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Can Robot Vacuums Go Over Bumps and Thresholds?

With the advent of robotic vacuum cleaners the reality of returning to an always immaculately clean home or office, without having to lift a finger, is upon us. But are they practical, and is the truth worthy of the hype? In particular, can the popular robotic vacuums handle bumps, thresholds, and floor rugs?

Most robotic vacuums are designed to handle changes in height of up to 5/8 inch (1.6cm). If your space has rugs or thresholds taller than that, using additional pieces of carpet or a ramp can help the robotic vacuum get over them. If ramps are impractical, you might consider using multiple vacuums or otherwise planning to clean those rooms separately.

As long as the robotic vacuum is presented with bumps and thresholds at or below the indicated limit, there’s usually no problem. It’s important to keep your vacuum clean, however, as repeated use, dirt, and abuse can take their toll on the device. In particular, the traction of the wheels, as well as the clarity of the external sensors, can degrade, and this could make the device worse at Brahms and threshold overtime.

How Robot Vacuums are Designed to Handle Bumps and Thresholds

Robot Vacuum Going From Hardwood Flooring to Carpet with Lip

Most robotic vacuum manufacturers begin the description of their product’s features with a qualification: that their devices are meant to augment the use of a traditional, human-driven vacuum cleaner. With that in mind, there are a few things that can be easily done to get the most floor coverage from your robotic vacuum, without having to resort to a standard upright vacuum.

Robotic vacuums, like the ILIFE V3 (also on Amazon), may use several motors, perhaps one for each of two wheels, one for a spinning floor brush, one for the vacuum itself, and possibly another for a forward agitator. The size, placement, and power delivery available to the wheels determine in part what obstacles the vacuum can successfully take on. Vacuums with tank treads could be a powerful feature, but sadly no models have innovated in this direction yet.

The size and shape of the vacuum itself is also a key bump factor. If the frame of the vacuum extends far beyond the placement of the powered wheels, this creates a smaller threshold angle for the entire device and can limit the ability of the vacuum to get over even small bumps. When selecting a robotic vacuum, look for wheels that are nearer the outside of the body of the device. All things equal, this is slightly better.

Among the first tools the robotic vacuum has to determine the size of an oncoming threshold are its onboard sensors. “Cliff sensors,” are attached along the bottom of the vacuum, and work via infrared (IR) light waves. When the outgoing beam does not return from the floor in a fast enough time, the sensor indicates the vacuum has reached the edge of a cliff.

“Wall sensors” utilize the same sensor technology as cliff sensors, and are distributed along the sides of the vacuums body. They help indicate when the robotic vacuum has, you guessed it, hit a wall. They also determine what upcoming thresholds might be overcome; if there’s no reflection from the sensor, the vacuum doesn’t perceive a barrier. However, there are no pump sensors. Instead, the robot knows if it’s not moving forward, and will sort of understand that there must be a bump stopping it.

How do Robot Vacuums Handle Bumps and Thresholds, Really?

Robot Vacuum Going From Hardwood Flooring to Carpet with Lip

It’s not hard to understand that, with the variety of thicknesses and qualities of materials available for flooring, the real-world performance of robotic vacuums is somewhat mixed. The design of the vacuum is a factor here, as well as the sensor height, tread, and weight of the vacuum. All of these play into a given model’s bump and threshold performance.

In the end, no robotic vacuum has a perfect track record for bump and threshold handling (more on what they can do in our guide). For the consumer, it’s best to consider what your needs are, and if you have a diverse collection of flooring heights, you might consider a deeper robotic vacuum investment.

A higher priced device can translate into higher quality design. Or perhaps consider more than a single robotic vacuum. And remember you can start small, just purchase one vacuum, and follow it around your house to see if there really are any problems first.

How do Robot Vacuums Handle Rugs?

Regarding different floor coverings, rugs are universally the most challenging for many robotic vacuums. That said, low pile or very densely packed, heavy rugs are typically less of a problem. Lighter, high pile, and smaller rugs are easily sucked into the moving vacuum – not unlike what might be experienced with a traditional manual vacuum – and require human aid to rectify. An extremely thick rug may scan as a big impassable bump to a robot vacuum, but honestly the devices are designed to work with the vast majority of rugs.

Some Roombas and other models may have a setting specific to rug vacuuming; it might be called “Power Mode” or “Carpet Mode.” True to the name these settings do tend to work better on rugs, but these settings are appropriate for wall-to-wall carpeting or larger room’s rugs. The added suction will only make the problem worse for smaller throw rugs that might tend to get sucked into the vacuum.

How to Fix a Robot Vacuum’s Issue With High Thresholds and Rugs

If you have multiple threshold heights in your flooring, there are still a few tips and tricks that can help smooth out some of the bumps.

Build a Ramp

One simple way to address threshold problems is to build a ramp. Ramps do not trigger the threshold-detecting sensors onboard the robotic vacuum and make it easy for the device to ascend and descend without the cliff. There are purchasable ramps for just such a purpose, at various or sometimes adjustable heights.

Another way to help a robotic vacuum reach the next level might be to build a “stairway.” A vacuum-width series of rugs or other steps gives the device a way to increase its altitude in turns. It’s a bit easier to use this method to build into your existing aesthetic, as opposed to a ramp, and it’s also somewhat more appropriate for dealing with smaller thresholds. The best quick, And expensive option may be to fold a towel and lay it across the threshold. This will allow the robot vacuum to climb over the threshold, but isn’t a permanent change to the floor.

Schedule Two Different Cleaning Thresholds at a Time

Another method might be to avoid the transition between low and high thresholds altogether. Consider scheduling the cleaning of different rooms at different times, allowing the robotic vacuum to keep to one height of material per outing. This could keep the threshold issue away entirely, and perhaps combining this method with a single ramp might do the trick.

Buy a Second Robot Vacuum to Handle a Different Area

If your threshold issues are more complex, and budget isn’t an inhibitive issue, consider utilizing two or more robotic vacuum cleaners. The devices can work in tandem without concerning themselves over thresholds, and the space will be cleaned in fractions of time. It’s also possible to purchase devices appropriate for each material this way.