It really does clean!
Extremely easy to use
Cons: Does not replace vacuuming, only supplements it
The iRobot Roomba®581 Vacuum Cleaning Robot is a cute addition to a home’s housecleaning toolkit. While he would never be confused with Rosie from The Jetson’s, he has enough of a personality to lead us to refer to him with a personal pronoun in conversation. A circle little larger than a foot in diameter, the Roomba works, is easy to set up, and is fun to use but is not a replacement for a real vacuum.
The 581 is a model that includes three small towers and a remote. Lesser models are available, but I was not interested in them as they are not able to schedule their work while I am gone or they do not have the towers. This model is middle of the line; it is able to schedule but does not have the HEPA filter that is available. Also included is a small cache of parts (a brush cleaner, three replacement brushes, and a filter).
To get started all you need to do is charge it and go. In reality, though, some planning is needed while that first charge takes place. Where will you put the home base, where Roomba lives and charges itself? What about the placement of the towers? Each tower is about 4” tall by 3” at the base. They can be used as a virtual wall, prohibiting the Roomba from crossing, or as a lighthouse, helping the Roomba keep track of where it is as it cleans.
In order to help the Roomba find its way back to the base, a lighthouse needs to be in visual sight of the base. When starting to clean the Roomba works its way out from the base, cleaning an area for 25 minutes before proceeding past he lighthouse to the next area. When it has done all of its work (a maximum of four rooms), it is supposed to head back to the base and dock itself; it uses the lighthouses to figure out its way home. Unfortunately, it often runs out of power before home base is found.
Our house is an open plan, with about 1600 square feet on the main floor. In order to make sure that the Roomba goes everywhere, we use two lighthouses and one virtual wall. Each of the towers runs off of 2 “C” batteries, is effective across an area up to about fifteen feet, and automatically turns on when Roomba starts up and off when it docks.
Scheduling Roomba to work is a breeze with a simple remote and very clear buttons and readout. 4 AA batteries are needed for the remote but can be removed after the schedule is set. One of the best advantages of the Roomba is to have it clean while you are at work. The unit is a bit noisy: not as loud as a real vacuum, but louder than the dishwasher or a toy R/C car. It runs around each room in what seems to be an organized random pattern; he has a bumper sensor and a fairly light touch but he does knock over one tipsy piece of art we have on the floor.
It would be a good idea to vacuum before starting to use the Roomba. The unit is really more of a sweeper than a vacuum; even though it has a filter and air flow, it does not have adequate suction to really clean carpet. That said, it does an impressive job of picking up the daily lint, dust, pet hair, and occasional renegade Cocoa Puff that gets dropped on the floor. Our children are old enough that we don’t have various toys on the floor and we can have them keep their piles of stuff off the floor. We run our Roomba five days a week and have to empty the 6” x4” dirt bin about every three days. It simply slides out and the filter is accessed at that time also. The brushes tend to wrap lint around them on the ends and that has to be picked out every couple of weeks as well.
It is important to have your room picked up before each cleaning. Shoe laces, small toys, clothes, and electrical cords will cause havoc and usually result in the poor guy getting stuck and turning off. He can navigate on both hard surfaces and carpets with ease, but may choke on rug tassels. He also will not fall down stairs, as he senses the edge and then steers clear. If something does get him stuck, it is easy to untangle him when you get home from work; I usually then just push the “Dock” button and he heads for home.
After a few weeks of use we have found that he will rub the paint off of some types of base shoe and painted furniture. Part of ourbase shoe is about one-half an inch tall, which is exactly the height of his bumper. This means that at times he runs his bumper up onto the base and then notices the cupboard or wall is there, lightly rubbing the paint off the top of the base shoe. To solve this, I have glued a piece of felt weatherstrip to his bumper so that he does not run on top of the base any more. That has helped. With the painted furniture, there has been no easy solution. The manufacturer should have him programmed to back up a half an inch when he hits an obstruction; instead, he often just turns, rubbing his smooth plastic body on the paint enough to wear a line where the contact occurs.
The biggest drawback of this tool is that it does not do it all. A round cleaner will never get all corners and a robotic unit without extraordinary sensors will never clean all dirt. It’s rather expensive for something that is not a necessity. But running it every day does result in fairly clean floors and keeps things tidy. Someone should still use a real vacuum once every couple of weeks while the Roomba freshens up in between.