Don’t get me wrong: I love me some robot vacuums but no matter which you pick, regular maintenance and babysitting is necessary. Even if a cleaning run goes off without a hitch and the botvac doesn’t get stuck on a cord or trapped behind a door, you still have to clean carpet brushes and empty dust bins.
Oh, dust bins. Most botvacs have a dust bin capacity of around 0.5-0.7 liters. In my double-dog, double-kid house, I have to pause and empty the bin once or twice during every cleaning cycle. Otherwise, the suction tube gets clogged, or I can leave and walk back in my house to find the floors as dirty as when I left them. Most robot vacuums are still a long way from being your perfect automated cleaning assistant.
But now iRobot, makers of my favorite robot vacuum, has taken a significant step forward towards making the ideal botvac. The Roomba i7+’s first significant, and obvious, upgrade is the innovative Clean Base.
The Clean Base is a combination charging stand and self-emptying bin. Every time the Roomba i7+ (or “Pepperoni Dress,” as my daughter and I dubbed this one) senses that the bin is full, it returns to its base. It then empties itself out into a cleaning tower that can hold up to 30 bins’ worth of debris.
The app now also has smart maps, which allow the robot to map up to 10 different floor plans. On each floor plan, you can designate cleaning zones as small as three square feet. If you choose, you can tell the i7+ to clean only the foyer and the bathroom, or move it from one floor to another mid-clean. The botvac gets more efficient with each cleaning and cleans each zone at a time—no more skipping from room to room.
And as with all of iRobot’s products, the Roomba i7+ also has Dirt Detect, which automatically senses particularly dirty spots in your home and makes multiple passes over those spots. This botvac makes my house so clean and me so very, very happy. If I could plan my wedding again, I put a dress on it and make it one of my bridesmaids (apologies to my real-life, non-robotic bridesmaids!).
The Clean Base isn’t small. It’s 19 inches high and 12.2 inches wide, with a small on-ramp so that Pepperoni Dress can slide itself onto the base’s vacuum. As with other iRobot products, connecting Pepperoni Dress to my home Wi-Fi and to my phone was simple. I turned on the vacuum and followed the instructions in the app.
It took about three hours from plugging it in for Pepperoni Dress to charge completely, and I found that I got about 1.5 hours of runtime from each charge. I measured it at 61-63 decibels on carpet, and about 65-70 dB on hardwood floors. It’s loud, but comparable to other robot vacuums that I’ve tried.
When you open the iRobot app and click on Smart Maps, the app lets you choose between cleaning and mapping simultaneously, or starting a training run, which doesn’t use the vacuum at all. If your floor plan is too big to vacuum in one charge, a training run can, in theory, help put together a complete floor plan much faster.
If you have a smaller house, however, I don’t recommend doing a training run. Pepperoni Dress’s first training run took 45 minutes to cover 400 square feet of my house. It was exasperating to find little dust ball families pushed out from under the couch without being picked up. It took another two cleaning runs after that to complete the smart map.
To designate different cleaning zones, click on Smart Maps and position dividers throughout your house. For example, I made a small subsection in my living room for the entryway, where my family takes off their muddy shoes before coming into the house. Once you’ve marked each room, you can schedule or send the Roomba i7+ to different zones. It also works with Google Assistant or Alexa, so you can shout, “Pepperoni Dress, clean the kitchen!” before company arrives.
The Roomba i7+ has navigation technology that has been updated from the previous 900 series. The new iAdapt® 3.0 navigation with vSLAM (or, visual simultaneous location and mapping) technology uses multiple sensors, updated software, and a top-mounted camera that can now take visual clues from the environment to help the robot find its way around.
The updated camera does need a little ambient light to operate, but the other sensors are meant to function as failsafes. On the whole, it works extremely well. In a week of daily- or twice-daily runs, Pepperoni Dress only got stuck once, on electrical cords in the dark and underneath a bedroom cabinet. It left my furniture and walls unscathed.
The navigation software is also pretty flexible, much more flexible than any other robot vacuum that I’ve tested so far. For example, I was able to pick up Pepperoni Dress in the middle of a cleaning cycle and move it, without accidentally erasing the cleaning history. Pepperoni Dress will remember where it was and will sync up the new cleaning map (although it may take the botvac an hour or so to figure it all out).
I can also leave furniture or other objects in different places on the floor. Pepperoni Dress will clean around them, rather than becoming confused when the floor doesn’t match the smart map.
Pepperoni Dress also has one of my favorite high-end Roomba features, which is a proprietary rubber carpet agitator that digs into the piling and never has to be cleaned. The Roomba i7+’s rubber carpet roller has been updated since the Roomba 980. It’s now set in a distinctive V-shape that occasionally got caught on the corners of my carpet. Still, it worked its way loose after a second or two, and I appreciated the deep, distinctive tracks left in tidy parallel lines across our living room floor and in my children’s bedroom.
And the Roomba i7+ also has Dirt Detect, which operates in all of your designated room zones. In the app, I can ask Pepperoni Dress to make one or two passes over a room to clean it, but I can also select “Automatic” to let the botvac choose. I hate, but also love, that I occasionally found Pepperoni Dress making two, or even three, passes over our entryway and under my one-year-old’s high chair.
If you look up the Roomba i7+, you might see that without the special cleaning base, it costs a much more reasonable $650. I am here to tell you that this lower price version is a trick and you must not fall for it. Because the i7+ can empty its own bin for Pete’s sake!
Sometimes as soon as ten minutes after starting, Pepperoni Dress would scurry back to its base. Soon, I’d hear a sound, much like that of a supersonic aircraft passing Mach 1, and all the dirt in the bin whooshed up and into the clean base’s tower. Relieved of its burden, Pepperoni Dress would continue on. I could not believe how often Pepperoni Dress had to empty the bin, and how I didn’t have to do that anymore.
It’s worth noting that there’s an extra expense involved with the Clean Base: a 3-pack of the requisite dirt disposal bags, cost an additional $15 on top of everything else. After a week’s worth of cleanings, I found that the bag was about a quarter-full.
The whole point of buying a robot vacuum is to make your life easier. It’s easy to be seduced by the promise of automated cleaning, and not realize that it’s actually much more work to maintain a robot vacuum than to just push a regular one around. The Roomba i7+ all but eliminates the few remaining robovac pain points, including some that I wasn’t aware were aggravating to begin with. It empties its own bin! My God!