During the last week, I have been testing a robot vacuum cleaner. One week is not enough to perform a scientifically sound review, but that is not what I was going for anyway. Rather, I wanted to check my emotional response – to see if having a robot vacuum cleaner would significantly increase our life quality. The executive summary: it did not. If you want to know why, and if you can endure through my unsolicited complaints about what undoubtedly are first world problems, please read on.
We had a robot cleaning appliance seven years ago. Back then it was not a vacuum cleaner, but a robot mop, an iRobot Scooba 390. We used it for about a year. We were satisfied with its cleaning performance, but the overall experience left a lot to be desired. The overhead of using the robot was frustrating. It took roughly 20 minutes to mop a room after which it needed to be moved to the next one. And after 20 minutes to the next one. And the next one. The worst was cleaning the robot after it was done cleaning. It was both time consuming and grose. Mopping the floors using a traditional flat floor mop was simply a superior experience.
However, a lot of technological development has happened in seven years, so it was time for us to test a robot helper once again. This time it was a vacuum cleaner. What triggered me was seeing an online ad for the Electrolux Pure i9.2 PI92-6DGM (a small remark here – this blog post is in no way endorsed or solicited by Electrolux). The model itself may not stand out, but the business model is novel – Electrolux rents the robot out at a monthly cost. It is hard to say if renting appliances in the long term is better for us consumers than buying them up front. A new unit costs around 6500 SEK, while the monthly fee is 269 SEK (it could be less if you have a very small apartment or clean only a couple of times per month). A very crude calculation says that if you plan to use the robot for more than two years, you would be better off buying it. Here I did not take into account the remaining value of the robot after two years (if any) or the fact that the monthly subscription includes some spare brushes and filters (hence the “very crude” in the previous sentence). But to be honest, I never went into this test with the intention of continuing renting. I went in it for the two week test period during which it was possible to return the robot. This was my plan from the beginning – if I like the robot, I will return the rented unit and buy a new one.
I will cover the positive aspects of the robot first. It was decently easy to connect it to my home Wi-Fi network and download the latest firmware. It is good at finding its way – during its first cleaning cycle it found all the rooms to which I had left the doors open. I deliberately kept one room closed. The next day I started another cleaning cycle, this time opening all the doors, and the robot had no problems finding the “new” room. Once it has mapped out the apartment, it is possible to define cleaning zones, so you could for instance clean only the living room and skip the rest. You can also define no-go zones – for us a no-go zone is where we keep the shoes at the entrance to the apartment – I don’t want the robot to pick up germs from there and distribute them to the rest of the apartment. I am very picky about keeping the “shoes zone” and “no shoes zone” strictly separate and I don’t understand why most people step with their socks onto the same part of the floor where they enter with their shoes. I can visualize how this transports germs from for example a public toilet into your bedroom (public toilet -> the sole of your shoe -> the hallway in your apartment -> your sock -> your bedroom). And then I get strange looks when I try to explain to my guests how to properly take off their shoes upon entering my apartment and step with their socks away from the “shoe zone”. It is really not that complex, my daughter mastered the skill when she was three. I am aware that I digressed from discussing the robot and went into the rabbit hole that is my cleanliness opsessive-compulsive disorder, but it is relevant for this experience report, as I will show when presenting the negative sides of the robot in the next paragraph. The vacuuming itself seems fine, I did not notice any remaining dust or crumbles on the floor. I do have to point out that we do not have any carpets in the apartment (yes, due to the same OCD, carpets are the perfect habitat for germs and as such have no place in our apartment). Having to clean only hard-wood floors makes the robot’s job easier. The final positive aspect I can think of is that my daughter finds the robot entertaining.
This brings me to the negative sides. The robot cannot fully replace my old fashioned vacuum cleaner. There are areas where it should not be used (the bathroom) or where it cannot reach (for instance in the space between an open door and the adjacent wall). It does not clean thresholds (but it can climb over them). Another annoyance is that for a satisfying result you need to prepare the apartment beforehand by freeing as much floor space as possible. What I typically did was lifting chairs and removing cables (cables really give it a hard time). Since I don’t believe in decorations that do not fulfill at least one additional function, and thus keep my apartment clutter-free (I like to refer to my style as “clinical functionalism and minimalism” – I find nothing as relaxing as the sight of large clean surfaces), preparing our apartment was easier than a typical home, but it was still an annoying part of the workflow. For that matter, there should not be any workflow in the first place, the robot should be able to clean with minimal interaction from humans. It is also quite loud. Granted, so is a traditional vacuum cleaner. And I could let the robot do its job while being away from home, but during this test period I was following it around observing how it cleans. And the final irritation is that I cannot sanitize the bottom of the robot or its brushes after every cleaning cycle with disinfectant since I am afraid it will damage the robot. This is what I do with the nozzle of my vacuum cleaner. So if I don’t feel confident that the robot is germ free before letting it perform a cleaning cycle, then what is the point?
I wanted to like the robot, but it just did not increase my quality of life enough (if at all) to be able to look past its shortcomings. I have sent it back to Electrolux. Their marketing material states that it will be sanitized before finding another home, which makes me happy. Even though robot vacuum cleaners are not for me for the time being, I am glad that there are many people who feel that these appliances made a big difference in their daily lives. I look forward to checking in on the technological development in the area again in a few years.
I am also glad that I got to test the robot (in this case for free) and make an informed decision. I wish that we had this possibility with more products. Imagine renting five different robot vacuum cleaner models for a week each in order to see which one fits your needs best. Such a service would contribute to smarter purchase decisions and I would gladly pay for it.