In the past few years, no other gadget—headphones, electric bicycle, literally anything at all—has improved as dramatically as the humble robot vacuum. The hardware and software have improved beyond all imagining (hello, self-emptying bins!), and prices have dropped significantly, to the point where robot vacuums are now an accessible, convenient household tool instead of a statement of bougie affluence or a potential cat car.
We’ve rounded our top picks in our Best Robot Vacuums guide. But even if the tech has dramatically improved, it doesn’t mean they’re always easy to use at first. If you’re worried you’re at risk of becoming the next Roomba “pooptastrophe,” read on. Here are a few tips that can help you get the most out of your new sidekick.
1. Decide Which Vacuum You Want
The hardest part of writing a robot vacuum roundup is deciding which vacuum is the best one. All of us have different houses, lifestyles, and desires. For example, a couple in a one-story, 2-bedroom apartment without kids would probably be fine with a much more barebones model than a family of five, complete with pets and Legos.
I recommend the Roborock S4 Max as the vacuum that’s most likely to please the most people. But with multiple kids and a dog, I much prefer the Roomba i3+ over having to skip up every 10 minutes or so to empty a bin by hand. I know another parent who prefers a simple bounce robot because she only runs the vacuum for 20 minutes after dinner in the kitchen. The robot your friend likes might not always be the one that’s best suited for you.
2. Do a Trial Run
It’s tempting, but you can’t open the box, start your new robot vacuum, walk away for three hours, and expect to come home to a clean house. It takes time for both you and the robot vacuum to learn what the potential booby traps in your house will be for the roving machine. I always stay home for the first run (or three) to make sure it can complete a cleaning run without a hitch.
It also helps to give your house a once-over before you start any cleaning. Dangling shoelaces, dog toys, fringed toddler skirts, and ribbons tend to trip up the smartest robot vacuum. In my testing, I’ve found iRobot’s most advanced series, like the Roomba S9+, does the best job of skirting potential traps. Vacuums like the Roborock S6 MaxV can also identify obstacles if you live in a house with pets or kids that are constantly leaving, er, surprises all over the floor. The more you and your personal robot vacuum get to know each other, the better.
3. Turn On the Lights
Robot vacuums use a number of different sensors to navigate around your home. For example, some of the more advanced models use lidar, or self-generated lasers, to navigate; others use stereoscopic cameras. These sensors usually work in conjunction with bumper sensors to tell them when they’ve run into something and infrared cliff sensors that let them know when they’re about to fall off a step.