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Robot vacuums help around the house by automating a chore that, let’s face it, many of us don’t like to do. The first robot vacuums had steep price tags, and you can still find high-end robo-vacs today that are worth the money for many reasons. However, their popularity over the past couple of years has led to a surge of new robot vacuum cleaners on the market that cost much less than the firsts in the category. Gone are the days where you had to spend $500 or more just to get one of these machines home. Now, some of the best budget robot vacuums come in at $300 or less. After testing dozens of robot vacuums at all price points, we’ve decided that any machine in this price range is what we’d consider to be cheap. Here’s everything you need to know before purchasing a robot vacuum while sticking to a budget, plus our top picks.
Since I've tested dozens of robot vacuums, I'm often asked if these gadgets are "worth it" and I'd say the answer is yes. The biggest thing they offer is convenience: just turn on a robot vacuum and walk away. The machine will take care of the rest. If vacuuming is one of your least favorite chores, or you just want to spend less time keeping your home tidy, semi-autonomous robotic vacuum is a great investment.
There are plenty of other good things about them, but before we dive in let’s consider the biggest trade-offs: less power, less capacity and less flexibility. Those first two go hand in hand; robot vacuum cleaners are much smaller than upright vacuums, which leads to less powerful suction. They also hold less dirt because their built-in bins are a fraction of the size of a standard vacuum canister or bag. And while robo-vacs are cord-free, that means they are slaves to their batteries and will require docking at a charging base.
When it comes to flexibility, robot vacuums do things differently than standard ones. You can control some with your smartphone, set cleaning schedules and more, but robo-vacs are primarily tasked with cleaning floors. On the flip side, their upright counterparts can come with various attachments that let you clean couches, stairs, light fixtures and other hard-to-reach places.
What to look for in a budget robot vacuum
When looking for the best cheap robot vacuum, one of the first things you should consider is the types of floors you have in your home. Do you have mostly carpet, tile, laminate, hardwood? Carpets demand vacuums with more suction power that can pick up debris pushed down into nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal metric by which suction is measured. Some companies provide Pascal (Pa) levels and generally the higher the Pa, the stronger. But other companies don’t rely on Pa levels and simply say their robots have X-times more suction power than other robot vacuums.
So how can you ensure you’re getting the best cheap robot vacuum to clean your floor type? Read the product description. Look for details about its ability to clean hard floors and carpets, and see if it has a “max” mode you can use to increase suction. If you are given a Pa measurement, look for around 2000Pa if you have mostly carpeted floors.
Size is also important for two reasons: clearance and dirt storage. Check the specs for the robot’s height to see if it can get underneath the furniture you have in your home. Most robo-vacs won’t be able to clean under a couch (unless it’s a very tall, very strange couch), but some can get under entryway tables, nightstands and the like. As for dirt storage, look out for the milliliter capacity of the robot’s dustbin — the bigger the capacity, the more dirt the vacuum cleaner can collect before you have to empty it.
You should also double check the Wi-Fi capabilities of the robo-vac you’re eyeing. While you may think that’s a given on all smart home devices, it’s not. Some of the most affordable models don’t have the option to connect to your home Wi-Fi network. If you choose a robot vac like this, you won’t be able to direct it with a smartphone app or with voice controls. Another feature that’s typically reserved for Wi-Fi-connected robots is scheduling because most of them use a mobile app to set cleaning schedules.
But Wi-Fi-incapable vacuums usually come with remote controls that have all the basic functions that companion mobile apps do, including start, stop and return to dock. And if you’re concerned about the possibility of hacking, a robot vac with no access to your Wi-Fi network is the best option.
Obstacle detection and cliff sensors are other key features to look out for. The former helps the robot vacuum navigate around furniture while it cleans, rather than mindlessly pushing its way into it. Meanwhile, cliff sensors prevent robot vacuums from tumbling down the stairs, making them the best vacuum for multi-level homes.
