The best robotic vacuum ever

Have I told you before how much I love iRobot? I really think the company produces the best robotic vacuum in the market.

This love story started when I saw a special deal on the Dirt Dog a few years ago while visiting the US. I was going to start a new job after my return. The job had a long commute and I was worried about how I would juggle the job and my household duties. The Dirt Dog was just for $100 on the special deal and I thought that is how much I would pay for a vacuum cleaner in any case. Or for calling in a maid twice to clean my apartment.

The Dirt Dog was a robotic sweeper, especially meant for doing heavy duty work in workshops. We had wooden floors and no carpets, so the Dirt Dog would be enough for us. I had done some research. Its older siblings, the iRobot Roomba and the iRobot Scooba, were super expensive for my budget in those days. I thought $100 was low enough for me to give the Dirt Dog a try and not regret it too much if it turned out to be useless.

They say a dog is man’s best friend. Well, the Dirt Dog turned out to be a woman’s best friend.

iRobot Dirt Dog

iRobot Dirt Dog

In the first month, we couldn’t take our eyes off it while it ran. It was so fascinating. The manual already warned us that it does not clean like a human does. Humans usually sweep or vacuum a room in back and forth lines. The Dirt Dog had 3 different movements. Ideally, you should place it in the centre of the room, or the centre of the empty space in a room. It would then start with a spiral motion cleaning the space around it in ever widening circles. Once it hit something (a wall, furniture, etc), it would rotate a little, and go straight, cleaning everything in its path till it hit something else, when it would turn again. This zig-zag movement allowed it to cover each spot in a room at least 3 or 4 times before it finished. When the Dirt Dog figured out that it was moving along a wall, it would switch to the wall cleaning motion, where a tiny brush on the side would flick the dirt along the edges of the wall under the Dirt Dog, so that it could be swept up into the Dirt Dog’s bin.

Due to this difference in motions, and because the Dirt Dog is smaller and moves slower than a human, the Dirt Dog took 2-3 times longer to sweep a room than a human would. It may take a human 10 minutes to clean a small, empty room. It would take the Dirt Dog 20 minutes. It would take a human 20 minutes to clean a larger room cluttered with furniture. It would take the Dirt Dog about 40 minutes. But that is 20 minutes that you are not spending cleaning your home. If you think of the entire home, the Dirt Dog was easily saving me several hours a week to clean my apartment. I would ordinarily sweep my apartment once a week. I would also sweep the kitchen after dinner every night. But now since I was not the one doing the sweeping any more, I could turn it on every day or every second day to sweep, while I went to work. So I was keeping my apartment cleaner than before. And because it could easily go under furniture, I was no longer breaking my back moving furniture.

We were so happy with this miracle worker of ours, that when the Dirt Dog finally died (it was later also discontinued by iRobot), we decided to upgrade to the latest iRobot at the time, the Roomba 581, which cost about $400 (although you can get always get a new older model for $300). The Roomba is not just a sweeper. It is a robotic vacuum cleaner. So it works great on hardwood floors, tiles and carpets. It can easily make the transition between the various floor types without any help from us. The Dirt Dog used to get tangled up in wires and carpet tassels. So we had to make sure to move them before turning it on. The iRobot Roomba does not have that problem, so we have to do less prep work before turning it on. Also, we can schedule the Roomba to turn on and then forget about it. We scheduled it to turn on 3 times a week at 10am, while we were safely away at work. We would come home to find our apartment all clean and sparkling. The Roomba also has a longer battery life, so it can easily vacuum 4 rooms on one charge, which was enough for our new apartment. In addition, it came with lighthouses. A lighthouse is a beacon that sets up a “virtual wall” while the Roomba cleans a room or space, preventing it from going out of the room before the room is clean. Once the Roomba signals that the room is clean, the Lighthouse turns the “virtual wall” off and allows the Roomba to pass through to the next room.

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Just like the Dirt Dog, we still need to clean the brushes of the Roomba once or twice a month, and we have to empty out the bin after every alternate use, but those 15-20 minutes of effort are well worth the dozens of hours we save a month. The best part is that the Roomba cleans my floors better than any maid I have ever used.

When researching online, I see that the latest iRobot Roomba model, Roomba 880, has reduced the maintenance time by replacing the brushes with rubber rollers. So one only needs to clean the edges of the rollers where some hair may have accumulated. And, of course, empty the bin. The price has also increased to $699.

Our passion for iRobot grew to such an extent that we soon ordered the iRobot Scooba, as well. The thing that attracted us to the Scooba was that it cleans only with clean water. You have to fill the clean water tank with clean water. The Scooba system is set in such a way that when it does a pass on your floor, the first brush will sweep your floor, then immediately clean water is laid down, and scrubbed by the squeegee and the dirty water is scooped up by a vaccuum and stored in the dirty water tank. So you never reuse the dirty water, like you do in traditional mopping. Now that is amazing, but our experience with the Scooba was a little mixed.

First of all, our brand new Scooba did not start working as soon we filled the clean water tank and turned it on. We had to prime the tank to set up the water suction. That was a little tricky and required some time. That also means you needed a primer bulb (or a bulb syringe that you use for babies). We ended up having to prime the Scooba every couple of weeks. You have to also empty out the dirty water tank and fill up the clean water tank after every 2 rooms or 300sqft, And then it could continue to clean 2 rooms more before the battery died out. So overall, the Scooba required a lot more interaction than the Roomba did. However, it still cleaned the floors exceptionally well, and with very little time put in from my side. In fact, it claims to remove more than 99% of bacteria found on our floors.

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The latest model, Scooba 450, that I now see on the iRobot site does not require priming any more. That should make Scooba much easier to use. However, the price tag is pretty hefty at $600. I think you will need to wait for a sale to pick that up, or go for an older model. The covered area has also decreased to just 300sqft on one charge. So that means you cannot have the entire house cleaned on one cycle. But that is enough to do the kitchen and dining room in one go in the evenings. And then you need to charge it for an hour or two to clean anything else.

So, are the Scooba and Roomba worth it? Absolutely. Should you wait to get a good deal? Most probably. I suggest that as soon as a new model is released you buy the one version older, which will give you a very good deal. Or keep yours eyes and ears open for any sales.

Although the iRobot is not readily available in many countries in Asia, it is available in North America, Europe and Australia. I promise when you buy one, you will never be able to go back to the old ways of cleaning again.

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