Pets are great. Pet hair? Not as great. One of the worst parts of pet ownership is keeping up with the sheer amount of fur your dogs or cats shed on a daily basis. Depending on how much your pet sheds, you could sweep and vacuum in the morning and, in the evening, come home to find enough fur around your home to make an entirely new pet. If this situation sounds resonant, maybe it's time to get a robot vacuum designed to keep up with your pet's constant shedding. These automated cleaners can be set to run on a schedule, so the only thing you have to do is occasionally empty its dust bin. A good rule of thumb is, the bigger the battery (and the longer the battery life is), the better the cleaning job.
Since the number of robot vacuums on the market has exploded over the past few years, the trick has become narrowing down which one is the best for you. Nowadays, there are robots that respond to voice commands and even one that doubles as a wet mop. But to narrow down which ones are the best at cajoling cat hair from carpet or cleaning summer sheddings from your hardwood floors, you really need to test them out first.
Because we love a clean home as much as you do, we've tested dozens of robot vacuums for pet hair since 2014. In our tests, we learned that dealing with fur on your floor is about three things: navigation, agitation, and powerful suction. The best robot vacuums can find their way around a room, root pet hair out of carpet fibers, and vacuum it up.
The Neato Botvac D7 Connected stands as a milestone in robot vacuums. It's the first robot vacuum you can tell when, how, and where to clean–all from your smartphone.
With its innovative No-go lines feature, you can draw lines on virtual maps, that the D7 creates, to prevent the unit from going near sensitive areas like pet bowls and beds.
While the No-go feature is cool, Neato also made a robot vacuum that cleans well, where you want it. The D7’s large wheels and D-shaped design allow it to climb high-pile carpet and get flush against walls. On average, the Neato picked up 9.6 grams of dirt per run. To put that in perspective, if you set the D7 to run automatically every day, that equals 67 grams of dirt a week–on par with light cleaning from a full-sized vacuum. Additionally, as it's equipped with a hepa filter, owning a D7 will go a long way towards keeping your home allergen-free.
The iRobot Roomba i7+ is the first robot vacuum that can empty itself. A vacuum in the charging base suctions everything out of the bin into a sealable bag. That means you don't have to see, touch, or smell what your robot vacuum picks up. As much as you love your cats, their hair can get gross, so keeping it sealed always is a huge boon.
Also for your convenience, the i7+ has a whole host of smart features. Plus, it’s Alexa and Google Home compatible. The i7+ can even make virtual maps that can track cleaning cycles and even keep it out of individual rooms, perfect for keeping it away from pet beds and litter boxes.
Fancy tech aside, the i7+ picks up quite a bit. On average, it picked up 10 grams of debris, so in a week, it can keep up with a mild manual cleaning. The i7+ is expensive, but every penny is accounted for in the large number of features and excellent performance.
Hey, I'm Jon Chan, the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it—whether it’s laundry detergents or dishwashers—I oversee its testing. This expertise extends to vacuums: upright, canister, handheld, and robotic.
I've been testing robot vacuums for years and have seen them change a lot. In my belief, the term robot vacuum is a misnomer. Robot vacuums are designed to help maintain your floors in between manual cleanings. When it comes to pet hair, that's a big deal because you need to let your machine run cleaning cycles every day to keep the loose fur at bay. I also think that virtual barriers are very important to help keep your robot away from areas that are sensitive to your pet, like their bed or food bowl.
Most of the tests involve our robot obstacle course. The area contains analogs for furniture legs, shelves, and thresholds. Each robot vacuum has three chances to prove itself. The first two runs, we placed cork pellets under the shelves and between the furniture legs. When we let the robot vacuum loose, we look for how long a cleaning cycle takes, what obstacles it was able to clean thoroughly, and overall debris pickup. For the final test run, we replaced the cork with pet hair and run another test run.
We also spent time looking at how each robot vacuum could benefit a pet owner with their personal cleaning schedules. For example, the LG Hom-Bot Turbo+ can be remote controlled from anywhere and has cameras that stream. When you combine these two features, you get a mobile pet cam!
What You Need to Know about Robot Vacuums
After testing dozens and dozens of robot vacuums, we think the name is a bit of a misnomer. A robot vacuum’s ability to pick up dirt pales in comparison to that of a full-sized vacuum and can only really compete over the course of a week. We found that consumers experience the most satisfaction with their robot vacuums when they view them as floor maintainers in between manual cleanings.
We should also point out that most robot vacuums are designed for bare floors and medium carpet. If you have throw rugs taller than ½ inch, your robot vacuum might not be able to climb atop it or may get stuck if it gets up there. This fact is vital for pet owners because it means pet beds are a point of contention.
Why Do Pets Shed?
You can thank your dog or cat's hormones for all of the pet fur on the floor. Shedding occurs when the hormones in animal's body react to the amount of daylight that it's exposed to. When the days get shorter in the fall and winter, it's a signal to a cat or dog that it's time to shed their summer coat and grow in thicker fluff for the winter. As the days grow longer in the spring, that winter coat's got to go--as the heavier layer of winter fur drops off, your best friend will begin growing a new coat better designed for warmer climes. The amount of fur that your cat or dog grows and sheds in this messy circle of life depends on a number of factors, including their breed, what climate they live in and whether they're indoors most of the time or spend a lot of time frolicking outside.
