How a Roomba saved my marriage

May 20 2015 | Guest post by Audrey Phillipson
Unlike lemmings, Roombas don't run off cliffs
Unlike lemmings, Roombas don't run off cliffs

My husband is a very neat person. I am not. For the most part we manage our differences by dividing and conquering, which is to say I contain my mess to my office (mostly) and he doesn't complain about it. I try to keep things tidy, but my level of "meh, it's fine" is his level of "oh my god must stop everything and clean."

If I eat something crumbly, like a muffin, I can see him start to twitch. He won't say anything, because he's not a complete asshole, but I can feel him watch every crumb fall wondering "is she gonna clean that up?" And sometimes I do, because I'm not a complete asshole, and sometimes I don't because I am too busy enjoying my muffin to notice the crumbs that fell. Twenty minutes later I hear him running the vacuum for the 4th time in 4 days and I wonder just how much strain this is putting on our marriage. I "spontaneously" tidy up the bathroom and hope for the best.

Enter the Roomba

Roomba is a robotic vacuum cleaner which sounds like a novelty. And it is. It costs as much as a Dyson but looks like a frisbee on steroids. It roams around your house in an erratic spiral zig-zag, cleaning as it goes and maybe getting stuck. Which is to say that when I got it for my husband I was skeptical, but also out of better ideas for a Christmas gift. Don't worry, we're not all business around here. I also got him socks and underwear.

We brought this goofy little robot into our home with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The current generation of Roombas (Roombai?) all have the ability to find their way back to the charging station after cleaning, which is a huge improvement over the last time I looked at them. They have edge detection which keeps them from falling down stairs and little "virtual walls" you can use if you want to keep it in or out of a given area. After charging overnight we set it loose and, just as promised, the little guy wandered all over our first floor like a drunken oversized hockey puck.

The Roomba isn't a perfect replacement for our regular vacuum. Its wandering style of navigation means it takes longer than just doing it yourself with a regular vacuum, but it does pass each area multiple times. Since we have an open floor plan, our first floor is just one big space and the Roomba doesn't handle huge rooms very efficiently. If I've got a particular problem area I'll use a virtual wall to pen it in. We also had to take steps to hide cords and other loose items. Roomba-proofing is not unlike toddler proofing.

Now we run it every couple days, or whenever we're going out for an extended period of time. While we're gone it does its thing and goes home when it's done. We feel very smug eating dinner at Chili's knowing our robotic manservant is cleaning the house while we stuff our faces with fajitas. My husband no longer spends 20 minutes a day cleaning up after crumbs I don't see. If this isn't marital bliss, I don't know what is.

  1. I really want one of these but I'm not sure if it will do what I'm hoping for.

    We have an indoor cat (1st floor apartment) who uses a litter tray. His favourite litter is wood pellet type, which he accidently kicks about a little bit. The problem arises as the pellets are cylindrical and so scatter everywhere. I cant put one of those catch mat thingies under the tray as he has a tendency to piss over the side of the tray (he's a long cat, about half a bathtub in length and we're still hunting for the perfect litter tray).

    Basically I want a Roomba to pick up all the bits of cat litter pellets and the crumbs in the kitchen and around the areas where we eat. Do they have enough suction and capacity for this? Currently I vacuum twice a week if not more but it irks me to do it.

    • We got a Roomba model that's specifically for pets, and it does pretty well picking up cat litter (although ours is the clay kind, so I'm not sure if that would make a difference). And cat hair too! I used to sweep every several days and now I only have to do that once a month or so, to reach the nooks and crannies that the robot can't.

      Ours is named Chauncey, because that seemed like a good name for a butler 🙂

    • We have a couple kinds, actually (thanks, craigslist)! We have the pet kind, which is great for hair. We also have the shop version, which can even pick up nails! It's not recommended for nice wood floors, and we haven't tried it on one, but maybe it could pick up the litter if the other versions can't?

      • Not Roomba related, but big kitty related: Get the biggest rubbermaid- type container you can accommodate in your space, and cut a door in the side ( or the top if your kitty's a big jumper like mine.) Lots of different size options and way cheaper than most official litter boxes. Good luck!

