I love it when a new product proves me wrong. Since my first encounter with a robot vacuum with a large pad attached to its behind, hybrid mopping and vacuuming robots have left me underwhelmed. The mopping portion has felt like an afterthought, one that takes up too much space and does far too little while often smearing your rugs with a dirty, damp rag. As with many two-in-one concepts, robot vacuums that can also mop haven’t done either job very well.
But the Roborock S7 Plus ($950 with the auto empty dock or $650 for just the bot) has convinced me these multi-tasking robots have some value, after all. This hybrid vacuum / mop does do both jobs well, thanks to three features lacking on most competitors’ offerings. First is a large, 300 ml water tank that holds enough water so your floors actually get wet when the bot runs. Second is a sonic-mopping technology that vibrates the mopping pad up to 3,000 times per minute to create some friction that loosens dirt rather than just smearing it around. And the third is some carpet magic.
Like others, the S7 can detect carpets automatically, but rather than just increasing suction power to get the dirt up as most do, the Roborock S7 also lifts up its mop when it encounters something with a thread count. This is called “VibraRise,” and the result is your floors are vacuumed and mopped, while your rugs and carpets get vacuumed too, without being left slightly soggy.
The Roborock S7 Plus is the Beijing-based company’s current flagship model, alongside the Roborock S6 MaxV. Roborock has a dizzying number of models to choose from, ten at the current count. But the main distinction between its two top bots is that one has a compatible auto empty dock (the S7 Plus), and the other has an AI-powered camera that can detect obstacles (yes, including poop). Both can mop, but only the S7 can do like the hedgehog and sonic mop.
Beyond its mopping prowess, the S7 Plus is the first Roborock vacuum to come with an auto-empty dock. This is a charging station that sucks the dirt out of the robot’s bin when it’s done cleaning, saving you the hassle of doing it yourself. It also helps it continue cleaning for longer since the S7 can recharge and empty its bin in one step before resuming its cleaning cycle.
Roborock is a bit behind the competition with this dock. And despite its brilliant name — “Rock Dock” — it’s a disappointing first attempt. The Rock Dock clogged frequently in testing and lives up to its Hollywood namesake by being ginormous (it squeezes in a large filter as well as removable dust bags — $18 for a three-pack — that were flimsy and broke easily). Finding a discreet place for this Rock will be tricky.
You can buy the S7 without the dock for $650 (the Plus moniker in the name indicates it comes with the dock). I generally recommend auto-empty docks as they take a lot of the chore out of owning a robot vacuum. But this one really isn’t worth the extra $250 when you factor in the hassle of having to frequently unclog it. It gets slightly more attractive if you can find a good deal on the combo option.
Deals are likely to be found, as Roborock recently announced a new model that combines the features of the S7 and S6 MaxV. The Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra will have sonic mopping, AI obstacle avoidance, double the suction power of the S7, and an auto-empty dock that can clean and refill the robot’s mop — a first in the space. But the S7 MaxV Ultra will only be sold as a $1,400 bundle when it arrives in the second quarter of 2022, even more expensive than Samsung’s very expensive Samsung Jet Bot AI Plus (that one can’t mop, though).
That leaves the S7 as the best option for a bot that can mop at a semi-accessible price. The Ecovacs Deebot T8 with the Ozmo pro mopping system is the closest competitor I’ve tested. The Deebot works with a less giant auto-empty dock, but it has a lower suction power (1,500 Pa compared to 2,500 Pa), it can’t raise its mop, which means your carpets won’t get vacuumed, and the optional scrubbing mop costs $70 extra and has to be removed when the robot charges.
The Roborock S7 also has other nifty features that make it a good robot vac, including an easy-to-navigate app; lots of fine-tuning options for cleaning your space (you can choose from four suction powers and mopping intensities per room); and voice control with Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri (using Siri Shortcuts). I also set up an Alexa Routine that fired off the robot whenever I left home. There is room-specific cleaning, so I could direct it to clean the kitchen floor after breakfast with just a few words to any of the three assistants.
The S7 is a wide robot — almost 14 inches, and at 3.8 inches tall, it’s substantially bigger than most Roombas. However, it was small enough to fit under my low couch and between the legs of all my stools and chairs — with the bonus of being a bit more gentle than the rough and tumble Roombas, which routinely knock down a chair or two in my testing.
