When you live in a 350 square foot apartment, your cleaning routine becomes very simple. Personally, I go over everything once a week with a broom and a Swiffer Wet Jet. Boom. Done. If there’s a disastrous spill in the meantime, it’s pretty easy to clean my 28-square-foot kitchen with a single paper towel.
Last November, the iRobot Roomba 800 showed me that things could be even easier. For one blissful month, I didn’t have to think about cleaning much at all, save for touching up a few corners the robot missed and swooping in with my Wet Jet every so often.
So I was very excited to try out the Scooba 450: iRobot’s newest version of its mopping robot. It vacuums and mops, making it perfect for my wood and tile floors.
In its first moments out of the box, the Scooba was a little bit trickier to get started with than the Roomba. I pressed a button to pull its tank off and easily filled its clean tank with water and floor cleaner, leaving the dirty tank empty. But when I reattached the tank and grabbed the Scooba by its handle to lift it, water poured all over the floor and the robot began complaining of “error 16.” I put it on its drying stand, hoping airing out whatever electronics might have gotten wet would solve the problem. It did. And I’ve since learned that it’s always a good idea to carry a full Scooba perfectly horizontally.
I also learned the hard way that the Scooba prefers cleaning small, simple areas. Before each cleaning job, the Scooba asks you if you would like to clean a small or large room. A small room is smaller than 150 square feet, while a large room is 150 to 300 square feet. The Scooba had an easy time cleaning my bathroom and kitchen, both of which are under 50 square feet and relatively square.
But it struggled with my main living space. While it falls within the large room size, it is cluttered with furniture. Unlike the Roomba, which basically just vacuums for 40 minutes straight, the Scooba goes through various stages in its cleaning process (this is actually the main new feature in the Scooba 450). It lays down water and then goes back later to scoop up that water and the gunk it has picked up off the floor. So while it isn’t that big of a deal if a Roomba misses a spot, when the Scooba misses a spot, it usually means it left behind a big patch of dirty water.
To get the best results, I learned to move my smaller pieces of furniture into my kitchen before using it in my living space. The Scooba also comes with a “lighthouse,” a small device that creates an invisible wall for the robot. It also worked to use the lighthouse to clean my living space in multiple stages.
Like the Roomba, the Scooba is built to detect changes in height. It won’t go off a stair or other ledges. But it’s also built to notice small changes in floor height, which is meant to keep it from clambering from tile onto carpet (no one wants a mopping robot on their carpet). While the Roomba was very ambitious with what kinds of bumps it tried, and often succeeded, to drive over, the Scooba is very cautious. It sometimes got stuck when it drove too close to an edge.
There are two things I really disliked about the Scooba 450. First, it doesn’t have a dock that it parks at to automatically charge itself, which the Roomba had. You have to physically plug it in. Second, you can’t program it to clean at a specific time each day. That was the main appeal of the Roomba: I could just set it and forget it, and come home from work to a clean floor.
iRobot obviously has its reasons for not including these features in the Scooba: Its tanks only hold so much water. It’s designed to clean once, or maybe twice, before you need to empty its dirty tank and fill its clean tank with fresh water. It’s a more involved process than the Roomba.
It does have one major feature that the Roomba does not: It talks to you. It tells you when it is done cleaning, it tells you when its battery low and so on. Cool. And, overall, it did clean my floors pretty well. Along with general dirt, it picked up bigger dust bunnies and crumbs, meaning I didn’t have to worry much about sweeping before it cleaned.
My big test for the Scooba involved covering two tiles in my kitchen with mustard and eye liner. The mustard would have come up easy with a swipe of a paper towel, while the eye liner would actually need some scrubbing. Here’s the before and after, plus a video of the Scooba cleaning my kitchen at 20x its actual speed:
As you can see, the Scooba picked up the mustard well, but only after spreading it across my entire kitchen first. It wasn’t able to pick up any of the eye liner at all, which I ended up having to actually aggressively scrub off with a sponge and soap.
It showed that while the Scooba is good for a quick, general mop, there isn’t a whole lot of muscle behind it. You’re still going to have to tackle the really tough messes yourself. But if you don’t mind doing a little bit of babysitting, or dropping $600 on a cleaning robot, the Scooba 450 could be a good way to put off a deep clean as long as possible.