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Cordless vs. Robot Vacuums: Which Vacuum Cleaner Should You Buy?

The ultimate side-by-side comparison between two popular vacuum models.

Macy Meyer Editor I
Macy Meyer is a N.C. native who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 with a B.A. in English and Journalism. She currently resides in Charlotte, N.C., where she has been working as an Editor I, covering a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, fitness and nutrition, smart home tech and more. Prior to her time at CNET, Macy was featured in The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, INDY Week, and other state and national publications. In each article, Macy helps readers get the most out of their home and wellness. When Macy isn't writing, she's volunteering, exploring the town or watching sports.
Expertise Macy covers a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, smart home tech, fitness, nutrition, travel, lifestyle and more. Credentials
  • Macy has been working for CNET for coming on 2 years. Prior to CNET, Macy received a North Carolina College Media Association award in sports writing.
Macy Meyer
5 min read
stick vacs

Should you buy a cordless vacuum cleaner? Or is a robot vacuum cleaner a better fit?

Chris Monroe/CNET

Along with laundry and dishwashing, vacuuming is one of the most persistent domestic tasks. And if you have pets, small children or both, then cleaning your floors is probably a weekly, if not a daily, occurrence. That means you'll need reliable hardware to tackle this chore consistently. 

Enter the vacuum cleaner. But choosing from thousands of options can be overwhelming to say the least. Do you go with a cordless vacuum? They're lightweight and discreet yet powerful. Or do you go with a robot vacuum? These automatic machines are programmed to do all the work for you, yet they often come at a lofty price. 

Both models are useful and convenient -- and they both have unique strengths and weaknesses. That may make it tricky to decide which vacuum cleaner is right for you. This comparison will help you pick the best for your needs by making the case for and against each type. For more vacuum tips, explore the proper way to vacuum your floor and these tips to help your robot vacuum clean even better

Cordless convenience 

I've previously written about why cordless vacuum cleaners are a standout option when shopping for floor cleaning hardware. These vacuums are lighter, smaller, and easier to use and store than upright vacuums, and most importantly you won't have to stop vacuuming every few minutes to unplug and replug the cord to a closer outlet. Cordless vacuums also come with easy emptying capabilities, and some brands even incorporate charging docks that automatically empty the dustbins.

Cordless stick vacuums are faster than robots

In the battle with robot vacuums specifically, cordless models tend to be much quicker in their cleaning. 

While top-of-the-line robot cleaners can navigate rooms efficiently, many move across floors somewhat randomly or get stuck on furniture around your home (like getting caught in your curtains that fall to the floor). 

Depending on house or room size, you can usually be done cleaning with a stick vac in an hour, while robot vacuums will certainly take more time. The problem is, a cordless vacuum may not last the full hour.

Cordless vacuums have limited runtime

One of the main downsides of cordless vacuum cleaners is the somewhat inconsistent lifespan of its batteries. As a battery-operated machine, they have a finite runtime. 

A woman uses the Tineco Pure One S11 cordless vacuum to clean up some dry cat food scattered across a hardwood kitchen floor by a fluffy, white cat with brown spots.

Cordless vacuums are quick, reliable and work on really any flooring type. 


For instance, Dyson claims its V15 Detect model offers a run time of 60 minutes, but the company qualifies the statement saying, "actual run time will vary based on power mode, dust level, floor type and/or attachments used." Tineco, another cordless vacuum maker, lists the run time of its A11 Hero as just 40 minutes, though they do have an option to purchase another battery that can be charged on the charging deck simultaneously. Comparatively, robot vacuum cleaners battery lasts longer. Many models' batteries last between 120 and 180 minutes on average, though that can decrease to about 60 minutes on high pile, thick carpet. 

But perhaps the biggest downside of a cordless vacuum is that you still have to do a bit of work. With even the most advanced stick vac, you'll still have to perform the physical act of vacuuming. If you're tired of vacuuming back and forth again and again, then a robot vacuum cleaner is what you should buy instead.

Robot reliance 

Robot vacuum cleaners are often associated with supreme convenience. When you hear the term, you probably envision a machine that hunts down dirt and debris with predator-like precision. And you're not far off.

Robot vacuums run fully autonomously and automatically. They self-navigate on any flooring type, from hardwoods to carpets, and some models can even be programmed to have a cleaning schedule and to sync to smartphones and smart home devices. For example, iRobot's latest Roomba vacuums are activated by a mobile app or smart home sensor to start cleaning when you leave your home. 

Watch this: The Best Ways to Help Your Robot Vacuum Help You

Even the best robot vacs get stuck sometimes

Still, even the most sophisticated robots can fail from time to time. From poop-smear disasters to getting tangled up in electrical cords, one of the biggest issues with a robot vacuum is that you'll constantly need to be on the lookout for potential obstacles. 

While robot vacuums can be mapped to your floor plan and are engineered to avoid hazards, even the most advanced models can't avoid common household interference.

roomba j7

Some robot vacuum models, like the iRobot Roomba j7, can detect and avoid solid pet waste.


If you're not willing to declutter your floors before cleaning, then a basic robot vacuum probably isn't the right choice. You'll have to either spend more for a smarter machine that steers clear of trouble, or go the cordless vacuum route.

Cost: Robot vacuums are nearly double the price of cordless vacs

That brings us to another robot vacuum drawback: the price. A good robot vacuum costs anywhere from $400 to well over $1,000, putting it out of reach for many US households. While not cheap by any means, cordless vacuums tend to come in under $500 and reliable models can be had for as little as $200. But if you're willing to spend the money, and don't care about tidying up as quickly, then a robot vacuum's cleaning prowess is unbeatable. 

A selection of cordless stick vacuums on a hardwood floor

CNET experts have tested dozens of cordless vacuum models. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Is a cordless vacuum better than a robot vacuum? It depends

While that heading may be frustrating, it really does depend. It depends on your specific needs, wants, situation and budget. If you prioritize hands-off ease and don't mind spending the big bucks, then a robot vacuum is certainly the way to go. But if you don't mind putting in a little elbow grease and want something that cleans quickly and efficiently, then I recommend you go with a cordless option instead. 

robot vac group shot

CNET experts have also tested plenty of robot vacuum models, too. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

With this in mind, it really will depend on your priority list. And it's up to you to decide what those priorities are. But when you are ready to buy, you can then explore CNET's favorite cordless vacuums and robot vacuums of the year. 

For more vacuum tips, explore the best Roomba alternatives to keep your floors clean and the best robot vacuum deals available now. 

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