The Best Robot Vacuums: Wirecutter Reviews

A closeup of a Roomba 960 sitting on a blue and white geometric carpet.
The Roomba 960 has more cleaning power and much smarter navigation than the lower-cost bots we recommend. It also works with a smartphone app. It’s the best balance of price and performance among high-end bots.

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iRobot Roomba 960

If you want the best of what robot vacuums have to offer, check out the iRobot Roomba 960. Given enough time, it can methodically clean an entire level of a house, no matter how large or small, without missing any patches of flooring. Thanks to its tangle-resistant brush rolls and agile trap-escaping tricks, it’s less likely to get stuck mid-cycle than most other high-end bots that we tested. It’s a strong cleaner, even on carpet and with long pet hair. The control scheme is simple, and it works with a smartphone app and Alexa voice commands. Plenty of other high-end bots have similar features, but the Roomba 960 runs more reliably in more homes with less fuss than just about all of them, and actually costs hundreds of dollars less than many.

The feature that sets the Roomba 960 apart from almost all of its competitors (at any price) is the navigation system. It’s built on the same base as the lower-priced Roomba models, using loads of short-range sensors and clever software to work its way around obstacles and wiggle out of hazards, so that it rarely gets stuck before the cleaning cycle is done. As we said earlier, as long as a bot can just keep moving, it’s going to do a pretty good job keeping floors tidy. This basic Roomba nav system is one of the very best at doing that.

But the Roomba 960 adds an extra layer to the nav system that cheaper Roomba models don’t have, allowing it to clean an entire level of your home. It uses a camera on the top of the body and an optical sensor on the bottom (like a computer mouse) to map your floor plan and track its location within that map, so that it cleans your entire floor in a logical, orderly fashion without missing spots. If the battery runs out before the cleaning is complete, it can return to the dock on its own, recharge for a while, then pick up where it left off. This means that it can work effectively even in homes with sprawling floor plans.

A roomba 960 navigating back and forth across a room with wood floors and a large carpet.
The Roomba 960 navigates in an orderly pattern, so it won’t miss any spots if you’re cleaning a larger area.

Plenty of other bots can work in large homes or clean reliably without getting stuck even in a cluttered floor plan. But the Roomba 960 does both, and it’s the one that we’re most confident will work well in almost any home. Most others come with significant caveats. Other bots that can clean an entire level of a large home, like Neato, Samsung, and Dyson models, tend to get stuck or otherwise stop mid-cycle much more often than the Roomba 960. Cheaper bots that don’t get stuck, like our main pick or runner-up, struggle to clean larger spaces (greater than 1,200 square feet, roughly) thoroughly in a single session.

The Roomba 960 also has a set of tangle-resistant brush rolls, unique to higher-end Roomba models. iRobot actually calls the rolls “extractors,” since they don’t really have any brushes, just nubbed ridges. The extractors don’t get all wrapped up with hair over time like other styles of brush rolls do, so you won’t need to put as much effort into cleaning them out every few weeks.

The extractors are also less likely than other brush roll styles to get caught on your power cords and charging cables. The Roomba 960 didn’t get caught on any dangling USB cables or power cords during our stress testing or around-the-house testing. None of the user reviews we’d seen at the time of publication mentioned it as a problem either. Almost every other model we’ve tested in the past few years got caught on a cable at least once while we used it (except for other Roomba models that use the extractors).

Like most other high-end robot vacuums now, the Roomba 960 works with a smartphone app (for iOS and Android) that can start or stop a cycle, notify you of any errors, help you schedule daily cleanings, and track the bot’s maintenance schedule. Setup is pretty simple; the bot didn’t lose its connection to our home Wi-Fi network during testing, and the app works fine. It also works with Alexa voice commands, and we found the feature to work smoothly. We’ve also found the network reliability to be better and the app to be both easier to use and more robust than other Wi-Fi-connected bots. The control scheme in general (including on-board controls) is wonderfully simple. It also comes with a virtual wall, to block off certain rooms or to set up a perimeter around certain objects, like pet-food bowls.

A Roomba 960 disassembled for maintenance.
The Roomba 960 disassembled for routine maintenance. It uses tangle-resistant “extractors” rather than typical bristled brush rolls.

