IRobot Roomba Review



If you are thinking of making your first iRobot vacuum purchase or if you are considering an upgrade from an older model to the new 500 robots then this article may help you to make a more informed choice. My article is based on my own experience with this fun, useful (and sometimes frustrating) household cleaning tool. Included is a review of the new Roomba 530 as well as a comparison between the older model roomba (4225) and the new 500 series.

About The Reviewer

If you are thinking of making your first iRobot vacuum purchase or if you are considering an upgrade from an older model to the new 500 robots then this article may help you to make a more informed choice. My article is based on my own experience with this fun, useful (and sometimes frustrating) household cleaning tool. Included is a review of the new Roomba 530 as well as a comparison between the older model roomba (4225) and the new 500 series.

My Reviewer Qualifications

I'm a relative newcomer to the iRobot owner's circle. I purchased my first Roomba model 4225 from Costco a couple of months ago. A couple of units had to be returned due to some faulty buttons and docking issues but I finally settled into a relationship with my current faithful servant. While this doesn't qualify me as an expert on the topic I can say I am an experienced user and a card-carrying techo-junkie.

The Goods and Bads of the 400 Series Roomba

It's very important to understand that the consumer experience has a lot to do with your particular cleaning needs AND your expectations. I've included a profile of our house and our cleaning needs.

Our House, Our Cleaning Profile

Floors: We have a small (about 1400 square foot house) All rooms in our house have hard surface floors. The downstairs floors are all sealed concrete and the upstairs floor is painted/sealed plywood. We also have a separate 400 square foot office "cottage" with painted concrete floors (yeah, we're pretty big on concrete) and a few area rugs.

Rugs: While we have no carpeting we do have several area rugs, most of which have fringe on two sides. As any Roomba owner knows, fringe has been the Achilles Heal of the early models.

Occupants - There are three of us living in the house, 2 adult humans and 1 cat.

Cleaning Frequency - The Roomba 400 series bot is set to clean the downstairs every morning and I lug it upstairs to clean every couple of days. I also take it to the office every few days to clean.

What The Roomba 400 Does Well

The Roomba does a decent job of picking up all the gritty grunge that accumulates throughout the house each day. The cat likes to lounge around in the garden and she drags in a fair amount yard debris and along with cat hair this gets deposited throughout the premises. My husband and I meander in and out and track in more yard bits and daily dirt. Plus, I'm a rather messy cook and I make regular contributions of gunk on the floor during the cooking process. In about 60 minutes each day our daily dirt gets sucked up by our bot. I feel this is what this bot does best.

Noise - While I have read a lot reviews that mention noise as an issue I have to say the Roomba is significantly quieter than my standard vacuum. That being said you would not want to run it while you are trying to meditate.

Heat - A standard vacuum puts out a lot of heat as it cleans. Vacuuming on hot days is not a good thing because it tends to heat the house up even more. The Roomba on the other hand produces very little heat so you can have it run till the cows come home (or the battery dies) and it makes little detectable heat contribution.

Cleaning Coverage Area - Each day I have Roomba clean the most heavily trafficked area of my open-plan house which is the kitchen/living room/ dining room / bathroom / under stairs and hall. Roomba does a great job and rarely misses even a small area. Even the area around the cat's litter pan gets swept clean.

Roomba 400 Downsides

Admittedly after several weeks of use I found there were some difficulties I wished could could be remedied.

Rug Edges and Tassels - We have to pick up our throw rugs and move rugs with tassels and block off the rooms where this is not possible. The roomba will get caught on the tassels and "die". Sadly this means some of the rugs aren't getting cleaned. What I do to work around this is to use the Roomba on "spot clean" mode on the larger rugs. In reality I could get out the old vacuum and do it faster but its a matter of principal.

Thicker Area Rugs - We have one "thick" area rug in the living room that the Roomba has a problem with. It tends to get "stuck" transitioning from the hard floor to the rug even to the extent where it will finally just poop out completely and make one of those sad little tones to indicate that it can't go on without human intervention. I place heavy objects in these areas to keep Roomba from accessing the area and getting stuck.

