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Will a Robot Vacuum Scratch Hardwood Floors?

Robot vacuums are a fantastic addition to a home for a simple reason: they clean floors automatically and you don’t have to lift a finger. While a robot vacuum honestly seems like one of the best smart home devices you could ever buy, some users have reported having their hardwood floors scratched their robot vacuum. Is this possible? Can a robot vacuum scratch hardwood floors?

Robotic vacuums can scratch hardwood floors of any variety, although it’s very uncommon. Usually, damage is caused by the vacuum’s front swivel wheel if it gets stuck due to dirt building. So, cleaning the underside of the vacuum regularly can prevent it from scratching hardwood floors.

Robotic vacuums are specifically designed to work on hardwood floors although they can go over rugs as we’ve explained in a separate article. There are a few steps you can take to make sure your floors are not scratched by the vacuum. Emptying the vacuum bin of its collected debris to reduce excess weight, and occasionally cleaning the wheels with a damp cloth to get rid of scratchy particulates are two good points of robotic vacuum hygiene.

How Robot Vacuums are Designed to Avoid Scratching

Robot vacuum cleaner on a wooden laminate floor

Robotic vacuums contact the floor in three main ways: the wheels, the rotating brushes, and a few devices have moving arms or actuators that mop or scoop debris into the path of the vacuum. To make sure that the device has real value, and doesn’t simply roll around damaging your flooring, each of those contact points are designed to be scratch-free.

The rotating, motorized brushes usually consist of numerous hair-like fibers. These work well to collect detritus on the floor but are designed to be soft enough to pose no risk of scratching hardwood floors. The hard parts of the brush are kept well enough away from the floor, and the length of the fibers help to reduce the risk of inducing a scratch, while still picking up dirt.

While most robotic vacuums do not include moving arm actuators, the few that do have never been called out as causing a scratch. The arms are designed in a fashion similar to the rotating brushes, and consist of somewhat shorter fibers attached to a long plastic extension. The fibers move laterally, are soft, and far enough away from the floor surface as to not present a risk.

On all robotic vacuums, the prime movers are a pair of motorized wheels. Each of these two wheels are independently powered, allowing for a good balance between maximum power and turning speed. Most robotic vacuum wheels are covered with a thick, rubberized tread which helps to minimize scratching while keeping the wheels from slipping on the floor.

To balance the robotic vacuum, most designs incorporate the use of a third, “pivot” wheel. This unmotorized wheel is often smaller, without tread, and made of hard plastic. The wheel surface is smooth, and the entire wheel is designed to turn and pivot along a vertical axis as the robotic vacuum moves along the floor, keeping the device balanced and upright. But, when this front wheel fails, it can get stuck at one angle causing scratching of the floor while the vacuum moves around.

Why a Robot Vacuum Might Scratch Hardwood Floors

Although robotic vacuums are designed to not pose a threat to flooring, life and its debris sometimes get in the way of the intended purpose. For the most part, risks to flooring via a robotic vacuum come in the form of accumulated dirt that hangs onto and interfers with the vacuum’s points of contact with the floor.

It’s not often cited as a source for scratches on hardwood, but the rotating brushes can hang onto bits of household debris. Most of the time this arrives in the form of human hair or pet fur, being spun around the central brush axes and reducing access to working brush fibers. Sometimes the debris is hard particulate, however, and these chunks can scratch surfaces. If you try to use the vacuum to pick up broken glass, for instance, you’re asking for trouble.

The rubberized wheels, over time, can also accumulate dust and grime from the floor. Some of these bits can effectively attach themselves to the inside corners of the rubber tread, and pose another hardwood scratching threat. Rubber is a great, soft material for keeping friction between the wheels and the floor, but it’s also prone to static cling, and this can build up over time. So these feet may periodically need to be wiped off (probably whenever you empty the robo vac into the trash).

However, the most commonly cited cause for floor scratches by robotic vacuum is the third pivot wheel. In this case, the pivot wheel may also collect bits of floor debris, but rather than lodging on the surface of the smooth plastic, it gets wedged into the pivot mechanism itself. This can effectively keep the wheel from pivoting, ultimately putting it at odds with the floor surface as the vacuum moves around, causing that hard plastic wheel to scratch the floor.

How to Prevent A Robot Vacuum From Scratching Hardwood Floors

Robot vacuum cleaner on laminate wood floor, Home Smart robotic

Before you pitch the thing out of the window and hire a maid, there are a few easy tips for keeping your robotic vacuum hardwood-threat-free. That way you really can replace your regular vacuum forever (as we’ve debated in a separate article). Just as with any household appliance, there are a few behavior changes on our end that can ensure your vacuum doesn’t scratch your floor while still netting you saved time and labor on your end.

