iRobot Roomba 560 vacuuming robot review

Publicado em , por Pedro Couto e Santos

Para ler esta crítica em português, por favor dirijam-se ao post respectivo.

I bought a Roomba 560 about six months ago, in late 2007, to deal with the time in between visits from my fantastic cleaning lady. With a small kid and six cats in the house, vacuuming is essential to keep the floor clean for the baby, but not very high on our ever-growing priority list.


The Roomba seemed like the ideal solution. I read sites, watched videos, perused comments and was convinced that it would be a good investment despite the steep price. So here’s my review, after a six month run:

Size and Autonomy

The Roomba is neither too big or too small, if I hold it with both hands against my chest it’s roughly the width of my thorax. It’s also not very heavy and can be easily transported using only one finger, hooked under one of the wheel wells.

The charging station and power supply occupy almost no space but you do have to make space for the robot when it’s docked. It’s not something you can stow away on a shelf as it needs to be permanently hooked up to the mains; it’s not practical to keep it in a pantry or storage room unless you have a mains socket there.

The specs say the Roomba can vacuum four rooms with one charge of the battery. This wasn’t easy for me to confirm, as it’s not practical for me to leave the robot to vacuum several rooms at once – I need to control open and closed doors because of pets. But I have no trouble believing what the manual says.

I have, however, tried two rooms and a hallway, all vacuumed, in succession, and there was no problem with the battery life.

Power and load capacity

The vacuum-cleaner is quite powerful and has no problem picking up dirt and dust. Obivously, you cannot expect it to pick up large objects, but it deals great with dust, hair, sand and all sorts of small debris. After the Roomba has passed, the room will seem as clean as with any ordinary manual vaccum-cleaner.

There may be the occasionally not so clean spot, but that usually means the robot couldn’t access it well. Corners with door-stops are complicated spots, for example, although you’d be surprised how often the robot can navigate over these small obstacles.

The load capacity is not a lot as would be expected from a small vacuum cleaner. The dirt compartment doesn’t use a bag and is quite small. If the house isn’t very dirty, there’s no problem, but if there’s a lot of dust and animal fur on the floor it’s possible the robot will stop halfway through the cleaning process and requests you to empty the dirt compartment.

Emptying the dirt compartment isn’t very practical: once you remove it (it fits on the robot body like a drawer), it’s open and debris can fall out of it easily. It’s a good idea to find some way of opening the compartment over a trash bin, or something.


Navigation and problem solving

This is where the Roomba has some serious problems. This device is extremely efficient in an empty room with no obstacles and that efficiency decreases greatly as the obstacles increase in number or complexity.

It seems obivous but it’s still a bit frustrating; it would be expected that the Roomba would not be able to navigate certain obstacles, but what’s really disappointing is that it’s not that hard to get the robot stuck.

We own an Ikea table that has a central leg with a cone-shaped base which the robot climbs. In spite of having several methods to try to climb down from an awkward, slanted position, sometimes it can’t and so turns itself off and sits there waiting for assistance.

The same thing happens with one of my guitar’s stand, which has an oblique leg and with electrical wire that gets occasionally caught in the side brush.

Thin mats and carpets are also not very Roomba-friendly since they’re too light to stand their ground and end up dragged away and crumpled by the robot.

Finally, sometimes the Roomba can get under a cupboard or cabinet from one side and get stuck trying to get out the other because the wood may be warped, not allowing the minimum height for the robot to pass.

Truth is, for the best possible performance, the Roomba requires some work: you should remove as many obstacles as possible: kid’s toys, cushings, books and magazines, bottles, footstands, whatever. When I want to get a good cleaning I always have to invest 5 or 10 minutes clearing out the floors and then returning stuff to their previous spots so the robot has as much free space as possible, to navigate

Light-house/Virtual Wall

These small units work very well indeed. They’re small plastic turrets, about the size of a mug, battery operated, that “wake up” whenever the Roomba gets started up.

