My Vacuum Cleaner is Needy

December 1st, 2017

Whiny Texts From Lonely Appliance

The increasing automation (and tyranny and surveillance) of the machines around us bugs me, but in spite of my paranoia, I decided to get a Roomba. In case you just got here from Mars, a Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner. It’s a flat, round robot shaped like a layer cake pan. It wanders around in random directions, changing course when it bumps into things. It doesn’t learn the floor plan. The idea is that if it moves around randomly for a solid hour, it will cover just about every part of the house.

The first floor of the new house is mostly hardwood and tile. The birds live in the kitchen, on hardwood. They throw things on the floor all day, and they give off dust. Without the Roomba, I would have to vacuum every day. That’s not going to happen. We have a whole-house vacuum system, but it’s a drag to use. You have to get a 30-foot hose and a heavy attachment out of the closet, and then you have to go from room to room, plugging the hose into various outlets. It’s even more fun when you have to carry it upstairs. I know I’ll never do that. I have delegated the responsibility to the Roomba.

I don’t know what early Roombas were like, but here is a guess: lame NiMh batteries that pooped out quickly and had be replaced often, combined with poor obstacle management. Am I close?

The Roomba I bought has a lithium battery, and lithium batteries aren’t bad. They wear out, but not like NiMh. They run a long time on a charge. I can’t complain much about the battery.

The Roomba also has wi-fi. By the way, what does “fi” mean? It’s not “fidelity.” So what is it? I guess I should look it up.

According to Wikipedia, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a stupid pun on “hi-fi.” Okay.

Also, it’s not “wifi,” “wi-fi,” or “Wifi.” It’s “Wi-Fi.” I’ll try to remember that. But I won’t try very hard.

The Roomba came with a charger which the manual refers to as a base. You put the charger on the floor, and you rest one side of the Roomba on it. This puts the Roomba’s contacts on the base’s contacts and allows the Roomba to charge. After a couple of hours, the machine is ready to clean. When it finishes a session, it returns to the base and backs onto it.

My verdict? Fantastic. But flawed. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t even consider getting rid of the Roomba, but it has issues.

1. It dies on carpeting. Sometimes my dad leaves his bedroom door open. The bedroom is carpeted. The Roomba plows around for a while and then quits. I don’t know if it’s supposed to like carpeting. I got it for bare floors, so I don’t care. But every time it gets on a carpet, bad things happen.

2. The Roomba gets confused. On one occasion it went into the laundry room and ran under some clothes that were hanging out of a basket. It wasn’t obstructed, but it decided it was on the edge of a cliff, and it shut down.

3. The Roomba is needy. When it has a problem, it sends me a whiny text begging for help. “I’m on the edge of a cliff.” “I need to be moved.” “I need to be put back on the base.” “You’re ignoring my texts.” Whatever. I bought this thing to help me AVOID work, and it’s constantly asking me for help.

We have two coffee tables on a cheap area rug. Today, for the second time, the Roomba decided to climb onto the rug. Once it was up there, instead of cleaning and moving on, it shut down and pouted. I don’t get that at all. Just move off the rug. It’s downhill.

The up side of wifi…Wi-Fi…is that I can use my phone to push the Roomba around. It has a calendar feature, so I told it to vacuum the house every morning after breakfast. I can also tell it to start or quit on demand. I can push the “locate” button and make it sound off with its little electronic song. It tells me when its battery is low, so I know better than to start it at the wrong time.

It cleans pretty well. It’s my sweeper, and sweeping is not demanding. It has a rotating brush that hangs out from under it, and the brush whacks dirt so it goes under the machine. I assume it has suction, because it makes a sucky sound while it cleans. The crap goes into a bin I have not had to empty yet. The Rooma will whine when it’s full. I would say it sweeps better than I would, were I to do the unthinkable and pick up a broom. It may work better than a vacuum cleaner, because it doesn’t disturb dirt as much while it operates. The exhaust from vacuum cleaners blows dust around.

According to the Roomba site, my Roomba is supposed to work on carpeting. It does not. Wish it did. Doesn’t. I think it would work very well on firm, shallow carpeting, but it can’t deal with a normal area rug or normal bedroom carpeting. I may be wrong, but it seems like the difficulty of moving on carpet kills the battery. Maybe if you have carpeting, you have to have more than one Roomba and confine each to a small area. That would cost an insane amount of money, though.

One reviewer says the Roomba stops on dark carpeting because it thinks it sees empty space (a cliff) under it. I don’t know, but my dad’s bedroom carpeting isn’t dark, and the Roomba goes in there and conks out.

Maybe I’m doing something wrong. I don’t care enough to find out. You can get little devices to keep your Roomba from going where it should not.

As long as it cleans bare floors, I will keep it. I do not wish to be a bird valet for the rest of my life. Maynard and Marvin are incorrigibly messy, and if I didn’t have the Roomba, I would be vacuuming every day. Actually, I would be failing to vacuum every day, and the house would be gross.

Interesting note: the reviewer who said the Roomba doesn’t like dark rugs also says it chips paint. I will have to check. That will not be permitted.

Roombas don’t like clutter, so you have to keep junk off the floor. My strategy is to let it run, see what it runs into, and take appropriate action. I’m not going to wander through the house trying to guess what the Roomba will hate.

Final thing: after you use the Roomba for a while, you will start to find dusty corners in your house. The Roomba can’t get into corners, so the dust will flee into them and stay there, taunting the Roomba. Cleaning corners is easier than cleaning a whole house, though.

I’m glad the Roomba doesn’t have a camera, a mike, or an Internet connection. Those would be dealbreakers. My devices spy on me enough as it is.

If you have parrots, you need one of these things. Or you just need to quit having parrots. I don’t know if I would recommend the Roomba to normal people. It ran me almost $300. If I didn’t have two thoughtless characters throwing food on the floor all day, I would consider that a high price to pay for ordinary floor hygiene.

I may get a second Roomba for the second story. Not sure yet. The second story is a lot cleaner.

I hope the Roomba people come up with new devices for other types of cleaning. I have a dishwasher, but putting dishes into the machine and unloading it manually…that’s just too much. I have important things to do. A robot ironer would be fantastic. I prefer cleaning toilets to ironing, even in a house with a spacious laundry room with a built-in ironing board.

I’m going to go check for paint damage. Keep your fingers crossed.

3 Responses to “My Vacuum Cleaner is Needy”

  1. Monty James Says:

    Are the birds liking the new place?

  2. Steve H. Says:

    The new place is much more suitable for them, but they don’t like the Roomba very much. They’re going to have to get use to it!

  3. Rachel Lea Says: