The Household MVP of COVID Lockdown

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Spending 23 hours per day at home really makes you appreciate the things around the house that make life more convenient. Our mediocre dishwasher, our rattling washing machine that has, at most, a couple of months of life left, and our dependable dryer have all gotten an unprecedented workout.

One labor-saving device has emerged as the real MVP of our 8 weeks at home so far - our loyal robot vacuum. An estimated 14.2 million US households have a robot vacuum,[1] and we have owned one through most of our adult lives.

It is hard to describe the convenience and joys of owning one, but imagine a semi-competent assistant cleaning your floor while you work or relax, returning to a small charging base afterward. And then imagine being able to take out the bin, full of crud and whatever disgusting items had been left on your floor, and gratifyingly pour its contents into the trash. If you find this appealing, a robot vacuum may be the household item for you!

The modern robot vacuum arrived on the scene in September 2002 when iRobot introduced the Roomba for $199. As an obsessive early adopter, I bought my first Roomba in graduate school and have owned, at one point or another, almost every single major brand robot vacuum.

Robot vacuums are great. We run ours 2-3 times daily, and it almost always finishes its run with a bin full of dust and debris, leaving our floors amazingly clean. With two children in the house, it’s particularly helpful picking up lost Cheerios, sand, and dried Play-Doh. And being home all the time has subjected our robot vacuum to new and unprecedented challenges. I really don’t know how we would keep up otherwise.

If you’re interested in joining the club at a very reasonable price, here are some good tips:

  • Stay away from the name brands - as I mentioned in my post about branded vs. nonbranded products, you pay a significant premium for the name brand. iRobot Roomba is no exception and is generally priced at a 50%+ premium to comparable models by other manufacturers.

  • Forgo the self-emptying bin (unless you have cash to burn) - the newest fad in robot vacuums is the self-emptying bin, which is available in the iRobot i7+ which retails for $699, and the SharkIQ with Self-Emptying Base, which generally goes for around $400-600 (depending on promotions). This is an unnecessary feature - emptying the bin takes about 7 seconds.

  • Skip the “smart” features - many robot vacuums now offer the ability to “map” your house or apartment, allowing you to assign it to clean a certain room. One example is the Roborock S4 (about $400). This is also unnecessary - if you want to clean a particular room, just close the door or put something in the way to block the robot’s path. Similarly, skip the vacuums with smartphone apps or WiFi. At best, these features are of marginal usefulness. At worst, you are giving access to your home WiFi to a random device that likely has some undiagnosed security flaw.

  • Be mindful of furniture - if you want to be able to clean under furniture, ensure the vacuum’s height is well below the clearance underneath. We learned the hard way once with an otherwise great vacuum that would constantly get stuck under our couch.

  • Don’t spent a lot of money - unless very well-maintained (and almost no one cleans their vacuum as much as recommended, or at all), robot vacuums usually stop working after a couple of years. If you spend $400+ for a vacuum, you’re not going to want to do that every year or two. So try to keep it to $250 or less.

  • Don’t let your 3 year old ride the vacuum - self-explanatory.

So what do I recommend? Without a doubt (it’s not even close) our favorite robot vacuum we’ve ever owned is the Eufy Robovac 11S Max (currently $249 at Amazon).[2] It is slim, allowing it to go below all of our furniture, has excellent suction, and very good battery life. As a budget option, the regular 11S (with less suction, otherwise basically identical) is also a great deal at $159. The Robovac includes a convenient charging base (which it returns to after finishing) and a remote control with different modes. There are no fancy features like a self-emptying bin or smart mapping, but it does everything we need at a great price.

I should also note - this post is not an advertisement! I don’t make money from this newsletter via ads, affiliate links, or anything else.

I hope this has been helpful. If you liked it, please share it with a friend! Also, please send me your feedback, requests, and success stories.

[1] According to a slightly dated estimate.

[2] An additional $23 off coupon was available when I last checked, bringing the price down to $226.