Fragile?: I hear reports of this thing being fragile. But what it climbed over and dealt with, I think it really does pretty good. Anything made of plastic is going to fall apart after too much of that. But we shall see. It also took a hit when something landed on it. No marks. No change in behavior.
Docking: In the manual, it shows how the beacon on the docking station (an option for it to self charge) extends in a cone so the Roomba can find its way back. When the vac needed to doc due to low battery, it was located behind where the beacon extended. It then just went in circles where it was, trying to find the beacon. It ran very low on power. This was just a test run and I think I really had the dock in the wrong spot. I will see if I can improve this next time. But, for my purposes, I do not mind plugging the thing in myself. I can live with it. It is just neat that it will do it. BUT, I did bring it to near the station (before totally running out of power) and it had trouble lining up with the charging pegs. It died before it finally managed to dock. I suspect the sensors for this became very dusty. I have yet to check.
Second run – yep, dock was in a bad place. Moved it to where the beam would take up more of the room (you cannot see the beam) and it is now back against a flat, solid surface. Now the Roomba docks itself fine.
The dock: The dock itself is very light weight. You must have it backed up against something flat or the Roomba will just push it away from itself. I say flat, because I tried a quick fix by putting the dock against a table leg. The dock then turned at an angle when pushed. Again, I need to put this in a better place. (I did, see above. It is fixed.)
Walls: My wall could not be tested at this time due to not having batteries for it. I improvised by placing shoes and square dowel rods across entrances. I could not shut all doors in case the cats needed to hide. These obstacles worked but I forgot about them and tripped a few times (it is early in the morning for me). I may have to purchase more walls or other accessories that block the Roomba without tripping me. But first, I am going to see what I can make (later).
Battery life: The Roomba lasted for around 1.5 hours. Less than I thought. But it also had to use a lot of power climbing over a few things and dealing with cords. I will see if it lasts longer in easier rooms later. I suspect this will be enough time to clean when I get things arranged better.
Cats: How did the cats react? Very well! I have one outgoing cat that hisses at the normal vac and one shy cat (Tabby on the right) that hides when I walk near the normal vac. These two were very curious at first. The outgoing one (calico in most pictures) followed it around, but no hissing. The shy one kept a distance at first then stopped worrying about it. Both ignored the Roomba in short time. The outgoing cat even let the Roomba bump up against her. It was a gentle bump. The Roomba then turned and cleaned down the length of her and moved on. Ha! So now I do not need to worry about keeping an eye on this.
Overall: I am happy so far on Day 1. Obviously this is not enough of a test. But I am feeling better about this thing. It was nice to drink my coffee and watch the thing clean for me. When I stop watching it, even more time will be saved!
Here are pictures, that did not fit above, of Aelfgifu (husband named her, ha) watching the Roomba get over the bar of a bird cage stand….
- Bin: I emptied the bin and now it is going again as I type this. The bin was packed mostly with dust and cat hair. It did a good job! All I had to do is reach down, grab the bin while pushing down a button, and pull it out. There is a little door (black thing across the front in the pictures to the right) that flips open and you dump the contents. The filter easily snaps out to give it a knock ortwo against the side of the trash can. Then it just all popped back in. I ran the Roomba again today in the same room. Still picking up plenty!
Brushes: I inspected the brushes and decided I did not need to do a full clean yet. I did clean the ends of fur though. The brushes just lift out after lifting the little green door holding them in. Easy.
- Dust: Dust clings to the underside. I brushed off the sensors but decided it did not need much else at this time.
- Charge time: I could not watch this time how long it took to recharge. But I believe it was 2 hours or less.
March 24: Still loving this thing. My floors feel very nice. I have had it in every room now.
- Kitty litter: Fantastic. I use the clumping kind so it is fine much like sand. It was not tossed around, but was sucked right up.
- Floor transition: goes from carpet to linoleum and back again without trouble. Handles throw rugs well.
- Wall: I finally put batteries in the Wall. It works like a charm. I can see getting another down the road. I do not have to trip over objects I use to block the Roomba. Why not let it do the entire house? It works better if you do sections at a time.
- Ramble: So far so good. Emptying the bin is easy. I do this when I have it dock. And it does dock. When I carry it to another room to clean, I bring it back to the dock when it says it is done with a room or if I decide it is done. I then put it a few feet from the dock and hit the docking button. It then teeters off and docks itself without a problem and sings a happy tune. This is when I grab the bin.
When there has been problems, the Roomba stops and announces what the problem is. I have had to remove the brushes to clean out my hair at one point. This was easy. They are easy to take out and I just run the cleaning tool over it and they are set to go. Problems have been few and easy to take care of.
