"Note that the products discussed on our site are independently selected by (obsessive) editors. At no extra cost to you, things you buy through our links may earn us a commission"

How do Roomba Vacuum Cleaners Work?

robot vacuum working on wooden floors

My very first exposure to robotic vacuums was a Gilmore Girls episode where Lorelei and Rory are on the phone with each other, each watching a disc-shaped vacuum scoot around on their respective floors. I was hooked. Later, SharkCat, a video of a cat riding around on a Roomba, went viral and caught the interest of millions more people.

Many consumers love the idea of a vacuum they can turn on and walk away from. Parents and pet owners who clean up frequently after their kids and animals are especially interested in these little robotic cleaners. Buyers want to know if they are worth their price and will do their job against pet hair or spilled cereal.

Understanding how the Roomba vacuum cleaners work can help you decide whether it’s the right machine for you.

Early Version

iRobot’s Roomba has come a long way from its 2002 product release. Back then, the robot had trouble with stairs, battery life and carpet tassels. Consumers also complained that it did not clean edges well due to its circular shape. Pet hair similarly gave the early Roomba a run for its money.

At the time, reviewers said the idea was novel, and the Roomba was a great option for vacuuming in between regular cleanings. However, people would still need a vacuum that would pick up everything the Roomba missed. This meant that early versions were ideal for people who did not have the time to clean frequently and who still planned weekly vacuuming sessions.

Current Models

iRobot’s Roomba has been redesigned and reengineered several times since 2002. Reviewers now claim that the robot is worth its price tag and can clean up most dirt or debris in your home, including pet hair. Similarly, vacuum roundups also list the current version as a top choice against pet hair.

Current models are still disc-shaped. They operate on a rechargeable battery that can continue to be recharged for about three years before it will need replacing. The Roomba uses spinning brushes on the machines underside and sides to sweep dirt to the vacuum. Each of its wheels can operate independently as well so that it can circle around any dirt it identifies.

How it Works

The Roomba is easy to operate. You just bring it into your room and start it. Current models have charging docks, so when the Roomba runs low on batteries, it scoots on back to its charger to re-dock and fuel up. You can schedule the robot for cleanings, and the Roomba even comes with a remote control.

Here are the 5 vacuuming tips for hassle-free cleaning at home.

The Algorithm

Originally, the Roomba used an algorithm to determine how to clean. It made the vacuum appear to travel the room randomly and ineffectively. According to iRobot, the current model uses automatic dirt detection to identify debris and suction it up. Explain That Stuff notes that the Roomba uses Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (VSLAM) in order to understand its location in the room and identify dirt. This allows the Roomba to clean a room in about 30 minutes now, according to Consumer Reports.

Other Features

The Roomba also uses other important features. For example, it detects and avoids ledges, and you can block it from moving into certain parts of the room. The redesigns mean the models are also quite good against pet hair and can handle carpets and tassels well, too. You can control the Roomba from a smartphone using a mobile app and can even view your vacuum’s cleaning history using it.

Clearly, iRobot’s Roomba has made significant design improvements and now works much more effectively to clean your home. It can now be ranked among some of the top robot vacuum performers of the year.

Paul Hickman