Home & Office

5 things I do to keep my robot vacuum in good health (that you might be forgetting)

Knowing where to look and a bit of time is all that's needed to maintain your cleaning companion.
Written by Chris Bayer, Editor
Cleaning the brush of a robot vacuum
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

I like to think of my robot vacuum as an electronic pet -- one who pitches in around the house, never barks too loudly, and doesn't even need to be fed. As with all pets, though, I need to care for my vacuum, and a commitment to cleaning and maintenance can boost its longevity and performance. 

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The average lifespan of a typical vacuum cleaner is about eight years, but with some mindful maintenance, you can aspire to keep your device working for a decade or more. Even if you don't have a pet-like affinity for your autonomous cleaner, these tips are useful for keeping your robot vacuum in top condition.

Regardless of how powerful a robot vacuum is or whether it's a budget model or high-end, its cleaning tools can get filthy. Threads of fabric and pet hair get caught in the roller, the brushes become knotted with gunk, and sensors (and filters, of course) get covered with filmy dust. So, here are five essential things to check when it's time to maintain your robot.

1. The companion app is your best resource

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Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Most, if not all, robot vacuums have a companion app, usually available on Google Play, the App Store, or as a direct manufacturer download. The digital connection between your vacuum and smartphone is a surefire means for detecting and diagnosing problems. When properly updated, your companion app will provide notifications and updates about the unit's cleaning status, errors, and maintenance reminders. 

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Further, the app tracks your robot vacuum's cleaning history and performance metrics, providing insights into its efficiency and helping you make informed decisions about maintenance or upgrades.

2. Clean the wheels

It may seem excessive, but keeping the wheels clean on your robot vacuum can make a significant difference. Use a damp cloth to wipe down the surface of the wheels to get better traction and prevent strain on the vacuum's motor. Less motor strain equates to a longer life. Arguably more important are the axles on which the wheels are affixed. 

Axles can get suffused by long hair or thread, causing friction that makes the motor work much harder than needed. Use a utility knife or scissors to cut away long fibers, but be careful not to clip off brush bristles.

3. Clean the main and side brushes

Regardless of the brand, all robot vacuums have a primary brush that collects dirt, lint, and hair into the dust compartment. As with the wheel axles, hair, strings, and other debris can become entangled around the main brush, hindering its performance. Carefully inspect and remove long fibers, using a cutting tool as needed. 

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The same goes for the side brushes, although they face another minor challenge: their shape tends to get warped after repeated spinning. Use a hair dryer to heat the plastic bristles of the side brushes and then straighten them out or reshape them as needed.

4. Clean the filters and replace them regularly

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It almost seems too obvious, but your robot vacuum (or any vacuum) will live a healthier life when you clean and replace its filters. You will also benefit from better air quality, as clogged filters can release dust and allergens into your home. Dirty or worn-out filters can reduce your vacuum's suction power and overwork its motor. 

Before buying a robot vacuum, I highly recommend ensuring that replacement parts are available -- especially the HEPA filter. After washing a filter with water, allow it to air-dry completely before reinserting it into the vacuum.

5. Consistency matters

The question of when and how to care for your vacuum varies. Each device comes with recommendations in the user manual, although most timelines are consistent about general cleaning. I empty the dustbin of my robot vacuum and check the wheels for any grime after each use. At least once a week, I clear the axles and brushes of tangled hair and wipe off the charging contacts and cliff sensors. About once a month, I remove and deep-clean the main roller and side brushes. 

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As I mentioned above, when cleaning any vacuum component with water, it is essential to ensure each part is dry before you use the machine again. For HEPA filters, replacement is only necessary after every 150 hours of use; depending on your frequency of use, this could translate to anywhere from six months to two years. But simply shaking the dust off your internal filters once a month isn't asking too much.

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