It’s winter, we're on a farm, and we have two mucky dogs and a constant succession of couriers with muddy boots popping in. Mopping the kitchen floor is a daily task at this time of year. Enter the iRobot Scooba 450 floor-scrubbing robot – but how will it cope with our multi-level kitchen and mixed laminate and tile floors?
Very well, as it turns out. Navigation proved faultless, it didn’t hurl itself down any steps, and the triple-soak, scrub and squeegee-vacuum action cleaned the floor super-effectively. It isn't cheap, and the Scooba 450 is a faff to clean out afterwards – but it's a whole lot easier than daily mopping by hand.
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Building on the Scooba 230 we reviewed way back in summer of 2012, the Scooba 450 is a more mature robot with better navigation and serious cleaning gumption. At over 36cm in diameter and just over 9cm tall, it isn't a small device, but its brushes and squeegees cover a wide portion of the base and therefore a decent wide patch of floor with each pass.
For the not insignificant asking price, you get the Scooba 450, charger, a small bottle of cleaning fluid and one virtual wall. This small device emits a beam that the Scooba senses as a wall, allowing you to annex off parts of the floor, or stop the Scooba from escaping through an open door. It detects drops, carpets, skirtings and kick plates using a variety of sensors to ensure it stays on your flat, moppable floor.
Key to its cleaning prowess is its scrubbing, drying and buffing action. The first part of the cycle sweeps dust and light debris into the vacuum inlet and lays down a thin sheen of water/detergent mix from the clean tank. The main rotating brush bar is next, scrubbing the floor with its stiff bristles, while a squeegee blade behind sucks up the now-grubby water into the waste tank. A final squeegee follows just to mop up any last drips.
The Scooba has two tanks, with the smaller rear tank easy to carry to the sink for emptying and refills. Fresh water with detergent sits in one, with waste water in the other; plus there's a small gauze filter to collect larger debris sucked up with the dirty water. The entire business part of the machine – the light-blue plastic piece – detatches for easy cleaning, and the brush pops out of that in case it needs detangling from errant pet hairs.
You can select to clean a "small" room or "large" room, which equates to 20 minutes or 40 minutes of cleaning time respectively, until the Scooba declares your floor clean.
Controls are as simple as a big illuminated "CLEAN" button and an "i" button that speaks information on cleaning status is a soft female voice. Note that she sounds quite offended if you pick up the Scooba mid-clean.
Charging takes a few hours and turn the light on top of the unit green, but if you're going to use the Sccoba regularly then you can leave it on charge between cleans.
That isn’t quite as slick as a proper docking robot in the form of some of the vacuums we've tested, but having the Scooba permanently down in our kitchen would be something of a universal trip hazard anyway.
Suitably loaded with a mix of tap water and a capful of the supplied detergent solution, we set the floor space to "large" and placed the Scooba off to one side of the tiled-floor conservatory. At just after dog-walking time, the floor had a good layer of muddy paw- and wellington-boot prints.
The Scooba kicks off in a circular pattern. This enables it to get its bearing in the room and prime the water pumps for the main clean. As such, the first few revolutions don’t set a lot of water on the floor. As soon as it bumps into a wall or obstacle, it goes into a bump-turn pattern that iRobot has perfected from the Roomba floor vacs. Essentially, at every obstacle it will stop, turn a random number of degrees and carry on.
The upshot is an unpredictable path but one that certainly covered almost every part of the conservatory floor by the time it declared the job done after 40 minutes or so. I say "almost" since there are a couple of notable exceptions where obstacles and room edges are concerned.
Due to the squeegee bar being about an inch narrower than the body of the cleaner, the Scooba doesn’t get fully up to room edges or obstacles such as table legs in our conservatory. When the floor is wet, you'll see the thin slice it's missed.
However, what we did notice was that those areas close to the skirting and right up against obstacles don’t get too much mud and dirt anyway, simply because you (or the dogs) don’t walk in those areas. The result when the floor had dried was an impressive overall room clean that certainly looked like it had gone right to the edges anyway.
On the subject of wet floors, while the Scooba vacuums and squeegees up its cleaning water], the floor is left plenty wet following each pass. It was a cool winter day when we ran our tests, meaning the floor took quite a while to dry. Of course, this was no longer than it would if you'd used a mop.
Following a recharge, empty and refill, we moved the Scooba onto a laminate floor in the kitchen complete with drop-hazard step. We used the virtual wall at the other end of the long, thin room. The Scooba’s initial pirouette was somewhat truncated by the narrow width of the room, but it soon got into its stride bouncing its random path with the occasional scurry along the kickboard edge.
Our step hazard posed no problems at all, despite the fact that the first part of the step is only a 12mm drop that some robot vacuums have fallen foul of. Not so the Scooba, which overhung the drop just enough to clean up the edge before turning away.
The vrtual wall was also effective, but it wasn’t quite the laser-beam like cut-off line we expected. The Scooba would bump/turn some 30cm or so away from the line that the virtual wall emitter was pointing out. Some experimenting will be required to get your virtual wall placement just so. You can buy additional virtual walls if you need to do more complex Scooba herding.
Some 20 minutes later we could see that the Scooba had very effectively covered the kitchen floor since it was quite wet all over. Once dried the finish was very good, certainly better than any steam-only floor mop we've tried. There were no streaks or cloudiness, and even our Octogenarian OCD cleaner suggested the clean and finish was as good as a manual mopping. High praise indeed.
On the downside, when we left the Scooba simply standing where it stopped and waited for the floor to dry, it dripped a fair amount of dirty water onto the floor. This took a manual wipe with a cloth. On our muddy, doggy floors in winter, it did need quite a bit of cleaning afterwards too.
So if you have an equally mucky household, factor in some time for cleaning it out each time before you put it away. In cleaner homes that won’t be such an issue.
The floor-scrubbing and mopping robot has come of age in the Scooba 450. It's quick, effective and never failed to cover the entire area requested of it in our tests.
It left the floor quite wet, but once dried the finish was as good as a manual mopping – even if it can’t quite get up to the very edges of the room or obstacles.
The Scooba 450 remains quite expensive and takes a while to clean out afterwards, but there's certainly no denying its effectiveness for cleaning up the muckiest of hard floors.
An expensive yet effective floor-scrubbing robot for when manual mopping is just too much hassle.