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iRobot Scooba 450 review: Can this floor-cleaning bot mop up the competition?

In a market flooded with lackluster light-duty mops, iRobot's high-powered Scooba 450 floor-cleaning robot shines.

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Megan Wollerton
meganwollertonportraits0719-23a

Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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Where most floor mopping robots are designed for light-duty maintenance cleaning, iRobot's $600 Scooba 450 can tackle heavier spills, stains, and other unsightly messes with comparable ease. That makes the Scooba 450 unique among its competitors -- it's the closest we've seen to a true replacement for your mop and dirty water bucket. Unfortunately, it can only clean about 300 square feet (40 minutes of cleaning time) before needing to charge. Still, I really like the Scooba 450 and think it's a capable (small space) floor cleaner.

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7.2

iRobot Scooba 450

The Good

iRobot's $600 Scooba 450 really can replace your old mop and bucket. Separate tanks mean that dirty water doesn't get recycled back onto your floors.

The Bad

Its battery is only good for 40 minutes, (roughly 300 square feet of cleaning) and it has a 2-hour charge time. There's no automated scheduling or charging dock, and the Scooba's rounded shape can't clean corners. At all.

The Bottom Line

iRobot's Scooba 450 isn't perfect, but it's a solid, albeit pricy, choice for small space cleaning.

The iRobot Scooba 450 knows clean (pictures)

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The iRobot Scooba 450 looks a lot like iRobot's Roomba robot vacuums. They share the same disk-like shape and color detail, have similar handles for easy lifting, and even operate via the same iAdapt navigation algorithm. But the Scooba 450 has significantly fewer features, making it more high maintenance than I'd like.

The top of the Scooba 450 displays a power/clean button with a blue LED status ring around it. When the status lights are spinning, the Scooba is getting ready for a cleaning cycle, and when the lights are solid, the lights act as a progress guide. To the right is a room size button where you have two options: 150 square feet for 20 minutes of cleaning or 300 square feet for 40 minutes of cleaning. To the left there's an information button that you can press to get audio updates from the bot, such as "I can't detect my tank. Please make sure it is installed correctly, then press 'clean' to restart." The 450 is also programmed to talk to you when it has specific information to share (without pressing the information button for a prompt).

There's also a battery indicator light that's solid green/red when the battery is full/drained and pulses yellow or green when it's charging, in addition to a USB port under the handle and a sensor that can communicate with the included Virtual Wall device to help the bot navigate. That's it for the display panel and the top of the bot. There's no option for scheduling cleaning cycles or other such customization.

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The iRobot Scooba 450 and Roomba 880 side-by-side.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Press the water tank release button located in front of the Scooba's display for emptying and refilling the water tank (similar to a Roomba's dust bin). The tank is equipped with two separate compartments -- one for clean water and one for dirty water. That means that you won't be repurposing old water to clean the rest of your floor. As far as cleaning solution, iRobot recommends combining its concentrated hard floor cleaner with water (a 14 ounce bottle is included with the purchase) or simply using water.

Interestingly, the Scooba 450 doesn't come with a charging dock. Instead, you get a basic battery charger that connects to a port on the side of the vacuum. You do have the option of buying a separate DryDock Charging and Drying Stand for $80. That's supposed to help the bot's water tank air out faster between uses.

All of this helps explain the Scooba's lack of features. If there isn't a dock for the robot to return to after a cleaning cycle, it also can't have auto-scheduling. But I'm still not sure why it doesn't offer a dock similar to the Roomba. Of course, there would have to been some fancy engineering footwork to make sure water didn't interact with any important charging ports, but the $500 Moneual Rydis H68 Pro has a water reservoir and auto-docking, so clearly it can be done.

The Scooba cleans floors in three steps. First, it lightly sweeps up dust and other debris while putting down a layer of cleaning solution. Then, the brush starts to spin pull dirty water off the floor and into the dirty water tank. Lastly, it squeegees the floor dry so you aren't left with massive puddles. iRobot suggests setting the bot in the middle of the room and then starting a cycle. When it's done, it will return to the center of the room and make a series of chimes.

