Roomba, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

I own two Roombas. Rather, I own two Roomba husks. Yesterday, my pink one, long the workhorse even if it was older than my grey Discovery, decided that it would rather not turn off its brushes—ever. I even turned it off and they continued to whirr until I removed the battery. That battery is the only good one I have, in fact, after having burnt through at least two others between the two Roombas in the past. The replacement batteries are about $35 a pop, but they do such a bang-up job with pet hair that I was loathe to live without one. But now I'm not so sure. My grey Roomba acts like it's taking a charge, but I just tried to run it and it's dead, too. Both are outside of the warranty; I've had them both for about two years. I'm left with a tough choice: do I spent another $200 or so on a new Roomba that will almost certainly give up the ghost in another year or two? Or do I finally accept that floor cleaning robots, while useful, are just too susceptible to the very dirt and grime they're meant to clean to be worth it? You know what's the worst part? My floor's too dirty to use my Scooba, which has been sitting unused for about six months while I waited on a battery and firmware replacement. $200 will buy me a nice broom and a badass mop.
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29 Responses to Roomba, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

  1. Gary61 says:

    re: #14 Scuba SM …..

    Yeah, I know … that’s why I ‘LOL’d what I said about Sony and ‘new battery technology’ …

    They used to be oh so good .. but now? I don’t think Sony has the capability to make a cheese sandwich without screwing it up very badly, and starting a class-action lawsuit against the cheesemakers …


  2. jonathanpeterson says:

    roombas are gadgets, not tools.

    My Dyson canister vac is a tool – I could likely beat a roomba into bits small enough to suck up inside of 2 minutes.

    As for dog hair – if you’ve got hardwood floors a big-ass gym-floor cleaning style dustmop takes less than 60 seconds a room EASY.

  3. icky2000 says:

    All of you people with Roombas and pets – how does that work? How loud is a Roomba? I have 2 cats that are scared to death of the real vacuum and nervous around anything else that seems to spontaneously move…doesn’t the Roomba scare your pets?

  4. failrate says:

    My Roomba *is* my pet…

  5. dculberson says:

    I’ve pimped it before, but I love my Royal Commercial upright. All metal, the appearance is almost unchanged since the 60’s. My last one made it to it’s 30th birthday – over half of which was in a commercial setting before I bought it at auction for about $20. I bought a new one after I messed up a bearing replacement (long story) and the new one was $36 on eBay (I had to reuse my old bag) and it was made in 2005! It’ll probably last the rest of my life. Does a hell of a job, too. 100x times better than my old Eureka.

    Yes, it doesn’t sweep on it’s own, but it takes me about 10 minutes a week to keep my carpets clean. And that’s with a long-haired kitty.

  6. pork musket says:

    You can replace your vacuum with a broom and mop? No carpet in your place Joel?

    I’ve had a Roomba for a couple years now, and it is still working alright, but I think I am going to end up buying a nice upright vacuum – I can clean the same amount of floor space way faster than the Roomba, and in a continuing effort to be more ‘green’, leaving the Roomba charging all the time seems dumb to me.

    I loved my Roomba when I lived in a small apartment, but now that I have a house with stairs and a dog, it’s less and less convenient – I can’t just turn it on and leave and come back to find the whole floor clean. I hope a large number of consumers keep buying these things, because as long as the market exists the technology will get better and better, but I don’t think I’ll be replacing my Roomba when it croaks.

  7. Joel Johnson says:

    Yeah, I’ve got hardwood floors with lots of open space. And I actually used to have a vacuum, too, because I needed to use one on the stairs, which have carpeting. (Confusing!) Now I have no electrically-boosted assistance with which to clean. Perhaps that’s okay. It’s certainly more green!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, here too. I was an early adopter and enthusiastic Roomba evangelist. After my 2nd one died a death from doing it’s job (sweeping up the hair from 3 small dogs) … I made the same decision. That, plus the tedious nature of keeping it clean and working optimally … I can run a dust mop and dust buster and do the same job in less time than cleaning the Roomba. _Fantastic_ idea … cheap and poor implementation.

  9. Gary61 says:

    Point to remember – a ‘rechargeable battery’ will eventually DIE, and will need replacing. Over time, these batteries will hold less and less charge, til the point they’re completely unusable (but it sounds like you have other issues as well).

