Do robotic vacuum cleaners really work?

Photo: Ecovacs
Photo: Ecovacs 

Across 14 years of parenthood with my family of five, I have amassed more than a few domestic mortal enemies; Weetbix-crusted bowls, alarmingly smelly piles of shoes and grubby fingerprints all over walls and doorframes.

But none tops the dreaded crumb.

Crumbs are everywhere, like bacteria. Unlike bacteria, however, I can see them. They haunt me in my dreams, mainly because they're usually in my bed as well, thanks to 5am visits from my youngest child who made himself a sanger on the way up to our bedroom. Crumbs are things that just never go away. I'm haunted.

Until recently, my dustpan and brush was the most used item in the house and many a time over the years, I have glanced across my lounge room in despair and wished for a robotic vacuum.

But oh, the big bucks and oh, what if they're no good? It's that one appliance I've always been too scared to spend the money on because what if it ends up like the infomercial painting kit disaster of 1988? My mum is still talking about that terrible painting kit whose sponges left horrible streaks that we had to live with for years.

So when the opportunity came up to actually road test a robotic vacuum, I jumped at the chance. Would it live up to the hype? Would it satisfy the elusive promise of automated and effective cleaning? Or would it be as I feared; an expensive mistake?

I took the Ecovacs DEEBOT 900 home in the hope it would free me from my crumby hell.

The verdict

Because of course you want the verdict first. Well, I'm a convert. I have a new bestie, someone who finally cares about the crumbs as much as I do.

Did I just personify Dee, I mean the vacuum? Well yes I did. I like it that much.

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But why?

Shall I count the ways?

- It's a dream on hard floors and rugs.

- It scans the rooms and maps them - you can view the map it has made on the accompanying app.

- I can schedule it to clean for when we're not home. Particular rooms and zones can be set too.

- The amount of dirt, dust and other debris it picks up is quite surprising. I tried it on a floor that had been recently cleaned and it still picked up a lot.

- Collection chamber is incredibly easy to empty.

- Can be controlled it through smart home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

- I put the cat on it and she didn't even mind - so yeah, it's reasonably quiet.

- Coming home to a clean floor is heavenly.

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It moves around the room in a measured way (left) and maps it for future reference. Photo: Ecovacs​

Any downsides?

Not many, but there are a few.

- The price - yes they're expensive if you want them with all the mod cons we've come to expect. At nearly $800 our model is most definitely a luxury item.

- Every now and then it has a little trouble finding its base station for charging, but it'll usually let you know and you can help it along.

- Some animals who experience anxiety might find it unsettling, though our very elderly cat didn't. I also think that with the right kind of introduction, it's something most animals would get used to. 

- The kids prank us and set it going when we don't want them to. This is quite annoying but is far from the vacuum's fault. 

Is it worth it though?

That's an entirely individual viewpoint, depending on household budgets and cleaning requirements.

A single parent who has shared care of the kids and who lives alone for half the week may not find value in it. A double income, five person family with animals probably would.

Consider these variables as they apply to your family and aim to have a retailer conduct a demonstration to go through the machine's particular features before you buy.

Having put a good quality robotic vacuum through its paces, I can happily say that yes, they do work, but it's up to you to determine whether it will suit your family's needs.

Full list of features of the Ecovac DEEBOT 900

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The scheduling part of the app (left) and an example of household zones that can be set for cleaning. Photo: Ecovacs