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The Scooba 450 doesn't automatically return to a dock to charge.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Scooba is fairly easy to use, although it isn't as simple as its Roomba robot vacuum counterparts. With no dock or scheduling, you have to physically press the clean button on the unit itself to tell it to start. That of course also means that you have to be home to get it running. In addition to the lack of dock, mopping bots are also inherently more involved than standard robot vacuums-- you have to add water (or water mixed with cleaning solution) and clean out both the clean and dirty water tanks regularly.

Also, the Scooba's battery doesn't last very long. So, if you're hoping to mop, say, a 1,200-square-foot space, you're going to get roughly a quarter of the way done (40 minutes and 300 square feet maxes out its battery) and have to stop, clean out the dirty tank, possibly refresh the clean tank, let it charge for 2 to 3 hours and then resume. While that's probably still less effort than mopping the floor yourself, it isn't the most efficient process if you want to clean a larger space (especially if you want to clean a large space quickly).

Still, it isn't hugely inconvenient, especially compared to other robot floor cleaners we've tested. The iRobot Braava 380t may have a longer battery life, but you also have to deal with attaching and removing mop pads for cleaning. Plus, the Scooba comes with a Virtual Wall that you can use to section off your floor for cleaning. If you live in a smaller home or have minimal amounts of hardwood/vinyl/laminate, etc., the Scooba might just simplify your floor cleaning routine.

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Cleaning marinara off of hardwood

Megan Wollerton/CNET

I tested the Scooba 450 on hardwood, vinyl, and tile. Each surface got dosed with a fair amount of canola oil (to mimic oil splatters, and with green food coloring added so leftover spots would show up), marinara, and a mud mixture (made from combining plain potting soil with water).

The Scooba performed the best among the $300 iRobot Braava 380t , the $500 Yujin Robot iClebo Arte , and the $250 Techko Maid Smart Maid . However, none of those three models are designed to tackle floor cleaning with the same gusto as the Scooba. It's sort of like comparing a stick vacuum to a full upright -- not quite fair. Still, there aren't a lot of products in the category available for comparison. That helps Scooba to some extent because it stands out among the light-duty cleaners, but it also shows that there's a lot of room for improvement.

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The Scooba 450 had trouble reaching corners.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Scooba's three-stage cleaning process managed to decimate most of the smudges and stains on all three surfaces. However, it also had a couple problems. As you can see in the photo above, the Scooba couldn't clean corners and had occasional trouble along edges in general. This bot could benefit from a side scrubber (similar to the Roomba's side brush) that could get closer to edges. Otherwise you have a rounded robot facing off against a 90-degree angle -- not ideal.

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Some mud was still stuck to the grout post cleaning cycle.

Megan Wollerton/CNET

Most of the tile looked clean after each mopping cycle, but small bits of mud did cling stubbornly to the grout. Interestingly, I let mud sit on the hardwood floor for 24 hours to test how the Scooba handles caked-on messes and it left the floor in perfect condition. So, while it can definitely handle a significant mess, you may have to do minimal post-mopping bot spot cleaning.

I also tested the Scooba in my kitchen to see how it would navigate around obstacles. It did a pretty good job maneuvering around my kitchen table, but it definitely left inches of unmopped space between the table legs and the bot. Once again, the Scooba isn't great at getting close to corners, edges, or really any obstacles.

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There's no option for scheduling cleaning cycles.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Scooba 450's dual water reservoir and uniquely powerful three-step cleaning process makes it stand out from the other floor cleaners we've tested. Still, I wouldn't recommend this small space floor scrubber to everyone. If your goal is fast and efficient cleaning of large spaces, you might actually prefer the lighter-duty iRobot Braava 380t . It's designed for maintenance cleaning, but it can cover more ground per charge.

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7.2

iRobot Scooba 450

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Usability 6.5Design 7Features 6
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