I have not had to sit and watch it either. One time there was an error and I came in and just restarted it. It was fine. I now get clean floors while I do other things I need.
I have also noticed it is not random on its path. It reacts to different areas in different ways. I cannot really describe it but if you watch yours for a bit, you will start seeing patterns to how it reacts to different situations. It gets areas I would swear would be too tough for it.
I also had someone I know contact me recently to tell me she has a Scooba and a Roomba. Loves them both but did not say anything beyond that. It was a FB post. But I will take what I can get.
So far it cleans well. I just need to pick up a bit before or remember to keep more tidy (good). Time I put in for every day maintenance and moving it to where I want it to clean has been minutes. To do the vacuuming myself, much more time. Good trade off. I have yet to take it all apart for a really good clean, but I do not think it needs it yet. Also good.
April 23, quick update: I run this thing nearly every day. So far it is low maintenance. The worse is just picking up a bit first. I only have had to empty the bin, tap out the dust filter, and clean the hair off of the brushes. It has only stalled a few times to tell me I need to get hair of the brushes or pull a cat toy out (well not that specific but it does tell you to clean brushes). I plan to do a full clean soon but I want run it some more first. Floors look great. I run the main vac much less now (saves on buying bags) and I notice dust is a little more under control. Less cat hair!!!!!!!! It has great suction for something so small. The aerovac bin also holds a good amount. Packs it in.
So I am still happy I got this thing. Even the husband admits it was a great idea. hee hee
July 8, 2011: I still use the Roomba 1-2 times per week, mostly in the living room where we, and the pets, mostly hang out. I am still happy with it.
Our first glitch finally happened beyond having to stop it to unwind something like hair or string that got wound around a brush. Hair wound around one of the ends of the bristle brush between the little cap that comes off and the brush. The Roomba did not complain. When it was finished, I did my usual spot check of the brushes and found that the end cap became warped and warm. It did not seem change anything so I did not worry about it. I just keep an extra eye out.
I have used it many times since, no problems. The last time I used it, it started to make a skipping noise. Everything looked fine and I was confused. I finally realized that the warped cap caused the bristle brush to sit wrong and it was grinding all this time against its seating. Again, nothing seemed amiss. Now it might become a problem if the brush continues to sit wrong part way through cleaning.
So, yay. I now get to test out the 1 year warranty. I will let you know how it goes. From reviews I have read, this was to be expected at some point for at least one part. I was told their customer service was good. Lets hope!
I still love the thing!
???: Forgot the date here. The customer service was very good. I received replacement parts promptly.
January, 2012: I have noticed that the batteries were not holding up about a month ago and now the Roomba lasts for about 10 minutes at a time, if that. I had hoped they would last a year. Not an inexpensive replacement. Of course, their rare sales happen when I have to worry about buying holiday gifts and so could not spend on that. Sigh. The Roomba is mostly out of commission until I get a new battery pack. Not sure that this is covered.
Still love it but the batteries has me wonder if I would suggest one now. I hear that you can turn the power off of the newer models to help conserve batteries. I am going to have to dig and see.
February, 2012 (April as I type this, I fell behind): I found a battery pack on Amazon that worked very well. It turns out the battery store nearby probably had them too. Check it out if you have anything like that near you.
This pack was less than half of the cost of buying it through iRobot. Be sure that you are buying the proper one for your model. There will be the kind that tends to initially come with the Roomba when you buy it but there is another out there that holds more charge. Get that one. It doubles the time. Even though this one was generic, it worked just fine. If it lasts a year, then I would still recommend buying a Roomba. Over all, it still costs less than buying bags for a large vacuum.
I would also suggest replacing the filters every 3 months or so and frequently tapping out the dust. If you can, empty the bin part way through a long run. This helps to prevent the battery from draining too fast. The generic filters also work just fun and are less expensive. Again, be sure you are buying for your model and on whether you have the Aerovac bin or not.
I think I need to write a short version of this post!!! Yikes.
April, 2012: The Roomba is still going strong. I do not leave it on the charger all of the time if I am not going to use it for a few days. This might extend the life of the battery? So far it works. I throw it on to charge (after depleting the battery all of the way) a day before I know I plan to use it.
To turn off my model, I put it on the charger and then unplug the charger. This turns off my Roomba for some reason. Otherwise it just sits there and glows at me until completely drained. Pressing the button down and holding it did not work.
The spinning, triple, side brush is starting to show wear but it does not yet need replacing.
Be sure you clean out the main brushes each time you use the Roomba. The plastic parts do not hold up well when clogged.