        • Or if they don't do covered litter boxes, boot boxes worked for us. Though after that you will probably require a roomba

    • I don't have any roomba related advice but I do know cats after working for 15 years in feline only vet clinics. One of my best pieces of advice is to get an under the bed storage bin to use as a litter box. They are much cheaper than regular litter boxes and they are longer. The other option for kitties with bad aim is one of those big purple Rubbermaid style boxes with a chunk cut out of the side so kitty can enter the box without having to jump over the high sides. Those high sides also do a great job containing litter for those enthusiastic poop covering kitties who kick litter everywhere.

      • We did try him with an under-bed style box but the boy is tall too, even when squatting he peed straight over the side. Might try the larger box option, if I can figure out a way to put a kitty litter liner in there

        Edited to add: he's not some freakish obscure half tiger breed btw, just a standard mackerel tabby who is somewhat over proportioned, although the vet says a healthy 5.6kg

        • On the liner front- i use bin bags as far cheaper than litter liners!!! In the UK at least bin bags come in very large sizes.

    • Ours picked up foam nerf darts the first run through our apartment, and had like 5 in it's bin before it decided it was full, so my guess would be yes! (We scoured the apartment to get all the nerf darts before the second run).

    • We have two kids (and two cats, but irrelevant) and my favourite thing about the Roomba (we have a 700 series?) is that it picks up Cheerios, which our real vacuum doesn't even do. If the size of the pellets is comparable, it might work for you too? I don't even real-vacuum anymore. Roomba is the best.

    • Just third-ing the comment about rubber maid containers. One of my male cats likes to scoot the back of the litter box and aim UP when peeing. It's weird to watch…. but anyways he needs high backed litter boxes and still pee would leak out of seam on occasion. I now buy the 18 gallon rubber maid containers and cut a hole in the front, or even on the lid depending where the box is going. (Top entrance litter boxes cut back on the amount of litter tracking through the house and some cats actually like this type, but some cats don't.) You wouldn't be able to use a liner in though, or at least I haven't figured out how myself.

      I've also use the wood pellets (i just use the pellets for the fireplaces, it's the same stuff at fraction of the price – 3 bucks for 40lbs) and my old roomba couldn't pick them up. But the newer ones might be more efficient though.

  2. We ran a Roomba once when we were house sitting, and I felt like I had to follow it around to make sure it didn't get into trouble… Does that worry go away after a while? If not, I would stick with regular vacuuming. But having a robot regularly suck up cat hair tumbleweeds would be the bee's knees.

    • I had the exact same feeling when we first got ours, and there are a few habits I've had to change since ours runs while we're away (it chewed up the cord of my phone charger, so now I have to remember to keep the cord completely off the floor). It is weird at first, having a little robot whirring around your home, and sometimes it'll get itself lost under the bed or stuck behind a box, but otherwise it feels much more normal now.

    • When we first got ours there were definitely times we came home to find it stuck (particularly on the Ikea Poang chair). Over time we've adjusted a few things, and before I run it I spend a minute (literally less than 60 seconds) moving a few things. For the Poang chair, which has flat bits on the floor the Roomba likes to get stuck on, I just shove a book or other object under it so that it's high enough the Roomba can't try to climb over it (and then get stuck).

      It's a lot like having a pet. You start making small adjustments to where you leave stuff so it doesn't get into trouble.

    • It does go away. And, as others are saying, you kinda learn what it can and cannot deal with. I try to run mine when I leave the house to run or go to the store, and I just stack the dining chairs (combined living/dining/entry in our 1bd apt) and pick up the laptop cords. Other than that, she's fine! (She's named Ruby.)

  3. My Roomba keeps my house neat and tidy. The dust and allergens have been reduced. And, I don't feel as if a hair-bomb has exploded in my house.

  4. It's sad how much I proselytize Roombas. We have a husky, another dog that surprisingly sheds like crazy, and six cats. Even if we vacuumed in the morning, the cats would crawl under the couch and bring out all of the dust bunnies we'd missed, and we'd be back to gross pet hair EVERYWHERE. We now have a roomba, and I LOVE that little thing. We have it go off every day while we're at work, and clean it out every other day, and I feel so darn SMUG every time I can ask someone over to our house without having to worry about making time to vacuum! We don't have to worry about normal power cords, just very thin ones, and it only gets stuck about once a month.