In light-house mode they create a barrier between areas (a room and the next, for example), managing the robot’s vacuuming time. When and area is fully vacuumed, the light-house allows the Roomba to pass through to the next area and stops it from returning to the previous one. The light-house doesn’t let the Roomba out of the room until everything has been cleaned.

I’ve used this mode to vacuum a couple of rooms and a hallway between them, by placing a light-house at each of the rooms doors and then placing the robot in one of the rooms. It cleans the first room, then the light-house allows it to leave the first room and into the hallway and finally, the second light-house directs the Roomba to the second room.

In a nutshell, the light-houses manage the vacuuming between rooms, making sure all spaces are cleaned in sequence and with the most efficiency.

In Virtual Wall mode the unit functions as a barrier, not allowing the robot to pass at all.

These little devices have an adjustable range, using a switch (3 different distances, according to the space you want to block off – the shortest range will work fine for doorways), and there’s also a Virtual Wall/Light-House toggle



And here’s where everything collapses, at least with my 560.

After only one month of use, the rotating side brush, that pushed the dirt underneath the unit had lost three of its arms and needed to be replaced (the 560 model comes with an extra brush and filter). However, truth is, the replacement brush is still intact after five months but what happened to the first one was not a good omen of things to come.

The worst of it all was that, recently, after six months of relatively light use, the Roomba started complaining about its left wheel (sometimes the robot will stop or refuse to start and a recorded voice will inform you of what the problem is, in several languages). After checking and cleaning the wheel and the robot working intermittently, the left wheel finally stopped working altogether and the robot just spins endlessly over itself.

I must confess the device seems very well built and thought out: all parts are modular and easy to dismantle. Each wheel has its own motor and are easy to replace, using a simple electrical socket to get current from the main unit.

Either I had bad luck with the robot I bought or the Roomba simply wasn’t made to deal with a house with six cats, two adults and a one-year-old. Either way, I was a bit disappointed and I’m left at the hands of iRobot’s tech support whom I’ve already contacted.



  • Small and not too heavy, fits between chair legs and underneath furniture
  • Simple to operate: you can learn the whole she-bang or just press a button and be done
  • Effective: it’s a good vacuum-cleaner, powerful enough to clean a dirty room
  • Good range: cleans up to four rooms in succession and if the dock is in sight it will go charge itself at the end.
  • Not too noisy: you can carry out a conversation with the Roomba vacuuming in the same room
  • Safe: turns itself off when it’s faced with a problem it can’t solve or gets stuck in a corner
  • Practical: when everything goes well it’s great to be able to leave the house knowing all will be clean when you come back
  • Modular: easy to dismantle to clean and maintain the unit
  • Flexible, especially with the calendar scheduler and the light-house units


  • It’s not just as “click and go” as you might expect: it’s a good idea to remove obstacles before you start cleaning, unless, of course, you have a magazine-style home
  • Small dustbin: it works, but only if you don’t have a very dirty home
  • Trouble dealing with certain obstacles: careful with slanted surfaces and electrical wires
  • Not very easy to empty (the dustbin): a slip and all the dirt goes back on the floor in a (not so) neat pile
  • Expensive: 300 euros is the price of a top of the line manual vacuum cleaner; look at the Roomba as an investment if you have no time, patience or a cleaning lady to vacuum for you.
  • Not very durable: the side brush tends to break and, in my case, the robot broke down (left wheel problems), after six months.


I’ll wait for tech support to see how they solve my problem and then I’ll update this review with that, rather important, information. All devices can break down: some as soon as you buy them, some after a few months and others… after years of good service. The important bit is finding out how the maker deals with such problems and how they treat clients.

I hope this review has been useful for anyone looking into buying a Roomba vacuum cleaner and feel free to contact me about it, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.



iRobot Roomba 560 vacuuming robot review

Publicado em , por Pedro Couto e Santos

Para ler esta crítica em português, por favor dirijam-se ao post respectivo. I bought a Roomba 560 about six months ago, in late 2007, to deal with the time in between visits from my fantastic cleaning lady. With a small kid and six cats in the house, vacuuming is essential to keep the floor clean […]

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