The Roomba 960 is a strong cleaner by robot vacuum standards and notably better than our main pick at digging hair (and other debris) out of carpet. In our semi-controlled testing, we found that it picked up just about all of the hair and crumbs (coffee grounds) from a wood floor, area rug, and along a baseboard, and managed to get most of the finer dust (flour) we laid out as well—something most other bots struggled with. During our around-the-house testing, it always finished a cleaning cycle with notable amounts of hair and small debris in the bin, even when we’d been running lots of cycles with other models and thought the floors were pretty clean. Part of the extra cleaning power comes from the extractors, which are wider and more aggressive than the bristle and blade brushes that many cheaper bots use. Some of it also comes from the motor, which iRobot claims has “5x the air power” of the Roomba 650, our runner-up pick. (However, it’s not the absolute strongest robot vacuum out there—more on that soon.)

Reviews for the Roomba 960 are strong. The average customer rating at Amazon is 4.5 out of five stars based on 413 reviews at the time of writing. That’s a strong rating for a robot vacuum and consistent with other Roomba models. None of the major editorial testing houses have posted a hands-on review yet, though Consumer Reports (subscription required) gives it a score of 87 and a Recommended status based on its review of the Roomba 880. (We don’t think this is a good comparison, because the Roomba 880 had a much different navigation system, much more like the bump-and-run approach of a cheaper bot.)

And like all Roomba models, replacement parts are easy to find, and we expect iRobot to keep them available for years.

On the downside, the Roomba 960 may be reasonably priced compared with similar models, but it’s a very expensive gadget. It costs almost as much as a full-featured dishwasher or washing machine, and is unlikely to last as long without several rounds of replacement batteries and brushes (which all cost extra). You can get a decent robot vacuum for much less money than this! But if you want the best of what the robot vacuum world has to offer, this is the most sensible way to get it.

A few other models have more raw cleaning power than the Roomba 960, as best we can tell. The Roomba 980 has a motor that can pull twice as much “air power.” CNET wrote that the flagship Neato Botvac Connected is the strongest cleaner they’ve tested. The Dyson 360 Eye is built around a motor that was used in a real vacuum (the cordless DC44 from a few years back), and we do not doubt the company’s claim that it has “twice the suction of any robot vacuum.” Samsung’s latest 7000-series Powerbot models are also very strong. But the Roomba 960 still gets great results.

Like most robot vacuums, the Roomba 960 doesn’t really work on matte-black flooring, very dark carpets, or other dark, non-reflective surfaces.

It can also still occasionally get stuck on hazards like a stray sock, though we believe that it will happen less often than with other bots.

It may also struggle in low light. We’ve run into this issue in our own testing every handful of cycles, and it happened in our Roomba 980 tests, too. Some user reviews mention these problems as well. We’re not even talking about dark rooms at night—this can happen during the daytime with the blinds closed. iRobot told us that “the robot is able to go under dark beds and into a dark room. However, all vision-based systems need at least some light and the 980 will have a limited range in very low light. The [low-light] Error 17 is more likely to happen in a crowded area, like if someone runs it in a dining room in the dark or near dark—because the error in the other sensors becomes too great. iRobot’s customer feedback/studies has found that the vast majority of people run their Roomba during the day.” We still think the Roomba 960 will navigate more successfully more of the time in more homes than the other high-end bots that are out there, but the low-light errors will absolutely be a problem for some people.

Some owner reviews mention more significant navigation errors with the Roomba 960. Several mentioned that it has trouble transitioning between floors and area rugs, and a few more said that it seemed to struggle to navigate around objects and back to its dock. We’re not sure why that seems to happen to some owners; it did not happen with our test unit, and plenty of other owner reviews say the opposite: that it transitions and navigates very smoothly. A representative from iRobot told us that when a Roomba can’t return to its dock, it’s “almost always caused by misplaced home bases, or virtual walls pointing in the wrong direction.” They also pointed out that the Roomba needs “a clear runway on the sides, in front, and above” the dock.

We also noticed that the “full bin” indicator is prone to going on before the bin is actually full, which stops the cycle if a certain setting is enabled. A handful of user reviews pointed this out as well. An iRobot rep told us that this can happen when the sensors get covered in dust, and can be fixed by just wiping the sensors clean. But if it’s a common occurrence during most of your cleaning cycles, just make sure the setting that ends the cycle stays turned off. This way, if the bin isn’t actually full, it’ll keep cleaning. If the bin is full, there’s really no harm—the debris will just stay on the ground, like it would if the bot wasn’t cleaning at all.

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