Roomba - life with a robot vacuum cleaner

iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaners are quite a revelation. For a start they keep your home as neat as a pin without you having to lift a finger - and they're a great introduction to living with a working robot

By Abby Trow
iRobot's Roomba self driving vacuum cleaners are a delight

Decomag has been living with a dear little friend, Mr Robot. It's hard not to anthropomorphise this self-driving, so to speak, vacuum cleaner, so for us it's a him. And we can say he's a good, reliable worker and you can drink tea and put your feet up while he busies himself with his cleaning duties. Pictured above: the iRobot Roomba Combo J5+  which also mops hard floors.

Thank heavens Christmas is over. Because the tree is gone, so are the guests, and Mr Robot has been able to roam across the floors of our maisonette giving them a good vacuum and making the place look clean and tidy again.

Robot vacuums are not that widely used by British households yet and they're considered a bit of a luxury product for people living in large dwellings. So we were a little sceptical as to its usefulness for us when iRobot gave us one  to try, given we live in a north London maisonette which doesn't have acres of clear floorspace.

But to cut to the chase, three months in and we love it. It's like having staff, but robot staff so you're not exploiting anyone.


iRobot J5+ vacuums and mops floors
The iRobot app on your phone shows you the map of your space
for the J5+ model to mop your hard floors, fill the mop head unit with water
Mr Robot lives on his docking base. J5+ iRobot

Setting up Mr Robot

You do need a smartphone and internet because you operate Mr Robot from the app on your phone. Simply download the iRobot app and follow the instructions - it really is that easy. We have the Combo J5+  and found a corner in the sitting room for it to live in - the Roomba has a neat docking base where the low circular disc that is Mr Robot returns to after his vacuuming for charging and bin emptying. The base needs to be plugged in permanently - it's not battery operated.

Once you've got him charged up, go into the app and press new job. Mr Robot will move off the docking base and start beetling around the room working out the lie of the land and factoring in any permanent 'obstacles', ie pieces of furniture. It takes a few runs for Mr Robot to learn your space and once he does, you can set him to vacuum on whatever day of the week you want and at a specified time. We have him set for 9am starts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays....

Because we don't have lots of clear floorspace, I've found it best to put the two small side tables and the exercise ball onto the sofa, so he has a good run around the room. With the kitchen, we put the chairs on the table so he has a largely empty floor to vacuum. 

The Combo J5+ model has a mopping function, which is easy to use. It's not the most thorough floor cleaner but for a light wipe over it's not bad. Just remember to vacuum the floor first, then switch in the mop head, which you will have filled with water!

Does Mr Robot climb stairs?

No, he's circular and doesn't have legs. So if you want him to clean bedrooms you have to carry him upstairs and then bring him home again to his docking station.


A Roomba isn't the only vacuum cleaner you'll need. Obviously it doesn't clean along skirting boards or get into corners or vacuum stairs, so we still use our Miele cat & dog plug in for bigger cleaning jobs - sucking up a lot of spilt coffee beans or sugar. But for keeping your space clean and tidy on a daily basis, so it never gets anywhere near filthy, robot vacuum cleaners are excellent. And it's quite fun to watch Mr Robot beetling around the place, gently bumping into obstacles and finding a way round them. 

And thinking about my elderly parents, initially I thought Roombas could be a trip hazard for older people, or people with mobility problems. But of course you can programme the Roomba via the app to set to work at night once your aged parents have gone to bed... a bit elves and the shoemaker..they wake up to clean floors and the robot is back sleeping it its dock.

I must stress what a joy it is have an autonomous vacuum cleaner. You don't have to pick him up, plug him in, push him about the house or put him back in a's a total no-touch experience. I can be doing something else or indeed not be in the flat at all and Mr Robot just goes about his work.

And he is robustly made and vacuums pretty thoroughly. I would say he's slightly better on carpeted floors than hard floors - he does miss the odd crumb. And my husband thinks he should go clockwise around the kitchen but he mapped the room in an anticlockwise direction and we can't seem to change that. 

Mr Robot isn't silent but the noise emitted isn't loud or unpleasant. That said there is quite a loud whoosh when he returns to the dock and the dust he's collected is suctioned out of him into a compartment of the docking centre - which incidentally needs emptying only every few months.

All the component parts and accessories can be ordered via the app.

The RRP of the Combo J5+  is around £800 but look out for sales when the price drops a fair bit. 

Does it go wrong?

We have had to reboot it only once. Should you encounter any problems, the app gives you lots of troubleshooting tips. But for us, so far, Mr Robot has proved remarkably reliable. So if are inherently dubious about app-controlled devices, we would say don't be.

To buy or not to buy?

iRobot's Roombas are perfect for daily cleaning - they keep your space looking very spruce! But you do need to find a space for the docking unit which must be plugged-in permanently, so if you have a tiny flat they probably won't win out over a stick cleaner if you can have only one vacuum cleaner. But for anyone who has the space and can afford the luxury of two vacuums, we would most definitely have a Roomba. And as we're told the future is robotic, Mr Robot certainly gets you used to having a live-in robot cleaner....

Here is a short video showing Mr Robot going about his tasks in the now pristine Trow household