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Can Robot Vacuums Go Over Rugs?

The latest robotic vacuum cleaners may not look exactly like the visions in our childhood sci-fi fantasy, but they are growing in popularity, and their reputation for reducing the amount of time we have to spend on housecleaning continues to grow. However, even with so many robotic vacuums working to push this product category forward with new and advanced features, they all struggle with a common floor covering: rugs. Can robot vacuums go over rugs?

All robotic vacuums are capable of vacuuming rugs to some degree. The easiest rugs for a robotic vacuum to clean are low-pile and heavy so that they don’t get pushed around. Rugs that are especially high, thick, or which have long stringy fringed edges can cause problems with robot vacuums.

Even cheaper robotic vaccums like this one from Aposen (on Amazon) have the potential to be a great convenience and a big time saver. Like all technological devices, they have their limitations, and part of successful ownership is learning what the robotic vacuum likes, and what we need to do in order for it to serve us best. Since many of us have rugs, that’s just one detailed area where, if we get a few things right up front, there’s a good chance we won’t have to think about it too often or, if we’re lucky, ever again!

How Robot Vacuums Function And Map Their Environment

Robot Vacuum Going Over Living Room Rug

Robotic vacuums get information about the world by using their sensors to map a room. Most robotic vacuums utilize a map of the territory we want to be vacuumed, which they’ll either generate and remember (in the case of more advanced models like the Roomba iRobot i6+ (on Amazon)), or they’ll start “from scratch” every time you turn them on, not remembering the room but still using clever software to make sure all of it has been vacuumed.

Most of what the robotic vacuum “sees” of its surrounding world is through a small collection of very simple infrared (IR) sensors along its sides and undercarriage, in fact, better models can clean multiple rooms which we’ve explained elsewhere before.

These sensors work like sonar or radar: the IR light is emitted from the sensor, and if it hits a barrier it is reflected back to an IR detector. If this happens within a certain time frame, the vacuum thinks it is near a wall.

Underneath the robotic vacuum, the IR sensors work in the same way but in this case, alert the device if there is a lack of reflection. If this happens, the vacuum has gotten to the edge of a cliff and it needs to stop moving immediately.

These downward-facing sensors might seem like the critical issue when it comes to discussing robot vacuums and rugs, but really it’s not rugs blocking the sensors we’re worried about as much as rug material getting caught up in the actual vacuum mechanism.

How Good are Robot Vacuums at Handling Rugs

Robot Vacuum Going Over Kitchen Rug

How well your robot vacuum is going to do with rugs depends on your unique situation. Here’s a breakdown of common rug types, what works with robot vacuums, and what’s likely to cause a few problems here and there.

Robot Vacuums Don’t Function Well With High-Pile, Shag, or Other Thick Rugs

A more problematic type of rug for robotic vacuums are high-pile rugs. High-pile rugs are distinguished by long, thick fibers. These fibers feel really nice to bare, human feet, and they happily absorb moisture readily, but for a robotic vacuum, they are easily sucked up into the device, and if they’re long enough they can wrap themselves around the spinning brushes and cause the robot vacuum to get stuck. The wheels on the robot vacuum are also spinning, so they can get wrapped up in long fibers too.

Even if the robot vacuum doesn’t get stuck, a thick rug can still be hard for a robot vacuum to clean because it may not have enough suction to pull up dirt that is deep in a thick rug. Thicker rugs that really stand up from the ground (think a deep shag carpet) are also challenging for robotic vacuums, but for a different reason. Small but heavy, thick rugs can be detected by the robotic vacuum’s sensors as a wall. For most robotic vacuums, any object that is higher than 5/8” or 1.6cm from the floor can be detected as a barrier, and the device will not attempt to go over it. Thick rigs are frequently above this threshold.

