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Should you buy a cordless vacuum cleaner or robot vacuum?

Cordless vacuum cleaner or robot vacuum: We cover the reasons to choose one over the other.

Today's cordless vacuums like the Dyson V15 Detect shown here are lightweight and extremely capable.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Outside of laundry and dishwashing, keeping your home's floors clean is one of the most persistent aspects of domestic life. That's even more true for pet owners, families with small kids, or both. Thankfully there are now more ways than ever to tackle this chore. One popular method is to use a cordless vacuum cleaner. They're lightweight yet powerful. Another is to rely on a robot vacuum. These automatic machines are made to do all the work for you. 

Both solutions are extremely useful and convenient. And both have their unique strengths and weaknesses. That may make it tricky to decide which option is right for you. Don't worry though because this guide is here to help. I'll make the case for and against each floor care system. That way you'll be able to pick the best approach for your particular needs.

New models like the Tineco A11 Hero have charging docks that can charge two batteries simultaneously.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Cordless vacuums: For fast, easy cleaning

Today's cordless vacuums are light years ahead of the corded, monstrous machines of yesterday. These modern stick-style cleaners are lightweight and have a surprising amount of suction power for their compact size. Because they're powered by rechargeable batteries, you don't have to deal with unwieldy electric cords.

Vacuuming with a cordless model also tends to be a quick affair compared with robot vacuums. While elite robot cleaners can navigate rooms efficiently, most bump across floors randomly. Often these vacuum cycles take over an hour to complete. Unless you pay top dollar, don't expect to finish vacuuming in less time with a robot.

Just because you can typically clean faster with a stick vac, you still have to do a little work. You're still on the hook for performing the physical act of vacuuming. If you find that fact distasteful, then a robot vacuum cleaner is what you should buy instead. 

Another limitation with cordless vacuums is run time. Because they run on batteries, by definition they have a finite operation time on each charge. For instance, Dyson claims its V15 Detect model offers a run time of 60 minutes. 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 up to 40 minutes. Even so, you can buy an extra battery from the company, and the vacuum's charging dock can charge both cells simultaneously. It's a compelling add on to consider, especially If your home is large. 

If you're a pet owner the new Roomba j7 Plus vacuum may give you some piece of mind.


Robot vacuums: Clean often without much effort

The vision of robotic vacuum cleaners has always been one of supreme convenience. In theory, a machine like this scours floors automatically and fully autonomously. It's fair to say that the reality has almost caught up to the dream.

All run in automatic mode to hunt down dirt and dust over carpets and hard flooring. The same is true for scheduling them to clean on a schedule. Many can even link to phones and smart home devices. For instance, iRobot's latest Roomba vacuums can use phones or other smart home sensors to start cleaning when you're away.

This sophistication sounds impressive, and it is. Still, even the most complex robots fail from time to time. Under the right (or wrong) conditions a few have erred with spectacularly awful results. Some new machines are now designed to avoid these sticky situations. However, most are still susceptible to similar tragedies. 

If you're not willing to declutter your floors of potential traps before cleaning, then a basic robot vacuum isn't for you. Either spend more for a smarter machine that steers clear of trouble, or go the cordless vacuum route.

I also recommend cordless vacuums for fast, unexpected cleaning sessions. The swift 10 to 15 minutes it typically takes to clean a room is perfect for surprise visits. On the other hand, nothing beats the tenacious nature of robot cleaners. If able to run issue free daily, floor-based debris doesn't stand a chance.