Avoiding Robot Vacuum Pet Mishaps
Over the years, three technologies have developed to help keep robot vacuums from running amok: magnetic strips, virtual barriers, and app-based barriers. All three of these methods have their pros and cons.
Magnetic strips are the simplest. You lay them on the floor and they create a barrier that designated robot vacuums will not cross. While they don’t require batteries, magnetic strips are cumbersome. Most robot vacuums that included them only ship with one, so you have to cut them if you want to cover multiple entryways.
The next step up is virtual barriers. These battery-powered devices emit an infrared line that tells robot vacuums to turn back. Some specialized barriers, like iRobot’s lighthouse, can create a “halo” or a circle barrier to encompass a piece of furniture or a pet bowl.
The final method, aside from shutting doors, involves specialized apps. New mapping technologies allow robot vacuums to have a better understanding of their surroundings. They can then send that information to your phone. Companies like iRobot, Neato, and Ecovacs all produce robot vacuums were you can draw lines on virtual maps to denote where the robots can and cannot go.
Robot vs. Vacuum
Whenever you have a device that’s battery powered, you’re going to have to deal with a series of tradeoffs. With robot vacuums, it’s a balancing act between being a good robot and a good vacuum.
A good robot navigates well by not bumping into furniture and getting over thresholds. But a robot vacuum’s worst downfall is when it gets stuck and requires a helping hand, defeating the purpose of an automated floor cleaner. However, being a good robot means drawing power away from the brushes and to the wheels, sensors, and circuit board.
A robot vacuum that cleans well tends to ram itself into furniture. A robot vacuum can’t clean where its brushes haven’t been. They also tend to be noisier as more power is drawn to the suction motor.
The basic rule of thumb is that the more a robot vacuum costs, the better robot it is and the less dirt it will pick up. We’re talking about a 20 percent difference between the best navigators that never get close to a chair leg and a robot vacuum that scuffs everything in your house. The most exceptional robot vacuums do both and they tend to win our Editor’s Choice and Best of Year awards.
Different Types of Navigation
Robot vacuums tend to have two different types of navigation, infrared and optical, or a combination of both. Infrared sensors shoot out beams that give information about distance. Optical navigation involves cameras, usually mounted on the top of the unit. Typically, these cameras utilize contrast and landmarks to decipher where they are. Robot vacuums that rely on optical navigation cannot work in a pitch-black room.
How long do robot vacuums last?
This is a very tricky question. However, we find that the battery is the shortest-lived part of a robot vacuum. Both nickel and lithium batteries have hard limits on the number of times they can recharge. Nickel batteries suffer from a limitation known as memory loss—basically, over time, they lose the ability to recharge fully. The cathodes of lithium batteries tend to wear after a few years. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to buy a new battery pack for your robot vacuum after two to four years of use, depending on how often you run your device.
Are robot vacuums worth the money?
If you’re a pet owner, a robot vacuum helps get at balls of fur that are everywhere. As a floor maintainer between manual cleanings, they can save a lot of time and energy. The way to get your money’s worth is to set a robot vacuum to automatically run every day. Getting one that offers smartphone app control is also a bonus for those times you need to give your floors a once-over before coming home to any last-minute surprise guests.
Other Robot Vacuums We Tested
Eufy RoboVac 11s
If your dog is the furriest thing on your floors, the Eufy RoboVac 11s is worth checking out. It's a highly affordable model that also rocks good performance. The Eufy is perfect for anyone who wants to figure out if a robot vacuum and their pets are compatible. The slim design allows the 11s to jam its brushes into places where pet hair often get swept away. This model also boasts quiet operation, so it isn’t likely to irritate your pets.
The RoboVac 11s has a few drawbacks. It has no virtual walls or magnetic strips to ward it off from unwanted areas. Also, during testing, the Eufy was entirely unable to clean high-pile carpet. That means it will do best in homes with bare floors, not thick carpets.
Testing shows that the EcoVacs DeeBot Ozmo 930 sits ahead of most of the competition. The majority of smart vacuums let you start, stop, and schedule from your phone. The 930 lets you do that with just the sound of your voice, since it’s Alexa- and Google Assistant-compatible.
You can also create virtual barriers—lines you don’t want the 930 to cross. The opposite is also possible. With a single swipe, the app tells the 930 to go over a certain area multiple times. This feature works really well with high-traffic locations in your home. Areas like doggy dogs and near food bowls always seem to need an extra going over before they get fully cleaned.
After testing automated cleaners for so long, we often see the robot in robot vacuum left behind. The Ozmo 930 puts it in the forefront, letting you control, when, where and for how long you want an area vacuumed.
For once, a robot vacuum has actually impressed us with its tech. The LG Hom-Bot Turbo+ represents the next step in robot vacuums. It not only did a great job cleaning floors, but it also had an app that was actually useful. See, the Hom-Bot has multiple cameras that you can access anytime through wifi.
It’s those onboard cameras that we think pet owners will enjoy. We see it as a two-for-one deal: you get a robot vacuum and a mobile pet camera to keep track of our furry loved ones.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Senior Lab Technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.