Rugs That Are Too Light Aren’t Great For Robot Vacuums

Lighter rugs that do not have a rubberized or adhesive surface on their underside are also a challenge for robotic vacuums. These rugs close enough to the ground to avoid being detected as barriers, but are instead pushed around by the device. Often this results in them being pushed into an awkwardly folded pile against a wall. A thin, light rug on a smooth hardwood surface is an ideal situation for a robot vacuum to just push it around. That said, a few cheap rug-stays like these Reusable Rug Grippers (on Amazon) can solve this problem immediately.

In sum, the best rugs for a robotic vacuum are low-pile, heavy rugs, that are not so thick as to be seen as a wall by the robot. It’s often easiest to equip your home with rugs like these, so that your robotic vacuum experience is easy and satisfying. If replacing your rugs isn’t a desirable option there are a few tricks that might make them more acceptable to your robotic vacuum.

How Well do Robot Vacuums Clean Rugs Anyways?

Robotic vacuum manufacturers claim that their products clean at least as equally well as a good, traditional, floor vacuum. Old school floor vacuums have been around a long time, however, and have seen many cycles of innovation and engineering improvements of their own over the decades. Design-wise, the two are very different, so how true is this claim?

In general, if the robotic vacuum in question can create a strong enough vacuum to clean thick, dense fiber carpet and rugs, then its performance should be at least as effective as an upright vacuum. Key to its performance, once this initial quality is met, is how well the robotic vacuum handles the other things in the room. While a robot vacuum might technically be able to clean as well as an upright vacuum, it can’t do stairs, and it can’t be plugged in to simply keep going when the battery is run out and it needs to recharge.

So, while robotic vacuums clean rugs well, and roughly as well as an upright vacuum, there are still use cases where you might want to have the upright vacuum on hand. The good news is that the reasons a rug might be difficult for a robot vacuum are the features that will make it difficult for an upright vacuum as well, so a difficult rug will be just as annoying to someone vacuuming it with anupright vacuum. The reg is not the reason to not choose a robot vacuum, then, because the robot vac/rug problem won’t be solved by using an upright vacuum.

Best Robot Vacuums for Handling Lots of Rugs

The following is a shortlist of some of the best robotic vacuums. It’s important to do your own research, however, before you buy a robot vacuum because you need to know what your needs are. For example, if your home has a lot of thick or high-pile rugs, it might be best not to buy a robot vacuum at all. Regardless, here is a list of some of the most popular recommendations.

Great Budget Option: Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S Robot Vacuum

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The Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S Robot Vacuum (on Amazon) is highly regarded according to user reviews. It claims to generate a very quiet working sound, has three filters for dust, a 0.6L dust capacity. It’s one of the most popular robot vacuums on Amazon, and many users mention that it works well for homes with pets and rugs.

iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum

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Finally, the iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum (also on Amazon) comes in at a bit higher price but adds self-cleaning, which translates into the owner having to deal with the vacuum bag only about once every 60 days. Because of this cool innovation, it does have a much steeper price tag. If you have a lot of rugs, this can be great because the robot can just stop in the middle of a job, go empty itself, and come back to that spot (or rug) later.

How to Prepare Your Space for a Robot Vacuum

Watch Out for Obstacles

The key to ensuring a positive experience for you and your robotic vacuum is not to assume that, because it’s a robot, it’s magic. Instead, examine closely the space you’re keen to vacuuming, see if there are any potential obstacles or undesirable issues with your floor covering esthetic, and make the necessary changes. And follow it around and watch on those first few jobs, so you can learn what causes a problem for the vacuum and what doesn’t.

Eliminate Problematic Rugs

If you have rugs that might be problematic from your robotic vacuum, and they cannot be replaced, there are still some options. For lighter rugs that can get pulled into the vacuum, experiment with an underlying rubber mat that can help to keep the rug in place. Double-sided sticky tape may also be an option. For rugs that are too thick for the robotic vacuum, there are also a few options. Ramps can be made or purchased that can more easily help your vacuum up and over the hump.