Clean Your Robotic Vacuum Semi-Regularly

The first one is, perhaps obviously, to clean your robotic vacuum from time to time. Check the motorized pair of wheels, and remove any dust or debris with a damp cloth. In particular, inspect the rubberized tread spaces for any buildup of abrasive dirt. This is also a good time to check the axles behind the wheels and remove any potentially interfering hairs. Look for obvious things like string or plastic bits that is stuck in the cleaning brushes or other mechanisms.

Clean the rotating brushes underneath the vacuum and make sure any other spinning brushes are free of chunks of debris that are tangled or otherwise hung up. This can be a dusty job, so be sure to do it over a trash can or outside. Hair can easily get wrapped around the brushes, and time and care can be taken to unwind and remove them (or you can cut the hair, and some robot vacuums come with a small simple tool for this).

Inspect the rotating pivot wheel, insuring that its surface is clean and smooth. Observe the wheels pivot behavior around its vertical axis, and visually inspect the point of attachment to the vacuums frame. Many manufacturers have made this wheel removable and replaceable, but don’t force anything. Look up your robot vacuum’s manual or a Youtube guide to make sure you’re disassembling parts that are designed to be removed and cleaned if you have any worries.

As the pivot wheel has become the most frequent culprit of hardwood floor scratches, there is a lot of experience in the robot vacuum community on how to address it. A common tactic is to wrap a wide rubber band around the pivot wheel or to add electrical tape to it. These solutions can definitely help, but they’ll be temporary as that barrier between the front wheel and the floor wears out. Really, cleaning around that wheel to make sure it doesn’t get stuck is the best preventative maintenance you can have.

Empty the Robo Vac’s Waste-Bin on a Regular Basis

Another good tactic to prevent problems is regular emptying of the vacuum’s waste bin to avoid excess weight. If the problem persists, consider finding out if there’s a particular source of the scratchy particulate. For example, living near a beach might easily introduce more sand in the home. Taking steps to minimize this would aid your vacuum.

Best Robot Vacuums for Hardwood Floors

All robotic vacuums claim to work well on hardwood floors, and really, it’s the most straightforward and obvious task for them. More challenging for robotic vacuums generally are getting over steep thresholds and vacuuming rugs. As long as potential floor scratchers are cleaned away from the robotic vacuum on a regular basis, most should work just fine. Some key features such as automatic dustbin emptying, long charge life, and mopping the floors might also come in handy. The following is a short list of our recommendations.

Eufy Boost IQ RoboVac 11s Robot Vacuum

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, and a roomy 0.6L dust capacity. It seems to be very popular on Amazon, and many users mention that works well for homes with pets and hardwood floors. There aren’t many reports of scratching here!

Roborock E35 Robot Vacuum and Mop

The Roborock E35 Robot Vacuum and Mop (in Amazon) is also highly regarded and touts a mopping feature in addition to its formidable vacuum skills. The features can be used simultaneously, the vacuum end sucking up dirt and debris, as the mopping feature adds a cleansing swab to follow. The device also removes the water it uses for mopping, leaving behind no puddles. With the mopping, this is an especially good hardwood floor option, with no indication it would be a scratcher.

Ecovacs DEEBOT N79S Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

The Ecovacs DEEBOT N79S Robotic Vacuum Cleaner (on Amazon) rates highly with users as well and carries with it a bit of a lower price point. The device claims and the evidence in reviews indicate that it works equally well on both hardwood and carpeted floors. It’s also controllable via Alexa and Google Assistant, for maximum convenience.

Neato Robotics D6 Connected Laser Guided Robot Vacuum

If your home is lacking in laser-guided gear, try the Neato Robotics D6 Connected Laser Guided Robot Vacuum (on Amazon). The D6 is “D” shaped, giving the edge it needs to get into a clean square corner, a seemingly obvious and welcome innovation. The more traditional IR sensors got an upgrade here to lasers, which would likely make for a clearer picture of the world. Perfect for hardwood floors.

iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum

Finally, the iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum (on Amazon) claims to be 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’re really into the fire-and-forget tech mantra, however, this one would do the trick nicely.

This might not be a great option if you’re worried about scratching, since that routine emptying of the unit is your best regular visit to the underside of it, to make sure there’s nothing caught up causing scratching. But it is more convenient!