How we test
When we consider which robot vacuums to test, we look at each machine’s specs and feature list, as well as online reviews to get a general idea of its capabilities. With each robot vacuum we review, we set it up as per the instructions and use it for as long as possible — at minimum, we’ll use each for one week, running cleaning cycles daily. We make sure to try out any physical buttons the machine has on it, and any app-power features like scheduling, smart mapping and more.
Since we test robot vacuums in our own homes, there are obstacles already in the machine’s way like tables, chairs and other furniture — this helps us understand how capable the machine is at avoiding obstacles, and we’ll intentionally throw smaller items in their way like shoes, pet toys and more. With robot vacuums that include clean bases, we assess how loud the machine is while emptying contents into the base and roughly how long it takes for us to fill up the bag (or bagless) base with debris.
Best budget robot vacuum overall: iRobot Roomba 694
Max mode: No | Wi-Fi capabilities: Yes | Object detection: Yes
Both iRobot and Shark impressed with their affordable robo-vacs. But we think iRobot’s Roomba 694 will be the best cheap robot vacuum cleaner for most people thanks to its good cleaning power and easy-to-use mobile app. The Roomba 694 replaced the Roomba 675 last year but, aside from an updated exterior, it has the same build quality and is fundamentally the same vacuum. It looks much sleeker now with its new all-black design, giving it an aesthetic similar to some of the more expensive Roomba models. It has three physical buttons on it — start, dock and spot — and it connects to Wi-Fi so you can control it via the iRobot app. Unfortunately, your $274 gets you the vacuum and its necessary parts only so you’ll have to pay up immediately when you need a replacement filter or brushes.
Setting up this powerful robot vacuum is straightforward: Open the companion app and follow the instructions. Once it’s connected to your home Wi-Fi network, you’re able to use the app to control the vacuum whenever you don’t feel like using the physical buttons. However, the spot-clean function is only available as a button, which is a bit of a bummer.
iRobot’s app is one of the biggest selling points for any Roomba. It’s so easy to use that even someone with no prior experience will be able to quickly master the robot’s basic functions. iRobot’s app puts most pertinent controls on the homepage, so you rarely (if ever) need to navigate through its menu to do things like set a cleaning schedule.
We recommend setting cleaning schedules to really get the most out of the device. After all, these are semi-autonomous robots, so why not make it so you rarely have to interact with them? Doing so will ensure the Roomba runs through your home on a regular basis, so you’re always left with clean floors. The Roomba 694 in particular did a good job sucking up dirt and debris on my carpets as well as the tile flooring in my kitchen and bathrooms. The only thing I try to do before a cleaning job is get charging cables off of the floor – the Roomba will stop if it sucks something like that up and it’s relatively easy to extract a cable from the machine’s brushes, but I’d rather not have to do so if I can avoid it.
When it comes to battery life, the Roomba 694 ran for around 45 minutes before needing to dock and recharge. iRobot says run times will vary based on floor surfaces, but the 694 is estimated to have a 90-minute battery life when cleaning hardwood floors. While 45 minutes may be enough time for the robot to scuttle around most rooms in my apartment, those with larger homes may have to wait for it to recharge in order to clean everywhere.
iRobot has made a name for itself in the autonomous vacuum market for good reason. Its machines are polished, dead simple to use and the accompanying app is excellent. That ease of use (and the reputation of the iRobot name) comes with a slightly higher asking price, which many will be willing to pay. But there are plenty of solid options now that didn’t exist even just three years ago.
The Shark RV765 is the updated version of the RV761 that we previously recommended. Like the Roomba 694, the Shark RV765 has a slightly different design and a longer run time than the RV761, but otherwise they’re the same vacuum. You can still find the RV761, but it’s a little difficult to do so now that the latest model is available. Although we haven’t tested the RV765, we feel comfortable recommending it since we found the previous version to be a great affordable robot vacuum.
One thing that the RV765 fixes about the previous version is the latter’s ugly bowling-shirt design. The new model nixes that and opts for a sleeker, all-black look with three buttons for docking, cleaning and max mode. You could rely just on the buttons, but it also connects to Wi-Fi so you can use the Shark Clean app. As for the longer run time, that’s just a bonus. The RV761 ran for about 90 minutes before needing to recharge, which was plenty of time for it to clean my two-bedroom apartment. The additional 30 minutes of battery life on the RV765 should allow it to clean larger spaces more efficiently.