    BTW, we named ours M-O (Moe), after the robot in Wall-E who is obsessed with cleaning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyboGcBfKLg

    • How do your animals deal with a roomba zooming around when you are out? I have two dogs and a cat and I just imagine them freaking out standing on the couch barking at it or worse trying to attack it. Though the having people over without doing the tumbleweed sweep sounds amazing!

      • Honestly, they're surprisingly chill about it. They all just get out of its way when it comes towards them (it moves pretty slowly), and it's not as loud as a normal vacuum. I've seen a cat stare at it for a while and only move once the roomba actually hit her, and then she huffily walked away and waited until the roomba left and went back to her spot. There are a couple rooms that we've blocked off (plus the entire downstairs) so they can get away from it if they want. Again, though, they mostly ignore it. Which I think is sad! I want my cats to ride around on it! 🙂

  5. The appliance that saved our marriage was a portable dishwasher!

    I always thought it was weird that my mom would use a broom to sweep the kitchen once a day… but now I totally get it. Bringing out the vacuum, plugging it in, and the noise it makes seem like too much sometimes. I usually use a damp rag over an old swiffer mop to collect the balls of pet fur that accumulate. Luckily for us, our dog keeps the kitchen floor spotless and shined with saliva. Luckily for her, we probably won't get a roomba since it would terrify her.

  6. How does the roomba cope with bumps? We have several different types of flooring and area rugs so it would need to be able to go from tile, to linoleum, to hardwood, to low rugs and back. Is that a thing it can do? If so you may have just sold me on a roomba.

    • Ours transitions between our kitchen floor and the rest of the house pretty easily, although it does tend to get stuck there more than anywhere else (but give it a minute or two and it usually finds its way again). The transition to our bathroom tile is actually too tall for it, though, so it bumps against that and doesn't go over. I would say that that transition is almost a full inch though, so I wasn't surprised.

      Not sure about carpet, unfortunately, since we only have carpet on our stairs. Once they invent a robot to vacuum stairs, though, I will be a happy homeowner.

      • For just vacuuming the stairs, Shark has a motorized brush vac (the kind of stick vac you see in restaurants for between seatings–only motorized) for ~$35 at Walmart that is amazing. I bought one just so I could quit having to rearrange the furniture to vacuum underneath. It weighs almost nothing, and you can bend the handle down all the way to the ground, great for getting under my fainting couch, dining table stools, etc.

    • Ours does rugs on hardwood well (sometimes it flips up the corners of woven cotton rugs, but only sometimes, and putting sticky pads under the rugs helped). It's great with our low-pile rug (on hardwood).

  7. How loud is a roomba compared to a regular vacuum? I hate vacuuming because it's too loud. I'd like to get a roomba so I can clean other things while it's running, but I don't want to listen to vacuum noises for an hour (or however long it takes to find its way around).

    • It's not as loud as a normal vacuum, but it's still pretty obnoxiously loud. We have it programmed to clean while we're at work, so we don't have to hear it. We run it on the weekends, too, though, and it's pretty annoying for about an hour. If you can schedule it to go off while you're not at home, though, even if you just push the start button as you leave, it's great!

    • I hate loud noises too. I vacuum with my husband's noise canceling headphones while listening to podcasts and it's changed my life.

  8. How do Roombas do with hair? Like, not pet hair, but people hair. I have hair quite literally down to my behind, and my fiance has hair just past his shoulders as well as being quite fuzzy everywhere else. We also have a cat. Anyway, long story short, there is a LOT of long hair all over our house, pretty much all the time. I've hesitated to get a Roomba though, because my long hair especially has actually gotten all caught up in our regular vacuum to the point where the only way to save the vacuum was to take the thing apart and cut the hair out with scissors… And so I'd rather not spend an arm and a leg on a Roomba only to either a) have it not work, or b) break. Anyone here have experience with Roombas and ridiculously long hair?

