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Robot Vacuums

Can you clean pine needles with a robot vacuum? We tried it.

Spoiler alert: You can!

Pine needles in the background of a robot vacuum. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / ithinksky / iRobot

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Traditionalists may agree that a live Christmas tree is a must to fully appreciate and honor our merry grand fete. Unfortunately, the deliciously piney smell that a real tree offers comes with a bit of a holiday headache: pine needles all over your floors.

Aside from broken glass, pine needles are one of the more difficult things to eradicate from your floors. No matter how often you clean up while your Christmas tree is standing, you'll still be finding needles well into June.

Your best retaliation against these pesky droppings is an upright vacuum, the most powerful kind of vacuum cleaner out there. But, unless you’re into giving your biceps a regular workout, do you really want to drag such a heavy sucker out every couple of days? Probably not.

So, in the interest of relishing a more relaxing holiday season while still keeping your floors clean, we set out to see if a robot vacuum can clean up all those pesky needles. The short answer? Yes!

We pitted our best robot vacuum (during testing we used the iRobot Roomba i7+, but its upgrade, the iRobot Roomba j7+ works even better) against the upright vacuum in a contest of cleaning pine needles from both bare floor and carpet and were seriously impressed by the performance of our favorite robot vacuum.

Test 1: The carpet challenge

Since pine needles are serious business, we got serious with our testing parameters.

In our lab, we placed an area rug in a 8 ft. x 8 ft. testing zone, and sprinkled 100 pine needles across it (yes, it was extremely tedious to count out 100 pine needles multiple times, thank you for asking). We turned on the the Roomba i7+ robot vacuum, and when it finished its cleaning run, we ran the upright vacuum over the test area to pick up any remaining pine needles.

We counted out and sprinkled 100 pine needles across our testing area for each run.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

We counted out and sprinkled 100 pine needles across our testing area for each run.

As it turns out, the Roomba i7+ sucked up 75-80 of the 100 pine needles—a better performance than we expected from a robot vacuum. The i7+ covered the entire test area multiple times, so the pine needles that it missed may have been pressed more deeply into the carpet, making them harder for the robot vacuum to pick up.

Because this is a challenge, we sprinkled 100 pine needles across the carpeted testing area for the the upright vacuum, too.

Keep in mind that a robot vacuum is not supposed to be a replacement for a regular vacuum cleaner, so our two challengers are an apple and an orange. Nevertheless, we wanted to see how an upright vacuum cleaner would perform on the same test.

The iRobot i7+ races across the test area to try to clean up 100 pine needles.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The iRobot i7+ races across the test area to try to clean up 100 pine needles.

Unsurprisingly, the upright vacuum successfully sought out all 100 pine needles. Using its brush roller, this vacuum was able to disturb the carpet to the point where it freed any pine needles that were buried or hooked into the carpet fibers and sucked them right up.

Test 2: Bare floor square-off

We repeated this experiment on a concrete floor for those of you who have carpet free homes. If you've ever used a vacuum cleaner, you'll know that vacuuming carpet and vacuuming bare floors are two very different experiences. The Roomba i7+ removed 99 of the 100 pine needles we sprinkled on the floor. Wow!

The iRobot i7+ went to town on the pine needles sprinkled on the concrete floor.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The iRobot i7+ went to town on the pine needles sprinkled on the concrete floor.

While the robot vacuum's performance improved on the bare floor, a potential issue arose: Pine needles are light enough that the motion of the robot vacuum's brush attachment may be enough to kick the pine needles away from the robot vacuum. If it does so into an area that has already been cleaned or beneath a piece of furniture with a low clearance, then it is possible for the robot vacuum to miss some pine needles during its cleaning run.

The upright vacuum was able to remove all 100 pine needles from our concrete floor.

The upright vacuum had no issues sucking the pine needles up off of a flat floor surface.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The upright vacuum had no issues sucking the pine needles up off of a flat floor surface.

And the winner is …

All of us.

Even though the upright vacuum scored a perfect 100 during both tests, there is no clear victor in our holiday pine needle challenge.

We expected the powerful upright vacuum to do well, and it did. We didn't have such high expectations for the Roomba i7+, so it is a pleasant surprise that this robot vacuum did such a stellar job of picking up all of those tiny pine needles from both the bare floor and the carpet.

Should you choose to use your robot vacuum to clean up after your shedding Christmas tree—and if it were us, we would—then run the robot vacuum in the area on a regular basis. This should give the robot vacuum the opportunity to pick up those pine needles before they sink too deeply into your carpet fibers.

However, if you have five minutes before your holiday guests arrive (although maybe not this year), and you’re doing some last-minute panic cleaning, give your floor a few passes with an upright for a spotless clean. If you still can’t/won’t deal with pine needles, opt for an artificial tree instead of the real thing. Then you won’t need to vacuum at all.

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