    This applies not only to helpful housecleaning robots, but also to cell phones, laptops, remote control devices, personal massagers (um, probably could have left that one off the list) – but you see what I’m driving at here …
    The only cure is better battery technology – and I think Sony is working on this … LOL!


  10. Alli says:

    My Roomba has been running fine since we got it a year and a half ago. With a 3 yr old and an idiot cat, it’s been a time and back saver! The lil man treats it like a real person; he’ll tell us to “shhhh” when the Roomba is charging – apparently it’s sleeping. The cat plays chicken with it; he lays in front of it till it’s just about to run him over, then runs off to another tempting spot. We picked up a Scooba about a year ago, and that too has been great. And the cat won’t lay in front of it cause the floor is wet.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Man I feel your pain. My roomba has some kind of problem where it goes over something quite small (for instance a piece of granite in front of my fireplace that sticks up about an inch from the surrounding floor) and it gets stuck.

    I’ve got the one that you can schedule and every day for the last two weeks I’ve gotten home and found it stuck in either that spot or a couple others. It used to handle this area just fine.

    So do I buy another one or just give up on it? I really like the job it does when it’s working but it just doesn’t seem very reliable.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if IRobot spent more time working on this than robotic killing machines for the Pentagon?

  12. tofoomeister says:

    @Icky2000: Maybe your cats are just a bunch of, well, pussies.

    Seriously, Roombas do make a fair bit of noise, but it doesn’t have the jet engine type sound that most uprights have. I know several Roomba/cat owners and they (the cats) seem to get used to it. In fact, one of the more fun things to do with a Roomba is to use its remote control to “chase” the cats around.

    (Roombas are much slower than cats; they usually have enough time to lie and observe from a distance while still being chased.)

    For added fun/feline sensory overload, use your Roomba in conjunction with a laser pointer.

  13. Ruddywoof says:

    There’s a clue or two in that Roomba story. Joel says that “My floors too dirty to use my Scooba.” If he has been using a Roomba under such severe conditions, with massive pet hair as well, then it would be obvious that those conditions would lead to an early demise. Pet hair in particular is lethal to a roomba in any large quantity. The hair accumulates down in the bushings and turns into abrasive rope slowing the machine down and even melting the plastic bushing assembly.

    The other clue is that the Scooba is great for kitchen floors where it can handle food droppings quite handily. The Roomba has a very bad time with sticky food substances.

    I had the same battery failure with the Scooba and they sent me a replacement battery and a firmware update to my door in about 36 hours.

    His pink and grey machines are all second gen machines. While having some slight improvements over gen 1 grey old-timers, the gen 2 machines were over-engineered and have longevity issues. The best answer is to buy one of the new 530 roombas and sell the husks on eBay for surprising good money.

  14. Tovi says:

    I know one shouldn’t get those stupid extended warranties that electronic stores offer you but I always do it for my Roomba. For $50 bucks (a little more than a new battery) I can trade in my Roomba for a new one if anything happens. I know the battery will die well before the three years are up and I’ve also found that the Roomba will go nuts once in a while and go backwards all the time or some other crazy behavior. I’ve gone through two Roombas and their battery always lasts 1 year and then it will start to carry less charge until it dies.

    Right now the battery on my one Roomba died and I haven’t replaced it as I’m waiting for the new model to arrive at the store so I can get that one under warranty.

  15. pbirmingham says:

    I though my Red’s battery had died last month with similar symptoms to your gray, but I found an item on the iRobot site about resetting the charging system, and now “robot” is kicking a’s and taking n’s.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I say take them both apart do a little bit of Frankenstein work and see if you can make one good one out of the two broken ones.

  17. bruenor says:

    I purchased a Roomba about 2 years back as well. the pet hair rendered it pretty useless as it would get all into the workings of the little robot. It took me more time to clean the pet hair out of the roomba than if I had just vacuumed using an normal upright.

    The roomba got about a half dozen uses before I gave up due to too a critter that just plain sheds too much.

  18. djs52 says:

    Are you aware of ? They do repairs and spare parts, and also sell second hand bits of dead Roombas, so if you want to abandon one, at least it will go to a good home!

  19. gregger says:

    Before you decide to do anything, you should definitely call 1-800-MOPS-KEY for all your comparative mop shopping needs. Stephen Colbert was plugging them because they were sharing the atonement hotline number for the high holy days. But since we’re out of the high holy days, I’m sure you can just get patched straight through to a mop expert! ;)

    I still want an iLooj though…

    Good luck. Maybe this is all because you posted those Roomba deals today and yours feel jealous that you’re looking at newer, sexier models.


