Monthly Archives: February 2019

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What’s the Best Automatic Vacuum?

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Vacuums have come a long way. You no longer have to suffer the indignity of dragging around an unwieldy plastic hose connected to a clumsy, wheeled canister the size of a Galapagos tortoise. In fact, you don’t even need to get off of the couch. Though it still feels like a relatively new product category, there are several good robot vacuums available to help you dispose of dust, pet hair, and other debris in your home—without needing to lift a finger. Which is the right one for you? We’ve rounded up our highest-rated robot vacuums, and provided a few pointers to help you find just the bot you’re looking for.

Robot Vacuums vs. Cansiter and Upright

Unlike more traditional canister or stick models, robot vacuums are autonomous and (for the most part) intelligent. The vacuums we’ve tested are equipped with lasers, motherboards, sensors, and even Wi-Fi to navigate around your home without the need for assistance. With a few exceptions, you barely have to interact with them at all.

Most robot vacuums come with charging docks and can even charge themselves. Just pick a robot-accessible spot for the dock, and the bot will return on its own before it runs out of juice. When it does, it will sit there until it has enough energy to go back out and continue to bust dust from where it left off. You can also set schedules for most bots to wake up and start a cleaning job, so it can take place while you’re out of the house. That means you can potentially avoid all physical interaction until the vacuum needs to be emptied—you still can’t take that step out of the equation.

Also unlike many traditional vacuums, all of the robots included here don’t use bags to hold the dust, hair, and other debris they suck up. Instead, they use an easy-to-remove dustbin you can simply eject and empty into the nearest garbage can. And many come equipped with HEPA filters that prevent allergens from spreading through the air.

Are Robot Vacuums Worth It?

A robot vacuum is usually higher in price than a traditional vacuum (though not always; the Dyson Cinetic Animal + Allergy costs $700). The models listed here range from under $200 to $1,000. That’s a pretty sizable investment, even on the lower end. Let’s consider just what you get for the price.

Unless you really love to vacuum, the task itself is pretty mundane. Depending on the size of your house, a robot vacuum can save you anywhere from minutes to hours of your time every week by taking care of a pretty thankless chore. That alone is reason enough for some people to consider one.

In addition, robot vacuums have reached the point where they’re basically just as effective and powerful as regular vacuums. The robots rounded up here use filters, side brushes, and spinning brushes that will do an equally good job of cleaning your home as their upright equivalents. They’re also fairly compact, so they won’t take up much space in your storage closet. And they’re able to travel underneath most couches and tables, so you don’t have to rearrange furniture. Even if you do, the more advanced robots on this list use memory banks to note where furniture is placed, so as not to bump into anything on a future pass.

Also worth mentioning: Smart robot vacuums are much more affordable now. What are the benefits of connectivity? Most Wi-Fi vacuums can be programmed and controlled remotely using your smartphone. Some can even be activated with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands.

Premium connected bots can generate statistics and maps of the areas they’ve cleaned. Some of Neato’s Botvacs even create personalized floor plans that eliminate the need for you to use physical “virtual walls” to cordon off sections of your home. Meanwhile, the Samsung Powerbot R7070 can easily integrate into existing routines with other smart home devices if you have a SmartThings Hub. So while connected bots are generally pricier, they do come with some nice perks.

Which Vacuum Is Best for Pet Hair? Hardwood?

Generally speaking, all the vacuums we’ve tested can handle hardwood floors and pet hair without issue. Floor-cleaning robots like the iRobot Braava Jet specialize in mopping and sweeping. They aren’t eligible for this list because they don’t suck up dirt and debris, but they will get your hardwood floors nice and shiny. Some vacuums, like the Bobsweep PetHair Plus and Bobi Pet come with mop attachments, but they’re not as effective overall.

For more, see our list of The Best Robot Mops.

How We Test Robot Vacuums

We test robot vacuums in PC Labs and in our actual homes, with the following categories in mind: battery life, navigation, setup, suction, and if it supports Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the app experience.

Chances are you don’t want to babysit your vacuum. That means you’re looking for a robot that can traverse different floor types or maneuver around furniture without needing help. This is especially true if you have dark flooring, as infrared sensors might confuse a black carpet with a ledge, and refuse to pass over it. We test vacuums on hardwood, tile, and darkly colored rugs to see how well they manage the transitions across various surfaces.

Battery life is also an important factor to consider based on the size of your home. In general, most robot vacuums can run for at least 60 to 70 minutes, which should be enough to tackle many apartments and single-floor homes. If you have a bigger living area, you’ll want to look for something in the 90-minute range so it can hit every room in the house before requiring a recharge. To test this, we charge the battery to full, start a cleaning cycle, and time how long the robot runs before it needs to be docked. And if a robot says it can automatically dock, we check to see if it can easily find its way home.

