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.
iRobot Roomba 694
Best budget robot vacuum overall
Shark Ion RV765 Wi-Fi Robot Vacuum
Runner up - best budget robot vacuum
Anker Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S Max
Best ultra budget robot vacuum
TP-Link Tapo RV10 Plus Robot Vacuum and Mop Combo
Are robot vacuums worth it?
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.