Founded in the early 1990s by a trio of MIT roboticists, iRobot is now one of the world’s most trusted domestic robot cleaner brands and arguably the most ubiquitous. The best iRobot Roomba robot vacs are much lusted after by bot fans, and tend to have the most premium fit and finish of any of the candidates in our best robot vacuum cleaner top 10. As a result they are pricier on average, but you get what you pay for to a large extent.
Although there are plenty of other robot vac competitors out there – notably Roborock and Eufy – iRobot is probably the brand that most buyers are initially drawn to, partly because it appears high in Google’s ranking and partly because of the many positive reviews its products receive. But mostly because of its long-standing reputation in the robotics industry and its vast wealth of tried-and-tested knowledge in the arena of autonomous domestic floor cleaners.
Choosing an iRobot Roomba
There are currently five models in the iRobot Roomba catalogue and they vary wildly in price from around £270 for the basic 600 Series model to £1,500 for the flagship s9+. All iRobot Roomba models are low profile in design and, bar the s9+, circular shaped with a single side-mounted spinning bristle for collecting debris near floor edges. They are all equipped with a raft of navigation sensors, including cliff-detection sensors for steep drops like stair cases plus automatic floor-type recognition.
The higher-end models like the j7, i7 and s9 will also completely map the home and provide the wherewithal to divide rooms and even create no-go zones using the excellent iRobot app’s pinch-and-zoom facility. All Roomba models are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant and feature customisable schedule programming.
Now, before you leap into the fray, first consider whether you want an iRobot Roomba vac on its own or one that comes with a self-emptying Clean Base (indicated with a ‘Plus’ sign at the end of the model name). The Clean Base system is a dream to use since you can sit back and let the robot do all the hard work, from cleaning to automatically emptying the contents of its bin whenever the need arises – even mid clean. It does this by trundling back to the Clean Base – which also happens to be its charging base – as soon as it detects its internal bin is full. On docking, a powerful vacuum in the Clean Base automatically sucks all the debris out of the robot’s bin and deposits it into a large disposable dust bag which lasts about a month. It’s the single most groundbreaking development in robot vacuum cleaners and a vital addition for pet owners.
If you have a relatively clean home with no hairy pets and don’t mind having to empty the contents of the robot’s tiny bin yourself (they usually have a capacity of around 400ml), then opt for a solo model without the ‘Plus’ moniker. However, if you have pets in the home – especially of the hairy variety that sheds – and/or don’t fancy chasing robots around the home to empty their bins, you are advised to opt for a ‘+’ model that comes with a Clean Base. Yes, it will add about £200 to the bill, but without the Clean Base you will need to empty the contents of the robot’s bin yourself on a regular basis and if there are pets in the home, literally every 15 minutes or so.
Now you’re familiar with the basic ins and outs, head straight to our guide to the best iRobot Roomba robovacs you can buy.
The best iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaners you can buy
The new j7 is available to buy with or without the automatic self-emptying bin system. If you opt for the model with automatic dirt disposal (the j7+, in other words), whenever the robot vac’s titchy 400ml internal bin gets full, it wanders back to its Clean Base charging station where a powerful motor sucks all the detritus into a large, disposable dust bag which lasts for three to four weeks, depending on how grubby the house is. Unlike other iRobot Clean Bases which are quite tall and even a little bit ugly, the J7+’s is shorter and wider, and dressed in attractive pinstripe cladding replete with a stylish leather lid tab.
If you have hairy pets like long-haired cats and shedding pooches, the self-emptying Plus model is absolutely essential. Without it you’ll be required to empty the bot yourself, and on a regular basis – like every 10 to 15 minutes. The other Clean Base-equipped models in the Roomba range are relatively quiet when going through the bin-emptying sequence but not this one. Perhaps it’s something to do with the shorter dimensions, but the j7+’s Clean Base makes an unholy racket that will have you covering your ears. Thankfully the noise only last for about 10 seconds.
