How to Clean a Robot Vacuum

How to clean robot vacuum

Robot vacuums are technological marvels that help consumers vacuum and mop their homes without them lifting a finger.

However, as with any machine, maintenance is needed to keep these products from breaking down over time.

These products are engineering marvels in many aspects, but their complexity necessitates more TLC than, let’s say, a cordless stick vacuum because the tolerances are tighter.

Worry not because I’ll show you how to clean your robot vacuum with these simple and practical steps to prevent them from breaking down prematurely.

Any added friction causes unnecessary wear, reducing efficiency and premature failure. You’ll most likely be spending hundreds of dollars for one, so keeping it running as long as possible makes sense.

Please note that this will be a general article for cleaning robot vacuums, not brand specific.

The steps you’ll see here will apply to most robot vacuums, and I’ve tested a bunch, putting them through grueling cleaning tests I need to clean afterward, so I’m pretty well-versed at tidying these machines.

Tools you’ll need

First, let’s look at the tools that will come in handy. There’s only one you’ll need – a Philips screwdriver, which is universal for robot vacuums since most use a Philips-type bolt.

You’ll only need a screwdriver for two things – to remove the side brush or base plate for those who want a more thorough clean. But that’s it.

The others are optional, like masks and gloves, as a precaution for folks with dust-induced allergies.

  1. Philips screwdriver: This tool is needed for removing the side brush or base plate (if you’re willing to go that far). Please note that some robot vacuums have snap-on side brushes, meaning it doesn’t have any bolt that holds them. You can pull them off when cleaning.
  2. Microfiber towel: I’m a big fan of microfiber towels. Use them everywhere, from cleaning cars to, yes, robot vacuums. The clingy nature of this cloth means dust will stick to it, and it’s great to have for cleaning anything from the primary brush, body, drop sensors, and more.
  3. Mask: It’s handy if you’re cleaning a heavily soiled robot with lots of dust accumulation, especially if you have allergies.
  4. Gloves: Another optional tool for those who don’t want their hands to get dirty.

How do I clean my robot vacuum?

Next, we’ll look at the steps to clean a robot vacuum – specific steps applicable to most brands. There are different levels to cleaning a robot vacuum.

The first tier involves cleaning easy-to-access components like the brushes, dustbin, and filter. In contrast, the next tier is a more invasive procedure, removing the base plate for a deeper, more thorough clean-up.

Step 1: Cleaning the Primary Brush Roll

This component is the most abused in any robot vacuum because it’s responsible for debris pickup and will accumulate a lot of dust and hair.

Airrobo P20 hair on brush roll

If you have pets, cleaning this component is imperative. Fortunately, removing the primary brush roll doesn’t entail any tools to detach it. Most brands will have a bracket holding the brush that acts as a shovel behind the brush to funnel dirt toward the suction chamber.

Robot vacuum bracket covering brush roll

Wipe this using a clean microfiber town to remove any dust buildup.

Step 2: Clean the side brush

Airrobo hair on side brush

Next to the primary brush roll, the side brush is the next most abused component. It complements the primary brush by providing extra reach to pick up debris at the edges.

One thing that could hamper the side brush is hair (a lot of it), which will wrap on the base (check the photo above).

Some brands like Roborock and Roomba have a bolt holding it in place, while others like the Airrobo don’t.

Roomba J7 side brush bolt

Use a Philips screwdriver to loosen the bolt and remove the brush if it’s the former.  

For variants without a bold, pull the side brush until it pops out. However, consumers must be careful removing an older side brush since the rubber components that harden and become brittle could snap off.

Side brush without bolt

3. Empty the dustbin after every run

Roborock Q7 Max full dustbin

This step applies mostly to options without a self-emptying base station, as those models have a second vacuum inside the dock that empties the dustbin after every run.

Emptying the dustbin is necessary to prevent dust mites from breeding inside it.

Another reason is to prevent debris from regurgitating mid-cycle.

If you want to go the extra mile, wipe the inner components of the dustbin with a clean microfiber towel.

Avoid rinsing the dustbin with water, even if the manufacturer allows it. Some have a sensor that detects if it’s full, and washing it with water may cause damage.

4. Clean the filter

Dreame D10 plus mesh filter in front of primary filter

Most robots utilize the same filter type with the pleated element to maximize the surface area.

Dust and debris will accumulate in this area, and cleaning it is critical to maximizing its service life.

One hack I do is tapping it on a solid surface, which dislodges most debris sticking on the folds.

Another is using a handheld vacuum with a brush attachment to suck out accumulated dust.

Some variants will have a thin mesh layer covering the filter. Use a clean microfiber towel or brush to remove any buildup in this area.

5. Wipe the drop sensors

Roomba S9 drop sensor

All robot vacuums, at least those I’ve tested, have a drop sensor that prevents them from falling off cliff points like stairs.

And like any other component, dust and debris will accumulate and potentially trigger an error code, disabling the robot from doing its task.

