No one hates cleaning the floors more than I do. It's super time consuming, my back hurts by the end of it, and the results are fleeting. Dust and hair accumulates so easily that it seems like there's no time before I have to bust out the vacuum and do it all over again.
Growing up, my parents always assigned vacuuming and mopping as my spring cleaning tasks. I'm a slow mover by nature — even a simple chore like washing the dishes takes me ages to complete — so you can imagine how long it took me to get through our entire home. After moving out on my own, I avoided this chore as much as possible. "Out of sight, out of mind" was my cleaning mantra. I picked up hairballs and dust bunnies from my wooden floors with a napkin whenever I'd find one, and pretended anything I couldn't spot with my naked eye didn't exist. The only time for a deep floor scrubbing was when I moved in and out of a place.
However, I've recently had a change of heart. I just moved into an apartment with carpeting, and I realized that my laissez-faire attitude with cleaning probably wouldn't fly. According to Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, your carpet could house about 200,000 bacteria per square inch. Even the cleanest-looking carpet can be home to thousands of dirt particles, dust mites, and mold — and they can be very difficult to eliminate.
I was agonizing over this domestic conundrum when I came across a Parks and Rec clip about a Roomba. I hadn't given this gadget much thought before: In my mind, Roombas were funny novelties that made an appearance in cat memes and sitcoms. But, once I started watching YouTube videos of the self-navigating robots doing their thing, it was impossible to stop. I had to have one.
After some careful deliberation, I decided to go with the iRobot 980, a model that has wifi connectivity and a power boost for carpets. I've been using it for a week, and boy, do I have some thoughts on it. Read on to see if these robots are actually as magical as they claim.
When my iRobot 980 arrived in the mail, I was shocked by how big it was. It's 13.8 inches in diameter and weighs almost 9 pounds — pretty bulky for a guy that's supposed to swerve around furniture with ease.
Even though the device comes with an intimidating number of accessories and a thick manual, setting it up was relatively easy. The power dock needs to be plugged in for it to charge, and after pairing the Roomba with your smartphone using a special app, your device is ready to go.
After pressing the "start" button on the main panel, the Roomba starts circling around the room, stopping from time to time at spots that required deeper cleaning. When the Roomba is in a largely unobstructed area, like under a bed it moves with a lateral zig-zag motion.
The machine is quite sensitive and nimble with obstacles: It quickly performs a course adjustment when furniture gets in the way, as seen in the GIF. It's able to hop over power cords and thick rugs with ease. The only thing it struggles with? Shoelaces often get caught up in the wheels, so it's best to stow all your footwear before a cleaning session.
The Roomba's vacuuming abilities are certainly impressive: It easily picks up hair, small pieces of plastic wrapping, and chipped paint pieces from the walls. Thumb-sized dust bunnies are also not an issue. To my surprise, I even found a short USB cord in the dust bin after one session. The only downside? The edges of the walls don't get as much TLC, due to the round design of the machinery.
Via a wifi connection, you can hook your Roomba to your smartphone. This enables you to start and pause the machine from your app — even when you're in a different room. The app also displays handy statistics, such as a map of the total area cleaned.
The remote tracker came in handy when I was watching TV in the living room and wanted the Roomba to do a quick sweep in my bedroom. Whenever the Roomba encountered a problem, such as low battery or a full bin, I received a notification on my phone. There's also a timer function where you can schedule vacuuming sessions.
Room For Improvement
Almost right away, I noticed that it would be nearly impossible to use the Roomba as a mobile DJ, à la Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec. The iRobot 980 is quite loud when it's switched on, and you can still hear it in another room, even with the door closed.
Another thing that surprised me was how often the dust bin needed to be emptied. Every 20 minutes, I'd get a buzz on my phone telling me that the dust bin is full. To the Roomba's credit, it does pick up an impressive amount of dirt, but this also means that you can't actually leave the apartment and let it work its magic — so much for the scheduling function.
Supposedly, the bin doesn't get full as quickly the more often you clean with the Roomba, but it was too small for my liking, especially in relation to the size of the machine.
I also struggled with the virtual wall barriers: These little bricks are supposed to protect the areas you don't want to be vacuumed by transmitting signals to the Roomba to turn a different direction as it approaches. However, they seem confuse the device: The Roomba would get stuck in one place and turn around in circles until an error message appeared, as shown in the GIF. If you want the Roomba to steer clear of a part of your house, I'd recommend just closing the door.
The iRobot Roomba 980 model doesn't come cheap: It retails at $899.99. That's a pricey investment for any household product. However, it does have an impressive battery life and does a good job giving your carpet and floors a deep-level cleaning with low-level of supervision. In my dream world, I'd love to just be able to leave for the day and come home to a clean apartment, but the technology isn't quite there. Though I much prefer climbing off my couch every once in a while to empty the Roomba's dust bin than actually doing the vacuuming myself.