Another note about rug cleaning... These bots don't have a great amount of suction. I suggest you give your rugs and carpet areas a good cleaning with your old vacuum before you start using the Roomba. Then if you use the Roomba regularly it will keep daily soil picked up rather than allowing it to build up and get ground into the carpet fibers.

Front Wheel Gets Stuck - The only other place in the house that creates a problem for Roomba is upstairs, at the top of the stairs. For some reason, in one area, it can't quite detect where the stairs start and the little front wheel goes down the stairs and Roomba gets stuck and remains there lifeless until I can assist. (Aside from that one corner, Roomba knows where are stairs are and avoids them).

Roomba Hates My Office - We spend most of our day in the office so it tends to accumulate the most dust and dirt of any part of our 2 structures. Much of our yard is DG (granite fines) and those little particles get tracked into the office floors and rugs all day long. The space is small but Roomba gets very upset with what I'm sure he perceives as the "region of filth". He does a bang up job of picking up all that grit and grime BUT all the dust really upsets his internal apple cart. After a 30 or 40 minute office cleaning he starts behaving badly. He spins in circles, coughs, and just refuses to do anymore work until his little sensors get cleaned. I have to use either canned compressed air (or better yet, haul out the compressor). Once cleaned up he seems to be good as new again.

A Maintenance Note: By the way, I clean out the dust collection bin with every use. Every use or two I tend to his brushes and roller removing any hair or strings that may be entangled therein.

Segue To Roomba 530

On August 22, 2007 HSN featured a new Roomba 530. I love having the floor get swept up each day but running around moving rugs and placing "blocks" around the house is kind of a drag.  So, when I saw the new, improved model I was ecstatic!  (Yes, sadly, I get ecstatic about household cleaning tools). Here is what the folks at HSN promised me

  • No More Eating Tassels
  • No More Getting Stuck Moving Onto Thicker Rugs or Carpet
  • Better Suction / Cleaning

With hope in my heart and credit card in hand I ordered, IMMEDIATELY.  Within 3 days Roomba 530 arrived.

New Roomba 530 Features

The Roomba 530 looks pretty much the same as the earlier models.  It is a bit thinner and seemed just a bit heavier.  Here are the new features.

  • A carrying handle - A small thing but it is easier to carry around
  • Slightly Larger Dust Bin - I'm still compelled to clean it out with each use
    New Swing out filter (the old model slides out) the new model swings out but stays attached
  • Modified Brush & Bar System -  Access to the brush and bar for cleaning is the same but there have been engineering changes
  • No Longer Eats Tassels - Hooray!  Now when Roomba encounters tassels the brushes stop spinning so the tassels don't get sucked up.  
  • Wall And Furniture Detection -  The new Roomba 530 detects walls and objects (like furniture, or your leg) and slows down for a less robust impact on the wall (or furniture, or your leg).

Rooma Speaks! This is new feature of the 500 series Roomba does not really add to the functionality of the unit but it is fun to entertain friends.  Just press and hold the "demo" button and Rooma gives you a little show complete with audio.  (See Gizmodo video)

After using the Roomba 530 Here I What I Found

After using the 530 for about 3 weeks I found that as with many things technological there are upsides (and down) to each model.

Scheduling -  I was in such a rush to buy the new model I didn't notice that it didn't have the automatic scheduling feature.  The scheduling is available in 2 other models due to be released in about October 2007.

Cleaning Coverage - For whatever reason my Roomba 530 consistently missed whole areas of my downstairs area during the daily cleaning cycle.  One day it would completely miss the living room area.  Another day it would miss an area about 4' x 5' by the back door and other days it would skip half the kitchen.  **I must note here that I did not set up the new "light tower" (formerly referred to as a virtual wall). Given my open plan house there was no logical area to use it.  It may work better in more traditionally defined rooms.