Rather cleverly, the j7 identifies obstacles and avoids them when necessary, including dog mess of the firm variety. To date, this writer hasn’t experienced any turd tangling events and nor has the j7 entangled itself in any wires. Furthermore, this bot is also pretty good at negotiating rugs without ruffling them up too much.
Add a raft of excellent room-mapping skills and the wherewithal to divide rooms and create keep-out zones in the iRobot app, and you have one of the most capable and reliable robot vacs currently on the market.
If money is no object and you’re looking for a Roomba model that ticks all the main boxes, consider this flagship model. Just be sure to go for the ‘+’ variant if you have dogs and cats. The D-shaped s9’s twin rubber rollers are much wider than any of its stablemates and indeed almost all of its competitors, so this is the model to choose if you have a huge floorspace. It also sports the most suction of practically any robot vac on the market and that makes it a top choice for use on grubby carpets; it even automatically detects the floor surface and ramps up or lowers the suction accordingly.
As its rollers are set very low for increased performance, this vac does have a habit of snagging on rugs, especially thin ones. It’s not a regular occurrence, mind, because in most instances it cleverly switches off the rollers as soon as it detects resistance. It then slowly works its way over the ruffled edge before turning the rollers on again and continuing with the cleaning session.
Like the j7 above, the s9 features an excellent mapping function that uses a front mounted camera and sensors galore. It will happily venture beneath beds and sofas even if covered in a valance.
This writer has been using an S9+ for the past 18 months and to date it is the most reliable robot vac in my arsenal. True, it’s extraordinarily expensive when compared to the newer j7+ which has advanced obstacle detection and a better looking Clean Base. But the s9+ is so powerful, efficient and unswervingly reliable, it easily bags the two spot in this round up no matter the price.
The Roomba i3 doesn’t have a smart mapping camera like the j7, s9 and i7 but in our tests it’s been just as efficient at cleaning. And anyway, the key benefit of not having smart navigation on board is that the i3 is much cheaper to buy and that’s a major bonus in our book.
The i3 is available with or without the Clean Base charging station and, according to iRobot, it has the same suction power as the older i7. It’s also one of the quietest robot vacs on the market and one of the shallowest – perfect for reaching under low furnishings.
At around £100 less than the older i7+ and £200 cheaper than the new j7+, the i3+ is an excellent lower-cost alternative that cleans well, is quiet in operation and more forgiving on loose rugs than the ultra expensive S9+.
If you want to enjoy the reliability and functionality of a genuine iRobot Roomba vac but don’t want to spend a fortune, have a think about this keenly-priced model. The Roomba 600 Series doesn’t have any kind of mapping functionality on board and its twin rollers are of the bristle variety rather than the new style of rubber rollers fitted to the rest in the Roomba range. The fact it isn’t available to buy with a Clean Base isn’t of too much consequence since, at 600ml, its internal bin is larger than others in the Roomba range.
For the price, the Roomba 698 is a sterling performer, especially on hard floors and thinner carpets. It works brilliantly well with the iRobot app so you can schedule a clean from anywhere and it’s also equipped with dirt detection sensors which means it will work for longer in areas it deems to be extra filthy. And that’s not a bad set of stats for an iRobot-branded model that retails for less than £300.
The i7+ has been around for some time now and is more expensive to buy than the newer – and frankly better – j7+. Both robots are on a level playing field when it comes to cleaning power and both models feature Imprint Smart Mapping. However, the newer j7+ trounces the i7+ in terms of design – its Clean Base is also much better looking – and extra features like obstacle avoidance.
For these reasons we would suggest opting for the J7+ where possible, unless you manage to bag an i7+ bargain somewhere. In a nutshell, until the i7+ drops considerably in price, you’re much better off with the cheaper and more technically advanced J7+.
Looking for different brand of robot vac? Check out our guide to the Best Robot Vacs