    • It is MUCH easier to clean out the brush of a roomba than to clean out the brush of a normal vacuum. To clean it, you just pop it out of its cage and use the handy-dandy little slicer thingy that came with it to cut off all the hair and built-up stuff. Snap it back in, and you're done. Not saying it won't get clogged ever, especially the first few times it runs, but I would still recommend trying one.

    • I shed a lot so our roomba picks up as much hair as it does fur. I just have to take the brush out periodically and not only clean the brush but also pull the hair that winds on the end of the brush. I do this maybe once a month? Totally worth it – doesn't take long and saves me from hauling the vacuum out on a regular basis! Honestly, I really only pull our regular vacuum out when I need to vacuum the couch…

    • The latest and greatest model supposedly has dual rollers that break up long hair rather than getting totally wrapped up in it. Unfortunately it's significantly more expensive than the other models. I'm hoping they come down in price when the next-gen comes out.

    • Thanks for the tips, both of you! 🙂 I do believe that my fiance and I will acquire one as soon as we move into our new place (we close on our first house this Friday!). It has a combo of wood floors and carpet, so Roomba will be awesome to have around, especially on the carpet.

      • I have a Roomba equivelant (the Samsung version to be exact) and waist length hair that sheds like nothing on earth! My Bertie (yes i glued eyes to him as well) keeps my house cleaner of my hair than any other vacuum cleaner I have ever owned!

    • I live in a share house with three other people and two cats, and the current mix is one guy with short hair, and three girls all with long hair (mine's the shortest, and it's mid shoulder blade!). The long hair does need to get cleaned out of the brushes regularly – every 3-6 runs maybe? – but it's really easy to do and doesn't take long. And I've had the roomba for three years now, so the newer models may handle it better. (Let me put it this way: if the roomba died I'd go out and get another one the next day. Same day if I could manage it.)

  9. The best thing about robot vacuum cleaners is the fun you have with them. We had one until it died that spoke, it would make little comments as it was cleaning the house and when it got stuck it would yell 'Help, help'. The only real downside, they don't do corners. I have had my eye on one of those ones with two round and two square edges. I just can't decide.

  10. I've been wanting a Roomba for over a year now. You guys have convinced me, I'm going to do it. I wonder how my dogs will react, though. The love barking at stuff. (especially the regular vacuum.) I can just picture them following it around the house barking at it all day. Also, I can't believe nobody has mentioned DJ Roomba! That shall be my Roomba's name.

  11. You guys convinced me, and my husband enthusiastically agreed (TBD on the cat, though…)! We have named ours Mitt "not a creepy robot" Roomba.

  12. My husband and I aren't quite on opposite sides of the cleanliness spectrum, but far enough for it to count. We were both in the Marine Corps and had plenty of different roommates, then when we were dating he moved back home with his brothers, these experiences prompted him to say "the messiest roommate always wins". I knew from the get go that I was the messiest roommate, I never wanted him to feel suffocated in craft supplies and clutter, but I also can't handle walking on eggshells every day.

    We decided to take one of our Marine Corps habits and bring them into our marriage (probably the only way a marriage should relate to the Marine Corps); we open a bottle of wine and clean the house together one day a week. Some people prefer to clean a little each day, but honestly for a clutter bug that works long/irregular hours I really enjoying cleaning together and cleaning once a week. The only thing we clean everyday is the kitchen/food related mess, everything else can be after breakfast on Saturday morning. It makes for a long morning, but when we clean together neither of us feels resentful for cleaning while the other one relaxes and we can both relax all of the other days knowing that a few papers on the table or splatters on the bathroom sink will only be around for a few days.

    I know it probably won't work the same way when you have little humans helping you make messes, but I hope maybe it'll encourage someone to try to kick the weekend off with cleaning date. Turn the music up, get your coffee ready, and get ready for a party; It is more fun than you'd think.

  13. We love the little duh duh duh du du duh sound it makes as it docks. And even my toddler yells "charge" whenever he hears it

  14. I have developed a dust allergy that we are learning to accomodate. My husband wants to consider a Roomba, but I don't know how it compares to the types of vacuums that are good for dust, sinc many vacuums actually don't trap dust well at all.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.