Some other things we liked about the RV761 include its spot-clean feature; adjustable wheels, which raise and lower automatically depending on the “terrain” and the obstacles in its path; and its intuitive companion app that allows you to start and stop cleaning jobs, set schedules and more.
Max mode: Yes | Wi-Fi capabilities: No | Object detection: Yes
Anker’s $250 Eufy RoboVac 11S was one of the cheapest vacuums I tested but it also proved to be one of the most versatile. First thing to note: This robot vacuum doesn’t have Wi-Fi, but it does come with a remote that gives you most of the functions and smart features you’d find in an app (including a schedule feature). Eufy also includes additional brushes and filters in the box.
The “S” in this robot’s name stands for slim, and it’s roughly half an inch thinner than all of the other vacuums I tested. Not only does this make the 11S Max lighter, but it was the only one that could clean under my entryway table. This model has a physical on-off toggle on its underside plus one button on its top that you can press to start a cleaning. It always begins in auto mode, which optimizes the cleaning process as it putters around your home, but you can use the remote to select a specific cleaning mode like spot and edge clean.
The 11S Max has three power modes — Standard, BoostIQ and Max — and I kept mine on BoostIQ most of the time. It provided enough suction to adequately clean my carpeted floors, missing only a few crumbs or pieces of debris in corners or tight spaces around furniture. The cleaning session lasted for roughly one hour and 15 minutes when in BoostIQ mode and it has remarkable obstacle avoidance. Sure, it bumped into walls and some large pieces of furniture, but it was the only budget vac I tried that consistently avoided my cat’s play tunnel that lives in the middle of our living room floor.
As far as noise levels go, you can definitely hear the difference between BoostIQ and Max, but none of the three settings is offensively loud. In fact, I could barely hear the 11S Max when it was on the opposite end of my apartment running in BoostIQ mode. Thankfully, error alert beeps were loud enough to let me know when something went awry, like the machine accidentally getting tripped up by a rogue charging cable (which only happened a couple of times and neither robot nor cable were harmed in the process).
Overall, the Eufy RoboVac 11S Max impressed me with its smarts, despite its lack of Wi-Fi. The lack of wireless connectivity is arguably the worst thing about the robot and that’s saying a lot. At this point, though, the 11S Max is a few years old, so you could grab the RoboVac G20 if you want something comparable but a bit newer. We recommend getting the $280 G20 Hybrid if you’re just looking for a Eufy machine with some of the latest technology, but don’t want to spend a ton. It has 2500Pa of suction power, dynamic navigation and Wi-Fi connectivity with support for Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.
TP-Link came out with the Tapo RV10 Plus vac-and-mop combo earlier this year, and while its standard price is $400, we think it’s worth a mention. It vacuums and mops, which is remarkable in itself since you don’t see many combo devices in this price range, it has a comprehensive yet fairly easy-to-use companion app and it comes with a self-emptying base. Top all of that off with the fact that you can often find this machine on sale for $300 or less and you have a robot vacuum that gives you a ton for your money.
Compared to the other cheap robot vacuums on this list, TP-Link’s did a similarly good job sucking up debris and mopping hardwood and tile floors. It also has a decent battery life as well: after one hour of cleaning, it was only down to 55 percent, so you should be able to get roughly 2-hour cleaning sessions out of this model regularly. The self-emptying base holds up to 70 days worth of debris, but note that it does use a propriety garbage bag that you’ll have to refill.
TP-Link’s companion app provides an impressive amount of control over your robot-vac, too. You can easily change the suction power level, the watering level when you’re mopping and cleaning run times. A dedicated “maintenance” page lets you know how long before you’ll have to replace parts like the main and side brushes, and extra settings like spot clean, child lock and emptying settings let you make this vacuum truly your own. Plus, the companion app is also the home for other TP-Link IoT devices, so you could build onto your ecosystem with more of the brand’s gadgets and control them all from one app.
Affordable for a robo-vac with a self-emptying base
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