Roomba Pet Series: A paws-on review

iRobot is marking its 20th anniversary and 5 million home robots sold, and we decided to sic the Roomba Pet Series on all those dust bunnies under the bed.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
4 min read
Tim Hornyak/CNET

Roomba just tried to suck up my sneaker. Fortunately, it didn't get past the laces.

I found it hunched over a threshold with the laces coiled around its brushes, looking like a slightly guilty puppy.

The shoe was easy to dislodge. With the push of a button, Roomba was on its way again, vacuuming my hardwood floors, rugs and tiles.

iRobot marked its 20th anniversary the other day (see our photo gallery of its robots), notching more than 5 million home robots sold, and I celebrated by sicking one of the latest, the 562 Pet Series, on the dust bunnies under my bed.

It did an excellent job, devouring the bunnies and getting into other spots where a vacuum can't go, like under the sofa. Unleashing it regularly made my 90-year-old apartment that much more livable.

Like all models in the Roomba line of home-cleaning robots, the 562 starts working at the touch of a button. In theory, you don't have to worry about it at all after that, except for routine maintenance.

The Pet Series automatically cleans up to four rooms per charge and holds up to three and a half times more debris in its high-capacity sweeper bin than the regular vacuum bin. It's designed to suck up more pet hair, dander and kibble than the other Roombas.

My sister's Labrador, Chagall, seemed very comfortable with the interloping robot, giving it a sniff or two and then ignoring it completely. She even stepped on Roomba while bolting for a dog biscuit.

Part of the more rugged 500 series, the 562 (available from iRobot for $369) can take a few bites and scratches. It also handles terrain challenges with ease, transitioning from rug to hardwood without getting caught in the tassels. Roomba was also fine with the 1.5-inch differential, sloped over a threshold, between my kitchen and hallway.

Other pros include:

  • A Dirt Detect function senses the amount of debris being hoovered so Roomba can devote more attention to dirtier spots. I found the blue "Dirt Detect" LED to be reassuring, and not gimmicky.
  • The Home Base (included) recharges Roomba and sends out infrared beams to guide it back when its battery is low or when cleaning is complete.
  • Roomba works on linoleum, carpet, tile, and wood. I didn't have to worry about having different surfaces.
  • A scheduling function on the 562 allows programming up to seven cleanings per week, but the room always has to be prepped (see below).
  • There are two Virtual Walls (included; each requires two C batteries) that confine Roomba to a certain area.
  • The two included vacuum bins are easy to swap out, as are the extra brushes. I liked the fact that there's nothing to dispose of with Roomba (such as bags) except dirt and dust.
  • Getting the unit out of the box, charged and vacuuming was very simple.

And the cons:

  • Roomba doesn't map a room but uses different techniques such as wall-following to eventually clean the entire space. This means that if the unit is far from its charging station, pressing the Dock button will not cause it to immediately return. It will keep wandering around until it comes within range of the base's infrared signal.
  • Roomba can operate unsupervised, but despite the Anti-Tangle system mine occasionally got stuck on electrical cords, not to mention the shoelaces. It also knocked over a tall reading lamp when it got on the lamp's base (luckily the lamp had a soft impact on my bed). It's best to clear the area of anything that might interfere before Roomba gets to work.
  • Rug tassels won't stop Roomba, but they'll look like a tornado passed. You may have to smooth them out if you're expecting guests.
  • Roomba is still pretty noisy, about the same as a handheld vacuum. At about 25 minutes per room, the sound can be annoying.
  • Emptying the bins is a snap, but removing long strands of hair from the cylindrical brushes and bearings can be a chore. The included brush-cleaning tool wasn't that effective at getting the hair out.
  • While watching Roomba crisscrossing the floor and sucking up dirt, I would focus on a solitary dust clump or cornflake that it would keep missing. Having to pick it up myself was frustrating, but seeing as how I was doing about 90 percent less work than vacuuming myself, I can't complain.

All in all, the Pet Series is a good option if you're very busy juggling pets, kids and other cleaning chores. Maintaining Roomba takes some time and effort, but not much more than replacing a vacuum cleaner bag. If your floors are covered with long hair, however, you'll spend longer extracting it from Roomba's maw. I still say it's far better than vacuuming the entire place yourself.