Robotic vacuums are becoming increasingly powerful and intelligent, but they can only clean up dry dust and debris. For the assorted gunk and goobers that can coat hardwood and tile floors, you still need a liquid clean, and that often means using a mop. Over the last week I took the iRobot Braava, the water-spitting cousin of the Roomba, for a spin. It’s not nearly as capable as the robotic vacuums on the market, but it’s much cheaper than those offerings, and good enough to get the job done.
The Braava has been out for a while, but iRobot is announcing today that it now integrates with its mobile app. In theory it’s nice that I can start the unit from my phone, but in practice it’s not very practical. Unlike the Roomba, the Braava doesn’t have a dock where it can automatically return and power up. You need to remove the battery from the device and plug it into a wall charger. So no matter what, you’re going to have to interact with it pretty regularly to keep it running.
The Braava also relies on cleaning pads to scrub the floor. That means you’re going to need to swap another part out at least every other session. Finally, the unit has a fairly small water tank. I found it needed refilling after cleaning just the bathroom of my New York City apartment, which, not counting the tub, is only about 20 square feet of tile.
Unlike the latest Roombas, the Braava doesn’t have sensors that allow it to see the world around it in detail. It navigates in a direction until it reaches an obstacle, then heads back in the opposite direction. It maps the space around it while doing this, and I found that it usually didn’t miss much. If you want to keep it from heading into a certain area, you position the unit with its back facing that spot. It won’t cross the line of its starting position in that direction. But this requires careful planning on my part, which is not necessary with the standard vacuum Roombas.
You can set invisible boundaries with the app
Integration with the iRobot app does allow for two nice semi-autonomous features. You can set invisible boundaries with the app that the Braava will try to stay inside. And you can ask it to do a "spot clean" focusing on one small mess, instead of working its way around an entire room. Both of these are nice additions, but I found the unit was a lot more reliable and effective when tasked with one room it was trapped inside of.
In terms of cleaning capability, the Braava was good, but not great. It left the floor in my kitchen generally less greasy, but didn’t manage to unstick any of the major goobers my two toddlers leave behind. In the bathroom, where the grit was more gradual and less extreme, it did a better job. The tile looked significantly brighter and less disgusting after the Braava did its thing, and the unit, which is quite small, was able to navigate tight spaces between the toilet and the wall.
The Braava is cheaper upfront, but has ongoing costs
The Braava is just $199 — a lot cheaper than the $899 you’ll pay for the latest Roomba or the full grand for Dyson’s new robot vac. Of course, the lifetime cost may not be so far apart. A box of 10 disposable cleaning pads for the Braava costs $7.99. You can also buy reusable pads you can wash yourself for $20, although those have a recommended lifespan of 50 uses. Over the course of a few years, that might add a few hundred dollars to Braava’s total cost.
If you’re the squeamish type and getting into the grime of a bathroom floor repulses you, the Braava is a solid solution. But if you’re looking for a more efficient way to clean your home that’s worth the cost and effort, I would say stick with the mop and bucket for now. It’s nice, but nowhere close to the truly autonomous capabilities of the robotic vacuums currently on the market.