Another note on battery life: The number you see listed in the chart above is our tested result in normal mode. High-power or other modes often bring that number down a bit.

Most robot vacuums are reliable when it comes to getting rid of standard household detritus, so you don’t really have to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to suck up lint, dirt, or hair. Since we test all the robot vacuums in the same home environment, we check how full dustbins get and whether obvious debris like food particles and visible dust bunnies are picked up. We also note whether the robot uses a random or methodical cleaning pattern. Random cleaners often run across the same space multiple times but take a longer time to get everything. Methodical cleaners don’t take as long, but may only pass through a room once unless programmed otherwise.

Finally, we test how easy it is to set up, program, and control the robot. Some only require an initial battery charge, while others ask you to install side brushes and batteries. For connected bots, app design and reliable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity are major factors that impact your experience. We provide a detailed analysis of our experience in each review, and you can see our Vacuum Product Guide for the latest models.

Best Robot Vacuums Featured in This Roundup:

  •   Ecovacs Deebot N79S Review
    MSRP: $229.00
    $215.00 at Amazon  Pros: Affordable. Powerful suction. App control. Amazon Alexa compatibility. Cons: Finicky Wi-Fi setup. Minor navigation issues. Bottom Line: The Ecovacs Deebot N79S robot vacuum offers powerful cleaning, app control, and Alexa voice command support for an unbeatable price. Read Review
  •   iRobot Roomba 960 Review
    MSRP: $699.99
    $549.00 at Amazon  Pros: Good navigation capabilities. Handles different floor types well. Relatively quiet. Works with smartphone app and voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Shows map of cleaned areas. Cons: Occasionally gets stuck under low furniture. Can’t steer using phone app. Bottom Line: The iRobot Roomba 960 isn’t cheap, but thanks to a mix of premium features and performance, it’s the best high-end robot vacuum for the price. Read Review
  •   iRobot Roomba i7+ Review
    MSRP: $949.99
    $949.99 at Best Buy  Pros: Self-emptying dustbin. Multistory mapping. Excellent camera-based navigation. Automatic room recognition. Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. Cons: Expensive. Noisy. Clean Base is bulky. Bottom Line: With the ability to empty its own dustbin, iRobot’s Roomba i7+ is the first robot vacuum we’ve tested that truly does all of the work for you. Read Review
  •   Neato Botvac D4 Connected Review
    MSRP: $499.99
    $499.99 at Amazon  Pros: Excellent laser navigation. Supports cleaning maps. Virtual No-Go boundary lines. Smart charging. Alexa and Google Assistant compatible. Integrates with IFTTT and the Apple Watch. Cons: Battery life could be longer. Loud. Bottom Line: The Neato Botvac D4 Connected isn’t cheap, but it offers virtual boundaries and customized cleaning maps for less than any other robot vacuum. Read Review
  •   Neato Botvac D7 Connected Review
    MSRP: $799.00
    $813.99 at Amazon  Pros: Excellent navigation capabilities and battery life. Detailed, interactive cleaning maps. App-based virtual boundaries. Expanded third-party integration including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT. Cons: Expensive. Small dustbin. Loud. Bottom Line: Neato’s Botvac D7 Connected offers interactive cleaning maps, long battery life, and better third-party smart home integration than any other robot vacuum. Read Review
  •   Eufy RoboVac 11s Review
    MSRP: $219.99
    $220.44 at Amazon  Pros: Affordable. Compact. Quiet. Strong cleaning performance. Good battery life. Cons: No virtual barriers or app control. Limited scheduling options. Bottom Line: The Eufy RoboVac 11s is an affordable, frills-free robot vacuum that’s small enough to clean under even the lowest furniture. Read Review
  •   iLife A4s Robot Vacuum Cleaner Review
    MSRP: $249.99
    $159.99 at Amazon  Pros: Compact size. Long battery life. Supports scheduling and multiple cleaning modes. Cons: Occasionally became lost returning to charging dock in testing. Bottom Line: The iLife A4s is a compact, no-frills robot vacuum cleaner that sucks up dirt and debris without emptying your wallet. Read Review
  •   iRobot Roomba 690 Review
    MSRP: $374.99
    $299.00 at Amazon  Pros: Relatively affordable. Controllable via phone app. Compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. Powerful suction. Cons: Navigation issues with dark flooring and docking in testing. Bottom Line: iRobot’s Roomba 690 vacuum offers lots of functionality for the price, including control via smartphone and support for voice commands through popular smart home devices. Read Review
  •   Neato Botvac D5 Connected Review
    MSRP: $599.00
    $476.99 at Best Buy  Pros: Relatively compact. Good at cleaning edges and underneath cabinets. Excellent battery life. Sleek, easy-to-use app. Cons: Pricey. No steering options. Dustbin is small and finicky to remove. Bottom Line: The Neato Botvac D5 Connected is an all-around solid robot vacuum with accurate laser navigation and built-in Wi-Fi for app control from your phone. Read Review
  •   Samsung Powerbot R7070 Review
    MSRP: $699.99
    $499.99 at Amazon  Pros: Powerful suction. Flat edge works well in tight spaces. Manual steering option. Smart navigation over different floor types. App control. Cons: Middling battery life. Wi-Fi features aren’t utilized well. App crashed often and frequently needed to reconnect in testing. Alexa integration is unreliable. Bottom Line: The Samsung Powerbot R7070 is a connected robot vacuum that gets a lot of things right, but unimpressive battery life and some connectivity issues hold it back.

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Best Stick Vacuums of 2019

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CR’s tests of stick vacuums from Shark, Dirt Devil, and Bissell show there are a lot of vacuum options for small messes

By Haniya Rae Last updated: February 06, 2019                    

“In the past few years, stick vacuum suction has gotten a lot stronger, especially in battery-powered stick vacuums,” says Frank Rizzi, a senior Consumer Reports test-lab engineer who tests vacuums. “If you don’t have wall-to-wall carpet, these machines can do a lot of cleaning.”

Furthermore, cordless stick vacuums are taking over. According to the marketing research firm Gap Intelligence, more than 100 different cordless stick vacuums are currently on sale at major retailers compared with less than 30 corded stick vacuums.

Runtime for cordless stick vacuums varies widely. In Consumer Reports’ tests, some stick vacs lost power in as little as 15 minutes, while others ran for 47 minutes. Some manufacturers provide an extra battery with their cordless stick vacuums so you can have one charging while you’re cleaning with the other.

Consumer Reports has tested dozens of stick vacuums from such brands as Bissell, Black+Decker, Shark, Dirt Devil, Hoover, and Dyson.

How We Test Stick Vacuums

Because stick vacuums don’t have the same deep-carpet cleaning capability as full-sized models, CR conducts a carpet surface cleaning test, evaluating how well the machines pick up sand, rice, and cereal within a certain amount of time. (In the more challenging embedded-dirt test for full-sized vacuums, our engineers try to clean up sand that’s been ground into pile carpet.) MORE ON VACUUMS CR’s Guide to Buying a Vacuum Best Robotic Vacuums for $300 or Less Get the Most Out of Your Vacuum Attachments Quietest Vacuums From CR’s Tests

In our bare-floor cleaning test for cordless stick vacuums, we scatter litter on a tiled floor with grout grooves, which increases the difficulty of the test. We also conduct a pet-hair removal test on medium-pile carpet as well as a clean emissions test to see whether a vacuum is releasing the dust that you just sucked up. 

Read more about our vacuum tests in this handy guide to how CR tests vacuums. 

Below are the best cordless stick vacuums from CR’s tests listed in alphabetical order.

Best Stick Vacuums From CR’s Tests

Bissell Air Ram 1984
CR’s take: For an affordable price, like others on this list, you get a top-notch and self-standing cordless stick vacuum. The Bissell Air Ram 1984 scores an Excellent rating on our carpet cleaning test and is just as good at bare floors. It has the longest runtime among the cordless vacuums in our labs with a charge that lasts 47 minutes. Even though it’s a basic model, the Bissell Air Ram has held its place near the top of our ratings for some time. But unlike other stick vacs, it doesn’t convert to a hand vacuum or come with any accessories, it’s just a stick vac.  QUICK TAKE     Bissell Air Ram 1984 Stick vacuums

Price: $200 Shop

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Black+Decker Smartech HSVJ520JMBF27
CR’s take: Though not as impressive overall as the Bissell Air Ram, the Black+Decker Smartech is impressive at cleaning bare floors and earns an Excellent at suctioning up pet hair, but not quite as good at cleaning carpet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do as well removing dirt from around the edges of a room. On the plus side, this vacuum has a convertible hand vacuum for getting into tight spaces, and a swiveling powerhead to help you easily maneuver around furniture. At 20 minutes, the battery life is shorter than that of some of the other models we tested, so you’ll have to be quick at cleaning.  QUICK TAKE     Black+Decker Smartech HSVJ520JMBF27 Stick vacuums

