Roomba Test-Drive

As long as the floors stay clean, I’m okay with a robot take-over

Since iRobot was founded in 1990, its machines have searched hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid in Egypt, monitored Gulf of Mexico oil spills, and neutralized land mines in Afghanistan. I had nothing this noble in mind. I just wanted to get rid of dust.

The project
Our normal floor cleaning routine includes a housekeeping service’s monthly efforts, plus our own semi-weekly sweeping and mopping to tame the dust and dirt that wreak havoc with my allergies.

With about 2,800 square feet of floor to clean — a single level mix of LVP, tile, and a half-dozen area rugs — it’s a constant battle. In response to my query, the people at iRobot recommended we try the Roomba s9+, their most powerful Wi-Fi connected robot vacuum, with an automatic bin emptying system. I gave our Swiffer a time-out and waited for the robot.

Unboxing & set-up
I’m no genius when it comes to assembling anything electric, but the Roomba s9+ has just three main components:
The D-shaped robot vacuum, its power base/ cleaning tower, and the power cord (along with a few extra pieces, including a spare sweeping brush and dust bag).

The robot itself comes in its own little cardboard attaché case, about the cutest bit of packaging ever. Following the instructions, I assembled the unit in three minutes, no assistant needed. The most difficult part of the process was fitting all the bits of cardboard back into the shipping box, in case I needed to pack it up again.

One thing to figure out before unpacking your Roomba is where to plug it in. It requires an area with good Wi-Fi reception, and with enough space to move around. So rather than squeezing it between a couple of pieces of furniture, I chose an outlet in what I hoped was a not-too-obvious spot in an empty corner of the front hall. A halo of light swirled around the unit.
Excitement! But not so fast …. Roomba is controlled via smart phone, so I needed to download the app and sync things up. Once I typed in
our Wi-Fi password, the robot did the rest.

Maiden voyage
After three hours of charging, it was ready to head out on its rounds. Following the directions, I pressed two buttons on the robot, and it responded with a happy ring. I then pressed “clean” and it glided off its
base and got to work.

The first few times out, Roomba creates a map of your home while vacuuming. (If you’re in a rush you can program it to map your house without cleaning, but it’s best to do both at once.) Watching it on its first “learning tour” was mesmerizing. It tapped itself against any obstruction until it determined whether the object was small enough (like a chair leg) to be nudged aside or vacuumed around, or so large (like a wall) that it prevented the robot from continuing in that direction, in which case Roomba changed course. It figured out how to navigate a curved wall, and was admirably nimble in corners.

Roomba was loud throughout its cleaning cycle, and when the s9+ emptied its bin at the end of these initial sessions, it sounded as though there was a small jet engine in the house. But it was also very effective. We had purposefully left our floors unswept for several days beforehand, and were
impressed at how thoroughly it cleaned.

The crumbs under kitchen cabinets, the dust bunnies beneath beds, the hairs on the bathroom tiles — all vanished. Roomba got under heavy pieces of furniture that standard vacuum wands can’t reach, and it even dislodged a jelly bean that had been hiding under the living room credenza since the previous Easter.

The tricky bits

Roomba is smart, but it’s not Houdini. Anything you’d have to move when using a conventional vacuum — lightweight rugs, laundry, toys — can trip up your robot. And if you’ve got long-haired housemates, human or otherwise, you may have to pause during the first couple of cleanings to de-tangle the rollers.

As Roomba made its way around the house on its first full cleaning and mapping mission, which took about 9 hours (including a couple of 90-minute charges), we realized which obstacles we should remove. The maze of 32 chair legs under the dining room table was too tight to navigate, and after 30 minutes of listening to the robot’s persistent bumping, we put the chairs on top of the table like a restaurant at closing time. (In the breakfast room, we just pulled the four chairs away from the table.)

We also moved items like small wastebaskets and laundry hampers, since we wanted the robot to vacuum those areas. Similarly, we placed power cords and surge protectors on top of desks, although you can program the robot to avoid them. It easily dealt with heavy carpets after laboring a
moment to get over the edges, even managing the fringe.

Faced with a lightweight area rug it struggled mightily, pushing the end of a hallway runner up into a mound and then circling around it in confusion. I ended up securing the corners with carpet tape. There was one tulip armchair that completely confounded the robot. It kept trying to climb the stem like a dachshund humping a sofa.

And a word to the wise: Keep closet doors closed, unless the floors are absolutely free of small obstacles. We returned from dinner one night to find Roomba in a tug-of-war with a hiking boot lace.

Life with a robot
Once Roomba draws a map of your home and you label each room on the app, you can schedule it to suit your needs. Vacuuming the kitchen seven days a week, for example, but cleaning the guest suite only on Thursdays. You can program “keep out” zones so that it will avoid certain items (that tulip chair) and skirt around delicate areas, such as fine rugs you’d rather clean by another method.

And any time you want it to stop for a while, press “pause” on the app, or “send Roomba home,” and the robot will retreat to its power base, where it redocks and empties its dust bin. It isn’t perfect, of course. Liquid spills still need to be wet-mopped. We have some low-to-the-ground furniture we’ll have to move in order to vacuum behind it, and we need to manually clean the “keep out” zones. Ours is a single-level home with minimal barriers, but if we lived in a multiple-story house we’d need to physically carry the robot from floor to floor.

And as mentioned earlier, it’s a noisy rascal. However, after the first couple of weeks, Roomba feels as though it’s lived with us forever. The phone app is very intuitive, making programming easy.

If you have Google Home or an Alexa, you can use voice commands to make the job even simpler. Is it worth it?

At about $1,000, the Roomba s9+ isn’t cheap. But unless you have a daily cleaning service or get a thrill out of vacuuming, it’s an investment that will most likely pay off. Looking around at our dust-free, crumb-free, hair-free floors, I literally breathe easier.

To read more articles from Park Record fall edition of HOME Magazine, click here.

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