Noise - The Roomba 530 is quite a bit quieter than my 400 series bot.  The noise is just not a big deal to me but this might be important to some users.

Tassels -  This is a significant improvement over the earlier models. Even my small throw rugs could stay on the floor and not create a problem for Roomba (but I still prefer to pick those up and shake them out).

Thicker Rugs - The Roomba 530 seemed to transition from hard surface to thick area rugs without getting stuck (as often) as the Roomba 400. 

Wall and Object Detection -  This new feature brought some good and bad news.  The good news being it no longer slammed into walls and furniture (which was not a big problem with our walls and furniture). Along with the new feature comes what appears to be an unintended consequence. In our small house with lots of furniture and narrow areas the Roomba 530 moves slow as a turtle in deep mud.  I'm guessing this issue may have something to do with the fact the bot runs out of gas before it completes its cleaning tasks.

A Couple More Downsides -  The new engineering that makes it possible for Roomba to transition from hard surface floors to my thicker rugs, and to climb over thicker door thresholds has created a new problem for some of my furnishings.  Specifically, the bot tries to roll over the bases of my Wasilly chairs and unfortunately gets stuck in the process.  Unlike small rugs I can't get the chairs out of the way of bot so the new Roomba 530 can no longer be used in my upstairs.  Similarly Roomba 530 spends a lot of time trying to scale some of my door thresholds that lead to the outside.

wassily chair
wassily chair - roomba can't make it over chair legs and gets stuck

Roomba Stops Short -  My Roomba 530 seems to stop short of about 40% of all cleaning cycles.  The bot seems to just unceremoniously stop in the middle of the room and nod off before his cleaning is done.  I have not been able to relate this behavior to getting stuck, or running too long. 

Roomba 400 Series vs Roomba 500: The Final Verdict

I have to reiterate again that the roomba that works best for you will depend on your environment and cleaning needs. For my household I have to stick with the older model for right now. Once the scheduler model comes out in the 500 series I'll probably purchase the new unit and try again even though I know I can only use it in my downstairs lest it be terminally stuck on my chair bases. I'm hopeful some of the other problems I had like the intermittent stopping was a quirk in my early-purchased unit.

At the end of the day, even though there are still some imperfections I'm still a firm believer of the Roomba. I love not having to lug my Miele up the stairs. I love having my floors tidied up every day like clockwork. I love knowing I can be dusting and straightening up the house while my faithful bot is cleaning my floors. I look forward to future bots as they get better and better. Thank you iRobot, keep up the good work.

Roomba Comparison Chart

Features 570 560 530 416
Wireless Remote X
Scheduler feature X X
Auto return to self-charging base X X X
*Virtual wall Lighthouses 2 2
Virtual walls 2 2
Anti-tangle technology X X X
Room coverage 4 4 3 2
Light-touch bumpers X X X
Fast charge (hrs) 3 3 3 3
Complete charge (hrs) 7 7 7 7
Warranty (years) 1 1 1 1

Roomba 530 Basics

roomba 530
iRobot Roomba 530

Improved navigation and floor coverage
Improved edge and corner cleaning
Improved brushes and filters
Improved anti-tangle technology
Improved Virtual Wall® blocks off-limit areas
Automatically returns to its Home Base to dock and recharge

Where To Buy

roomba 530 - You can purchase both new and used units through Amazon. 
iRobot 530 Roomba Vacuuming Robot, White

iRobot 560 Roomba Vacuuming Robot, Black and Silver

iRobot - You can also buy direct from the manufacturer.

Costco -  Costco sells a special configuration of the 530 but it seems to only be available at some Costco stores. **Update, 2009.. this product is no longer sold by Costco.

More To Read About Roomba

All About Roomba - by George Schreyer. This is my favorite article about the Roomba by a man who clearly takes his cleaning bot seriously.

Engadget -  Read Engadget's review and see their videos of the new 560 Unit.

Gizmodo - The Gizmodo video includes the new voice demo feature of the 500 series. 

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.