Price: $200 Shop

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Dirt Devil Reach Max Plus BD22510PC
CR’s take: At this price, and we’ve seen it on sale for even less, the Dirt Devil Reach Max Plus is packed with cleaning power. In fact, it aces every one of our tests—carpet, bare floors, and earns an Excellent rating for pet hair. Plus it’s whisper quiet. It’s only so-so on edges, however. Runtime is 19 minutes and it takes 3 hours to recharge. At 6.3 pounds, it’s easy to maneuver and the swivel head helps when you’re vacuuming around furniture. The Dirt Devil converts to a hand vac and comes with an electric-powered brush and a crevice tool for deeper cleaning.  QUICK TAKE     Dirt Devil Reach Max Plus BD22510PC Stick vacuums

Price: $130 Shop

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Shark IonFlex 2X DuoClean Ultra-Light Cordless IF251
CR’s take: One of the best stick vacs in our ratings, the DuoClean IF251 can get around tight corners with ease, and is stellar at picking up pet hair from both bare floors and carpets. In terms of picking up debris on carpet, this stick earns a Very Good rating, meaning it picked up most of the embedded talc in our tests. Like other Shark stick vacs, it has a dual brush roll that includes a bristle brush roll and a soft brush roll which helped it excel on the carpet and pet hair tests. Shark vacuums earn our top ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.  QUICK TAKE     Shark IonFlex 2X DuoClean Ultra-Light Cordless IF251 Stick vacuums

Price: $450 Shop

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Shark Ion F80 Cord-Free MultiFLEX IF281
CR’s take: 
Shark’s MultiFLEX IF281 is another example of a great stick vacuum that excels at bare floor cleaning and pet hair pick up. The MultiFLEX IF281 earns an Excellent rating in our emissions tests, meaning it did not distribute much dust back into the environment as it rolled over piles of debris. It’s not the best—but not the worst—at carpet cleaning, so you might want to stick with bare floors or choose a different stick that scores higher on our carpet cleaning tests. Shark vacuums earn the best ratings for both reliability and owner satisfaction.  QUICK TAKE     Shark ION F80 Cord-Free MultiFLEX IF281 Stick vacuums

Price: $450 Shop

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Shark Ion X40 Cord-Free Ultra-Light IR141
CR’s take: The Shark Ion X40 earns an Excellent rating for bare floor cleaning and is one of the quietest stick vacuums that we’ve tested. It doesn’t do so well when it comes to carpet, so those with lots of carpeted floors should steer clear (or look at a similar Shark model, such as the DuoClean Ultra-Light Cordless IF251).  Our testers especially liked the duo clean power head that includes a bristle and a soft roller, which help it pick up both fine and large particles. For those concerned about the longevity of their vacuum, Shark as a manufacturer earns our top ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.  QUICK TAKE     Shark ION X40 Cord-Free Ultra-Light IR141 Stick vacuums

Price: $300 Shop

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Shark IonFlex DuoClean Ultra-Light IF201
CR’s take: While it’s called ultra-light, the Shark IonFlex weighs 8.7 pounds, which is average for models in our cordless stick vacuums 6 pounds and over but several pounds heavier than the truly lightweight models in our tests. This well-rated Shark cleans up pet hair like a champ, earning an Excellent rating on that test. And like the top-performing corded SharkFlex DuoClean Ultra-Light Corded HV391, it has two cleaning speeds and converts to a hand vacuum when you need to get into tight spaces. Unfortunately, you can’t remove the brush roll for cleaning, so you’ll need scissors to cut away strands of hair and fur. The lithium-ion battery runs an average of 15 minutes when fully charged, on the skimpy side. But unlike some stick vacs, you can vacuum at any speed without sacrificing runtime. Shark vacuums earn our top ratings for both predicted reliability and owner satisfaction.  QUICK TAKE     Shark IONFlex DuoClean Ultra-Light Cordless IF201 Stick vacuums

Price: $370 Shop

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Shark Rocket Complete with DuoClean HV380 (Walmart)
CR’s take: This top Shark is a corded model that converts to a hand vac and comes with a 12-inch crevice tool. It earns an Excellent rating for its performance on our carpet cleaning tests—if you have wall-to-wall carpets and need to pick up small messes, this might be a good choice for you. This vacuum wasn’t so great at keeping emissions down, however, so if you are sensitive to dust you might want to find a different vac. This model has the option of compact storage, and the large dirt chamber can be emptied with just one step.  QUICK TAKE     Shark Rocket Complete with DuoClean HV380 (Walmart) Stick vacuums

Price: $240 Shop

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Inside the Vacuum Test Lab

In the market for a new vacuum cleaner? CR expert, Sue Booth, shows “Consumer 101” TV show host Jack Rico how Consumer Reports puts models through the paces.