  20. sexyrobot says:

    welcome back to the world of sustainable design…decent housecleaning robots will probably not get here until the quantum computers do….
    nothing says ‘oh do please come in miss sexy witch’ like a real bristle broom with a sleek red-painted handle. as for a mop, if you have the closet space, def get one of those yellow super-heavy-plastic buckets with the levered wringer…keeps yer hands from reeking of mop (sexy witches hate that)

  21. jrishel says:

    I’m always willing to recommend spending other people’s money: Aren’t the new Roomba models supposed to do a much better job of isolating the vacuumy bits from the roboty bits so they don’t have this problem any more?

    I have a first gen Roomba I’ve had for about a year. I’m fairly happy with, but I need to run it much more often to keep up on pet hair than I would with a regular upright vacuum. And ever month or so I take it out to the garage and give it a good blowing out with the air compressor. That stops all the funky backward dancing.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I unplugged the charger from my 18 month old Roomba while on an extended holiday. That caused the battery to go so flat, it would barely hold a charge when I returned.

    Bought a new battery from amazon. Now it lasts nearly twice as long as the original did before my holiday. Just a tip – spend the extra few cents on the electricity required for trickle charging even when you’re away.


  23. jitrobug says:

    commercial dust mops are worth a cool tool blog post of their own:

    link [rubbermaid commercial]

    They feel really solid, like a professional tool, and are actually kind of fun to play with.

    I actually also use a cannister vac to clean dust bunnies off of it – but that’s only cuz I’m allergic to dust and doing it by hand would make me suffer.

  24. Scuba SM says:

    I’m sure if you wait around for a little while, you can snag a nice new (or refurb r0x0rz!) Roomba for a song. And Gary61, if Sony is working on new battery technology, they’ll probably release it in some proprietary format that’s incompatible with all consumer products currently manufactured, and it’ll die a slow, painful death.

    If you’re going to retire the Roomba from cleaning duty, I hear they make fairly decent homebrew robot chassis…

  25. jitrobug says:

    oops, I think I linked to the wrong rubbermaid stuff

    (I started looking around to find what I actually have)

    My bad-ass mop is a rubbermaid quickconnect wet/dry with the matching yellow handle and a microfiber mop surface that velcros on.

    plus it’s fun to go to the janitor supply store.

    mine was very very clean. go figure.

  26. agraham999 says:

    As someone whose been using Roombas now for maybe 4 years…I’ve learned a few ways to keep them running a long time.

    I clean my Roomba with compressed air all the time…plus a little WD-40. Once the warranty ran out I took it apart and did a thorough cleaning. I’ve done this twice on both of my units and they are still running years later. I do replace the battery and the brushes about once every 14 months…since I use these puppies several times a week.

    I’ve decided to upgrade to the new Roomba…but I’m sold on the technology…and I also use my Scooba a couple times a week (over a year old).

  27. kristofer says:

    I’ve never owned a Roomba, but I got the Cleanmate QQ-1 for review a couple years ago and it’s still going strong, I just got the Cleanmate QQ-2 for review a couple months ago and it’s just as good as the first version, essentailly the same but quieter and it finds it charger, charges then continues working.. both are very cool overall, I’ve got two cats and three kids so the place gets messy fast. I’ve noticed that even if I run my upright vacuum, then run the Cleanmate it still picks up a lot of stuff, especially the pet hair and other small things that the vacuum somehow misses… the Cleanmate QQ-2 is a workhorse in itself, I just wish the dust bin was a bit bigger….

  28. Fleabyte says:

    Speaking from the vantage point of sixteen years of marriage, multiple pets at all times, and numerous vacuums, I prefer a more expensive upright. Cheap (100 – 150 dollars) vacs only last about a year with pets and carpet. So the Roomba, seeming to average about $100 a year, sounds about right. The more expensive ones have averaged out to about that much a year. Without the frustration of replacing every year.

    That said, I’ve also lived in carpet-less homes, and Jitrobug has the right idea with the Velcro, microfiber mop. Don Aslett sells them on his site as well (just Google “aslett mop”). No batteries, no electricity, no cleaning solution. Just water for mopping, or dry for pet hair. They kick butt. I’d really like to go all wood or tile again, just for the ease of cleaning with one of those babies.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Just noticed: refurb Roombas on sale for $80 on DealNews.

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