To prevent this, clean these sensors using a clean (and dry) microfiber towel or cotton bud at least once a month.

Gently wipe these sensors to remove any buildup or smudges.

6. Don’t forget the wheels

Roomba J7 side wheels

One overlooked component when cleaning robot vacuums is the wheels. Don’t forget that these are responsible for the robot’s traction and movement.

Any compromise will hamper its cleaning performance and movement, primarily if you rely on these machines to mop floors.

The easier way to clean the wheels is by using a (slightly) damp microfiber towel to clean any buildup or residue on the rubber side wheels and caster wheels.

I like using microfiber because of its grabby texture that removes anything sticky or dusty.

You could go further and detach the wheels, but the steps will vary depending on the manufacturer.

But most will require removing the base plate to gain access to the inner bolts.

Roomba S9 reattach base plate

Some brands, like iRobot, make it easier with their modular design, but others may not be as easy.

7. Wipe down the body

Over time dust and fingerprints will accumulate on the robot’s body. One step to maintain the robot’s appearance is wiping it down with a clean microfiber towel. 

Not only is this for cosmetic purposes, but keeping the body clean helps prevent damaging grime from going into parts like the LIDAR sensor or camera sensor, hampering their function.

So it’s good practice to do this task once a month or more, depending on how dirty it gets.

8. Wash the microfiber pad or cloth [those equipped with a mopping feature]

Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra dirty pad

More and more brands are offering a mopping functionality with their products. One brand that utilizes this feature is Roborock, which means one more component to maintain: the mopping pad.

There are models with a self-washing base station, but these are expensive, and most consumers won’t buy these because of the high cost.

So hand washing is the best method of keeping the mopping cloth clean. You could throw it in the washing machine, but scrubbing it by hand is the best way of removing any built-up grime.

How often? That depends on what it mops. You could delay cleaning if you’re not using it for stuff like dust, but for food-based stains, it’s imperative to wash it afterward to prevent the stain from causing damage with the additional friction.

9. Auto-Empty Bag [for Self-Emptying Robot Vacuums]

Ultenic T10 indicator lights

With the advent of self-emptying robot vacuums, this step is a necessity. Most options utilize a bagged system, which I prefer over a bagless system and once it’s full, throw it away.

Unfortunately, most options don’t have a sensor that tells you when to empty it, so consumers will need to do a visual check, which is easy.

Once the bag is full, pull it out and dispose of it in the trash.

10. Auto-Empty Port

Another component to check is the port, which is where debris flows through during the self-emptying cycle.

In most cases, there’s no need to worry about it if you’re cleaning stuff like dust or even small quantities of hair because it can handle them.

However, one issue that could clog it is big stuff like Fruit Loops.

Roborock S7 fruit loops clog

If you see this build-up on the port, turn it upside down to dislodge all of them to prevent damage to the vacuum motor inside the dustbin from overuse.

Another option is using a handheld with a crevice attachment to suck out visible debris and the pathway going to the bag for any potential blockages.

Some FAQs about Cleaning Robot Vacuums

Here are some frequently asked questions I saw online while researching it. I’ll do my best to answer these questions below.

1. How do you clean a robot vacuum filter?

I’ve already touched on this topic above, but here’s a more detailed answer. There are three ways. The first method is tapping the filter on an old newspaper on a solid surface to dislodge debris sticking on the folds.

The second method is using a brush (a paintbrush or any flat-faced brush) to agitate the folded areas where debris accumulates.

And the last method (and most costly) is using a handheld brush with a brush attachment to suck out debris

2. How often should I clean my robot vacuum?

The best case scenario would be cleaning the primary brush and side brush once a week, emptying the dustbin after every cleaning cycle, the filter once a month, and so forth.

However, life can get busy, so I suggest setting aside a weekend once a month to do all these tasks in one go to maintain performance.

3. How to clean poop from a robot vacuum?

If your robot vacuum goes over fresh poop for some unfortunate reason, don’t panic. Take a deep breath; your mindset should be cleaning it piece by piece, at least stuff with poop.

The last thing you want to do is wash the whole robot under running water and damage it permanently. Some components are washable, but most aren’t because it relies heavily on sensors that have electrical connections.

Get a roll of paper towel and wipe off the excess pet feces. Once that’s out of the way, disassemble everything – side brush, primary brush, base plate, and wash items like the base plate, primary brush, and side brushes.

For the non-washable components, you’ll need to wait for the poop to dry to a crusty finish and try to scrape them off with a stiff-bristled brush.

Once everything is clean, reassemble the components. You may or may not want to disinfect using alcohol, but make sure not to spray it on electrical components.

4. How to clean the robot vacuum sensor?

The best method is to use a clean microfiber towel and gently wipe whatever sensor you want cleaned – drop sensor, dustbin sensor, camera sensor, etc.

Avoid using anything wet because it could cause a short circuit and damage the robot.

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