At the heart of shoes in the house discourse lies floor cleanliness.

If you care about not bringing outside germs indoors, you likely also prefer to not have kitty litter sticking to your bare feet. And if you’re going to force guests to walk around your home in their socks, it’s only proper etiquette to ensure that they don’t find pieces of your hair clinging to their socks.

But it’s draining to impose pristine floor regulations on yourself between work or school, pets, kids, and simply relaxing. Luckily, with a highly-rated robot vacuum at your side, vacuuming doesn’t have to be one of the chores looming on your to-do list.

As robot vacuum technology advances, there’s even less for us humans to take care of when it comes to ensuring our floors stay spick-and-span.

How do self-emptying robot vacuums work?

Self-emptying robot vacuums take the convenience of the traditional robot vacuum to another level: they actually allow you to forego regular maintenance for months on end — without skipping the chore altogether.

Like a regular robot vacuum, the self-emptying ones navigate around your house tackling dust, dirt, hair, and crumbs, then return to charge without your involvement.

But robot vacuums typically aren’t more than four inches tall, leaving little room inside to house a dustbin much larger than half a liter. Most require manual emptying after every few sweeping sessions. Though the fact that they’re bagless is nice, you typically end up reaching inside to pull out dust bunnies that are stuck, or inhaling dust that doesn’t make it into the trash can.

A self-emptying vacuum actually takes that job out of your hands. It automatically empties itself into a larger dustbin in its charging dock, which has the capacity to manage weeks of dirt without needing to be cleaned or dumped out on your end. You can literally set it up and forget about it.

How do robot vacuums compare to canister and upright vacuums?

While robot vacuums are getting more advanced by the year, not everyone agrees that they can completely replace your canister or upright vacuum. Robot vacuums can be relied on to keep daily crumbs and shedding accumulation under control, but most can’t unleash the concentrated power that, say, a Dyson would to pull matted down hair out of a shaggy rug.

The thing is, no one is purchasing a robot vacuum under the guise that it’s putting in the work that a traditional vacuum does. The convenience is the only convincing that most people need. iRobot, for example, claims that robotic vacuums can save owners up to 110 hours of manual floor maintenance per year — or about two hours per week.

If you’re worried about your robot vacuum not doing the job well enough to completely replace your traditional vacuum, consider scheduling your robotic vacuum to run twice a day — or have a hand vacuum ready to spot clean areas that aren’t in a botvac’s reach, like stairs or furniture.

Are robot vacuums worth it?

The title of this Amazon review of a Shark robot vacuum sums it up: “Not perfect but better than me having to vacuum.”

Not having to lift a finger when it comes to floor maintenance is well worth it for anyone who just doesn’t have the time — or the interest — in wrestling an upright vacuum out of the closet every few days. Not only are these handy devices extremely practical for anyone who wants to cut down on the mental load that comes with keeping the house clean, but they allow for more frequent vacuuming than most folks’ current manual schedule.

Automatic emptying quickly proves its worth in households where the layer of pet fur would otherwise have you dumping the vacuum’s tiny dustbin after just a few rooms. Now, you’re off the hook for at least a few weeks.

Robot vacuums aren’t the novelty that they were in the early Roomba days. The market is now saturated with options at every price point, crossing out the con that robot vacuums are more expensive than their manual counterparts. However, a bot that’s too basic could create more trouble than it’s worth. Forever getting stuck on bathmats or flinging the dirt it should be sucking up kind of defeats the whole “hands off” argument — but we’ll let you know which ones don’t do that.

What to look for in a self-emptying robot vacuum

Do you have a dog or a cat that sheds? Kids that generate messes out of thin air? Do you live on a particularly dusty street? These are all factors to consider when deciding how much you’ll really need to spend or what features to prioritize when shopping for a self-emptying robot vacuum.

Battery life: You’d likely prefer your robot vacuum to be able to cover your entire home in one go. Apartment dwellers cleaning just a few rooms will be fine with 80 or 90 minutes, while robot vacuums with two-plus hours of battery life can cover 2,000 or more square feet on one charge. Most recent models will automatically return to their charger when necessary, then resume where they left once they’re fully juiced up.

Size: Whether you’re living in a condo or a larger house, you’ll want to make sure the size of your external dustbin is large enough to make the self-emptying feature worth your while. Most external bins’ official range lies between 30 and 60 days, though many reviewers find that they can stretch that. Height-wise, you’ll want to find a vacuum on the more compact end (around three inches tall) if you have low-profile furniture.

Floor surfaces: Are you working with carpeted flooring? Hardwood? Both? Certain vacuums are equipped with added sensors to ensure rugs and carpets are properly taken care of, while others have special brushes that ensure dust and debris don’t get pushed around on hardwood flooring. Some robot vacuums also mop.

Here are our picks for the best self-emptying robot vacuums in 2023:


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