How to Clean a Robot Vacuum to Keep It Performing Its Best

These handy devices keep floors clean with minimal effort. But even robot vacuums need cleaning from time to time. Learn when and how to clean a robot vacuum, plus which parts might need a replacement.

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Robot vacuums do the hard work while you do something else—a feature many of us have become increasingly fond of after spending more time at home. But even smart vacuums need maintenance to keep them, well, smart. These cleaning machines must be free of debris to ensure smooth navigation and powerful suction to make quick work of your floors.

There are many parts to care for in robot vacuums. Luckily, maintenance is easy and all you really need is a good routine to stay on top of it. Most robot vacuums come with a handy cleaning tool that is part blade, part comb, and part brush. Pair that with a microfiber cloth and you're ready to work. Read on for how to clean a robot vacuum and all its various parts, how often, and which items might need replacing.

cleaning a robot vacuum and inspecting brush
Proxima Studio/Adobe Stock

How to Clean a Robot Vacuum

Before you start, turn off your robot vacuum to avoid accidentally triggering any buttons and prompting frustrated beeping from the machine.

1. Clean the robot vacuum dustbin.

Dustbins collect what's been sucked into the vacuum. A full dustbin impedes suction, so it should be emptied after every use. Empty the bin even if it isn't full; allowing the machine to run again risks the bin filling up partially through the next cleaning, which makes the rest of the cycle less effective. Some people—pet owners, especially—might find emptying it in the middle of a cycle to be beneficial, since hair quickly fills the bin.

Dustbins are typically located on the rear underside or in the top center of the machine. Release the dustbin, pulling it straight out so debris doesn't fall from the opening. Open the dustbin and empty the contents into a garbage bin. If the dustbin has additional features, like the anti-tangle comb on the Shark IQ ($400, Amazon), be sure to clean those off, too. Dustbins can generally be rinsed if something particularly gross is caked on, just make sure to remove all filters before getting it wet.

Some newer models have a self-emptying feature that clears the dustbin once the robot is docked. Although you still have to empty the docking station, the dustbin doesn't require cleaning between uses.

2. Clean the air filter.

Air filters are connected to the dustbin and trap fine dust particles as dirt is sucked into the bin. Robot vacuums typically have 1-3 filters made of various materials. For example, Eufy 11S ($200, Amazon) has a plastic pre-filter, foam filter, and paper filter. The air filter is a hardworking component that should be cleaned regularly, typically once a week or after every use, depending on what's being picked up and how often you run your vacuum.

Once the dustbin has been emptied, remove the filter(s) over the garbage bin and give them a hard tap on the side to dislodge debris. Next, use the brush portion of your vacuum's cleaning tool or a soft-bristle brush to oust additional particles. To avoid reintroducing dust into the air, you can also use a hand-held vacuum to clean the filters once removed.

The majority of robot vacuum filters are paper-based and should never be exposed to water. They should be replaced right away if they get wet. Additionally, manufacturers recommend replacing vacuum filters once about every 2 months. Some filters are washable; these are usually plastic or foam and must be thoroughly dried before being reinstalled. A washable filter is especially helpful for filters that collect dense particles that mesh together, like cat litter dust. Check the manufacturer's guidelines to determine if your vacuum's filter is washable.

3. Clean vacuum roller brushes.

Roller brushes kick up dirt on the floor and facilitate suction into the vacuum's dustbin. Hair, string, and other debris wrapped around the roller brush prevent this, so you should clean the roller brush after every few uses—more in a home with pets or residents with long hair.

To clean roller brushes, unhinge the covering (called the brush guard) and pull out the brush. Start by cutting through the layers wrapped around the roller, either with the cleaning tool blade or a pair of scissors, being careful to avoid the brush itself. Once you've cut through the layers, pry them off with your hands, then use the cleaning tool's brush or comb to work additional debris out of the bristles. Alternatively, you can use a handheld vacuum to clean the brushes once larger debris is removed.

If your roller brush looks grimy, wipe down the cavity and brush guard before putting the brush back. Look for an arrow or similar marking on both the roller brush and the machine to install it the right way. Then, clip the brush guard back in place.

Both brushes and brush guards should be replaced to keep the machine at peak performance. Manufacturers recommend replacing rollers every 6 to 12 months and replacing guards when the rubber strip wears down.

4. Clean side brushes.

Robot vacuums have one or two rotating side brushes that push surface debris into the path of the roller brush. To clean these, simply wipe down the bristles. If you notice hair or gunk around the base of the rotating brush, pop off the brush, remove the buildup, then snap it back in place. For vacuums with two side brushes, consider swapping their location during cleaning to help keep the bristles from bending too far in one direction.

If side brushes start to look worn down or obviously bent, they probably aren't doing their job effectively. Manufacturers suggest replacing side brushes when they look damaged.

5. Clean robot vacuum sensors.

Sensors are critical components that help the robot navigate rooms and avoid falling down stairs. If you notice your vacuum bumping into things more than usual, the sensors are likely overdue for a cleaning. Sensors are located on the sides and bottom of the machine—check the product manual for your robot vacuum to identify exactly where all of them are. They can be quickly touched up with a microfiber cloth. For tougher spots, dampen the microfiber cloth with water and wipe; don't use a cleaning solution because abrasive cleaners can damage the sensor's covering.

6. Remove debris from wheels.

Wheels in the center of the vacuum propel it across the floor, while a swivel ball caster wheel at the front maneuvers the machine. Wheels typically won't need a lot of care, but it's good to check for buildup to keep the vacuum rolling right along. Tweezers can help pluck out stuff wedged between the wheel and the body of the machine; this is especially important for the caster wheel. If wheels are looking a little grimy, wipe them down with a damp cloth to prevent tracking dirt around.

7. Dust charging ports.

Metal ports on both the bottom of the vacuum and on the docking station are how the vacuum and base connect for charging. Simply wipe with a microfiber cloth, especially if there's difficulty connecting the vacuum to the base or you notice intermittent charging failures.

How to Clean a Roomba Vacuum

The majority of Roomba maintenance, such as how to clean Roomba filters, will be similar to the steps above. However, there are a few differences worth noting. Roomba models have brightly colored parts that indicate where pieces can open or be removed. For example, on the Roomba 600 series, the brush guard release triggers are yellow and the roller brush has a yellow cap at the end to be removed for cleaning. Although this coloring tactic isn't exclusive to Roomba, it's not a standard robot vacuum feature. Brushes are another distinction: they have not one but two roller brushes, and a screwdriver is required to remove the side brush—but how to clean Roomba brushes is the same.

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