iRobot Roomba j7+ review | CNN Underscored
Combination robotic mop and vacuum hybrids are pretty common these days, but typically they can’t do both jobs well: they either leave your carpets dirty, don’t thoroughly scrub your floors, or even worse get your carpets wet since they can’t get out of their own way.
So it was a pleasant, but not altogether unexpected, surprise that iRobot, the company that started the robot cleaning craze, has also cracked the code for a combination vacuum and mop with its new Roomba Combo j7+ ($1,100), an improved version of the best robot vacuum in our last round of testing. It’s the first hybrid we’ve tested that really does a great job of both vacuuming and mopping, with robotic arms that effectively lift the mop pad out of the way when it senses carpeting.
A hybrid robot that does a great job of mopping and vacuuming
The Roomba Combo j7+ is a mastermind mashup of vacuum and mop. With a robotic arm that lifts the mop pad above even the highest pile carpet, it’s the first combination robot we’ve tested that does everything well, and can do all your toughest cleaning at the push of a button.
Here’s why this new technology is such a big deal. In my previous testing of other combo mop/vacuum robots, like the Deebot X1 Omni and the Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra, I had to make compromises to get close to the hands-off user experience of the Roomba Combo J7+.
The Deebot X1, like many robot vacuum cleaners, has just one internal dust bin. That means that when you want to mop the floors, you need to take that bin out of the robot and replace it with the included water tank. Because the tanks are separate, I was never able to send the device on a simultaneous mop and vacuum run. And though the Roborock S7 has room to hold both tanks, the robot’s arm didn’t always rise high enough above the carpets, which left my rugs damp — and again led me to mop and vacuum separately.
The Combo j7+ turns out to be the ideal solution for homes with a mix of hard floors and carpeting, especially if you have higher pile rugs. The robot arm lifts to the top of the robot, leaving the rug bone dry and allowing the vacuum to hunt down the pet hair and dust. And the single internal dust bin holds both dirt and water.
It’s your robot vac and you can mop if you want to
Though the Combo j7+ can run in vacuum only mode, it will automatically switch to vacuum and mop mode by sliding the mop pad to the robotic arm on top of the device.
To wit, when I first ran the vacuum, the app asked if I wanted to add the mop pad and fill the tank with water and some cleaning solution. I did both and it automatically transitioned to the combo vacuum and mop mode. I sent it on its way, curious to see how it would navigate my front entryway — which is hardwood flooring with an area rug in the middle. It vacuumed the rug first, before deploying the robot arm to lower the mopping pad to tackle the floor space.
Again, the magic of the Combo j7+ is that the mop will only be brought down if the robot detects a hard surface such as wood or tile. If it senses carpeting, it backs away. I picked it up a few times and moved it to the other side of the room to see if it would go over the rug to get back, but it never did. Instead, it worked its way around.
Familiar iRobot design and details
Aside from the robotic arms, which you don’t see unless they’re moving the mop pad from the top rear of the device, the Combo j7+ looks almost identical to our favorite robot vacuum, the j7+. The design is sleek and modern looking with a matte black plastic body and brushed aluminum circular top piece, with the iRobot logo in the center. There’s just one button on the vacuum that lets you start and pause the vacuum or long-press it to send it home. Underneath you’ll find iRobot’s dual rubber brushes that do a great job keeping pet hair from getting tangled up.
Like other iRobot vacuums with a “plus” in its name, the j7+ includes The Clean Base, which is iRobot’s version of a base/docking station. It also includes a waste bin, which simply allows the robot to empty its contents into a bag while it recharges. Though it’s strangely noisy when it empties itself, like a jet engine flying overhead, it’s done quickly enough. I especially appreciate that the waste bag will hold about two months’ worth of debris before needing to be changed, depending on how frequently you clean your floors and whether you have pets that shed a lot. Because the less I have to do, the better.
The Clean Base is fairly large at 13 inches x 12 inches x 14 inches, so you’ll need to find a space that can accommodate it. Ideally you need about a foot of space on either side of the base for the robot to maneuver itself into place. I placed it in a corner of my guest bedroom with 8 inches on either side and it managed to get in and out quite easily. The robot itself is 13.3 inches x 13.3 inches x 3.4 inches tall and easily fits under my living room couch and other low furniture.
Other combination robot mop/vacuums I tested made it feel like I was dragging a damp rag around the house, mainly because they only used water in the tank. iRobot is one of just a handful of brands that lets you add floor cleaner (the company recommends using Bona Floor Cleaner Solutions) which makes a big difference.
If you’re looking for a deeper clean, there are adjustments you can make in the app. For instance, in my kitchen, I have it set to mop twice on the Ultra setting, which puts down the most amount of water. The downside to this is that I have to refill the water tank when it inevitably runs out, which is fine if it’s mopping while I’m home (I’ll get an alert on my phone), but not so great if I decide to let it clean while I’m out and about.
On the hardwood floors in my living room, I have it set to do only one pass on the standard mode. I can change that to Eco (the least amount of water) mode for rooms that need a lighter cleaning.
For any robot vacuum to navigate your home while better avoiding obstacles (like your dining room chairs, kitchen stools, etc), it needs a proper and precise map. The Combo j7+ accomplishes this by adding even more sensors than the original j7+, paired with a front-facing camera and the iRobot OS 5.0.
Many robots I tested took hours to map my house, sometimes running out of battery and having to go back to the base to recharge before resuming the job. But I found iRobot’s mapping to be superb, delivering a full map of my 1500 square foot home in just one and a half hours. The new sensors helped it differentiate areas that have carpeting opposed to flooring.
As you use it, the Combo j7+ continues to learn about your space, suggesting locations that might need an extra cleaning run, as well as prompting you to add “clean zones” and “keep-out zones” on the map. For instance, I’ve created a “cat litter clean zone” in my guest bathroom and I can do nifty things like ask my Voice Assistant (Alexa, Google or Siri) to send the iRobot to clean it up when the litter clutters the floor. (There are also voice commands specific to mopping and vacuuming so you can tell it to mop the kitchen floor or vacuum the bedroom.) I also set up a virtual keep out zone around my kitchen bar stools. For some reason the robot gets stuck on the raised base of the stool, so a virtual wall keeps it from attempting to climb it.
That camera also helps the robot learn and detect obstacles in its path, like maneuvering around headphones and lamp cords on the floor, even a pair of shoes I left out. The camera takes photos of items it sees so after a run, you’ll be asked to review the photos, and let the robot know if the headphones are a temporary or permanent obstacle. Of course, machine learning still leaves something to be desired: It once identified one of my cats under the bed as an obstacle. However, all my responses do help it get smarter with every cleaning run.
Though my cats use a litter box, iRobot does offer a Pet Owner Official Promise, or P.O.O.P if you will, which claims it can detect and avoid accidental pet messes. If the unthinkable happens and the robot fails to identify it as an obstacle, creating an even bigger mess which I won’t describe, iRobot promises to replace the robot for free. And, yuck.
The biggest complaint I have is the size of the mop pads. The Roborock and the Ecovacs Deebot X1 Omni both have mop pads that are twice as large, so they are quicker to cover more space. Because the iRobot Combo tucks the mop away while vacuuming, its mop footprint is noticeably smaller.
In addition, because the water tank shares space with the dirt tank, it’s also smaller and needs to be filled more frequently. But for me, that’s a small price to pay for the convenience and reliability of a robot that can perfectly vacuum and mop with just the press of a button on my phone (or the utterance of a voice command).
I also found that the Clean Base docking system, though smaller and more attractive than some of the competition, is not as comprehensive. While it automatically sucks out the debris from the robot, it does not clean the mop pad. For me, this was a compromise I could live with and had no problem manually removing and washing the mop pad — in the sink or the washing machine — after each cleaning job. The Combo j7+ comes with two microfiber mopping pads and you can buy additional 2-packs online for $20.
One thing I’d love to see iRobot add is a “Do Not Empty” feature, which could keep the robot from emptying its dustbin after every cleaning. Since it’s so loud, this is something I would rather do manually, when it’s convenient for me, not when someone is napping or I’m on a Zoom work call.
With the addition of the Combo j7+, iRobot has taken my favorite robot vacuum and made it even better with the addition of a well appropriated mopping feature. The retractable robotic arms, in combination with the obstacle avoidance, advanced mapping technology and a relatively small footprint, make this the best combo mop/vacuum I’ve tested to date.
Not only does it get the job done with minimal intervention, but it does an outstanding job keeping my floors free of cat hair and my carpets from getting wet. In addition, its higher arm lift makes it the best choice for anyone with high pile carpets.
Of course, at $1,100, you will pay more for these advanced features. So, if you already own an excellent smart robot vacuum, you may prefer to add iRobot’s less expensive standalone robot mop, iRobot Braava Jet 240 ($200) to your cleaning repertoire.
But if you’re looking for one product to both vacuum and mop your home, that won’t look like it lost its way from the set of a sci fi film, the Combo j7+ is the robot for you.