The S7 navigates using lidar technology, typical in most higher-end robot vacuums (other than Roombas). This allows for super-accurate navigation and quick mapping. The S7 accurately mapped my entire downstairs floor in one run, while Roomba’s generally need a couple of outings to crack it. The mapping allows for room-specific cleaning, and it’s easy to name rooms in the app. I was also able to create multiple maps so the S7 could clean each of my three floors. I liked that you can just put the robot on each floor, and it automatically figures out which map to use.
Another nice feature is an on-device spot clean button, which you can tap and have the robot do a quick, contained clean-up. A lot of newer robot vacuums have dispensed with this feature in favor of app-enabled spot cleaning, but the less I have to get out my phone to use a device, the better.
Other design features worth noting include a flexible housing for the roller brush, which allows it to move up and down as it encounters different floor surfaces. Roombas have a similar feature (although a different design), but most other robots I’ve tested have a fixed, immovable housing. The S7 relies on a small, single roller brush, which is disappointing in a robot this large. A spider-like side brush helps bring debris into the roller, but it still missed some spots, even though its navigation was methodical — it starts by cleaning the edges of a room then embarks on a deep S pattern to get the interior.
The S7’s roller brush, combined with its powerful suction, did a stellar job on hardwood floors — sucking up everything it came across — including an entire bag of screws and anchors. (Unfortunately, its eyes are bigger than its stomach, it routinely swallowed debris its auto-empty dock couldn’t handle).
The roller brush didn’t get tangled up with hair (a common problem with bristle brushes, which is why a lot of those vacs come with a little hair-cutting tool). But it wasn’t as impressive on carpet — even low pile rugs. Despite having the ability to detect carpet and increase the suction, the S7’s rubber brush just seems to glide over rugs rather than grab the dirt. If you have a carpet-heavy home, this is not the robot vac for you — but if that’s the case, you aren’t likely to want a mopping bot anyway.
The main reason to get this over Roborock’s other offerings is for its mopping prowess. The S7 was able to vacuum and mop my whole house — rugs, carpets, hardwood floors and all — without my having to switch out parts or reprogram it. Its VibraRise feature worked as advertised, lifting up almost imperceptibly, but leaving no damp residue on my short-pile rugs (Roborock says it’s best suited for carpets no higher than 4mm). For the high-pile rug in my living room, I just added a “no mop zone” in the app, and it left well enough alone.
But I did run into a couple of issues. First, it doesn’t have AI-obstacle recognition, a feature that allows robot vacs to dodge danger — such as charging cables, shoes, and the new puppy’s oopsie. I set up “keep-out zones” in the app for common trouble spots, but a stray cat toy and a carelessly discarded sneaker jammed up the brushes and required a rescue mission.
The other issue was battery life. While it could get around my whole 500 square foot main living area on “balanced” vacuum power and “moderate mopping” on one charge, when I bumped it up to “max” and “intense” (the two settings that proved to be the most effective) it had to juice up after an hour, despite having an impressively large 5200mAh Li-ion battery. The downside is that the battery takes three to four hours to charge.
The S7 also has a mop-only feature — which dispenses with vacuuming and moves in a tighter “Z” pattern while going over the floors twice. This left my floors sparklingly clean. But I had to plan ahead for this as you need to send it out to vacuum first, let it rest and recharge, and then send it out again to mop. I also needed to refill the water tank to do the whole space. All in the whole process took about six hours.
Disappointingly, you can’t add your own cleaning solution to the water tank (which you can with both iRobot and Samsung’s stand-alone robot mops). One trick is to spray a cleaning solution on the removable, washable pad, but that’s not going to last long. While the manual specifically says not to add an “unapproved” solution to the water tank as it “may corrode or block” it, I was told that a Roborock branded floor cleaner is coming soon. Also, there’s no notification that the water tank is empty, and a couple of times I thought the bot was mopping when it had run dry or had no water in it to begin with.
The S7 is a very good robot vacuum that can vacuum and mop relatively well. As with all robot vacuums, it’s not a real substitute for a proper weekly clean. But it will keep your floors looking good on a daily basis. If you want a bot to deep clean your floors, the stand-alone iRobot’s Braava Jet M6 is a better option, largely because it carries more water (440ml) so it can clean more floor in one go. But for everyday maintenance of hardwood floors and the occasional low-pile carpet, the S7 is the best hybrid robot vacuum you can buy right now.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge