Product: iRobot Scooba 230
Unveiled at CES 2011, we remember the Scooba 230 as one of the more popular household appliances previewed at the show (it seems people LOVE their Roombas from the chatter we eavesdropped upon at the iRobot booth). But while iRobot's cleaning devices have defined and cornered the robotic hard floor cleaning market, the wet-floor cleaning market is still being defined and evolving. iRobot is back, this time offering a small salad plate diameter sized intelligent robotic cleaner, designed to take care of wet/hard floor tasks in the kitchen and bathroom. Does the Scooba 230 eliminate the need for the ole mop and bucket, or should you keep scrubbing, Cinderella?
As someone who actually doesn't mind cleaning the kitchen floor, it's really the bathroom which is the most dreaded room in the apartment to clean. Ironically, it's the smaller, but tighter, confines of our apartment bathroom, compared to the open and fairly room kitchen, that makes cleaning such a task to avoid. iRobot aimed to create a Scooba as effective as its larger siblings, sharing the same sensor detection system plus virtual walls to keep the Scooba within parameters, but at a significantly smaller size. And small it is, with the Scooba proving effective at getting into corners, between toilets and sink pedestals during our several sessions putting it through the tests. But more of about that later.
The Scooba 230 is extremely easy to setup (except installing the battery, which isn't as perfectly "snap into place" as we'd like): plug-in and charge via wall socket, fill clean tank bladder with warm water and a packet of iRobot's proprietary cleaning solution (we'd like the option to use 3rd party cleaners), turn it on (you'll be greeted with a friendly chime), press the Clean button ontop and watch the Scooba do its robotic dance of cleaning. Just be sure your floors have been swept beforehand, since the Scooba only handles wet floor cleaning and isn't a vacuum, Crumbs McCrumbly.
The Scooba sprays the cleaning solution in front, brushes by, and then sucks the dirty solution back, where it's stored in another sealed bladder until emptied. It's this process of replacing clean solution and refilling the emptied space with used solution which allows for the small form factor, with each bladder changing shape throughout the process. One can imagine the Scooba as being a very tiny version of those street cleaners, except iRobot designed their machine to clean more effectively using multiple passes.
The first few times you watch the Scooba scoot across your floors, it can be somewhat like watching a person getting off a fast going merry-go-around. The grey puck will spin, bump and change directions at seemingly random intervals. But inside are some very smart sensors which can recognize the dimensions of your room and make sure it hits all the spots across the floor eventually.
But the Scooba can run into problems, as we experienced a few times while using it in both our bathroom and kitchen. It seems the sensitive sensors inside the Scooba can get confused when bright sunlight is reflected off a white (or in our case, off-white) surface. Over and over, the Scooba would stop dead in its tracks when running over sunlit spots on our floor; or it would avoid the sunny spots completely, as if it had a strong dislike for the golden rays of SoCal. Occasionally, the Scooba would also find itself stuck on the floor molding, the bumper system not strong enough to free it from its predicament, highlighting these cleaning devices are not yet there in regards to complete hands-off, unattended use.
So how does it clean? Well, that's best left to be determined by how clean you are in the first place. We're pretty good at vacuuming and washing our floors regularly, so the Scooba did a proficient job of polishing up what was only a minimally dirty floor. But looking at the sucked up water, we noted it did indeed clean the floors, the brackish solution revealing what had accumulated between cleanings. And this illustrates how we think the Scooba 230 is best used: as an in-between maintenance machine, but not a true replacement (yet) for the mop and bucket method.
When leaving the Scooba to do its thing in the bathroom, we could see how convenient it would be to turn it on, close the door, and then return back to a nicely washed floor. The adaptive cleaning sensors was very good at covering the whole floor in both shorter 20 minute sessions and complete 40 minute sessions. We'd recommend opening the windows, both to keep cleaning solution fumes at a minimum and also to speed up the drying process (the floors will still be wet when finished).
The Bottom Line: The iRobot Scooba 230 is the closest we've seen to having your own bathroom janitor, and does a decent job of being a regular custodian between more hands-on washing. You'll likely need to clean less often if you use the Scooba reguarly, making it ideal for busy working stiffs or otherwise lazy housekeepers. But you'll also have to keep an eye out for the Scooba, for its propensity for getting stuck makes it somewhat like hiring your little nephew to wash the floors: it requires supervision (though, unlike your nephew, you won't have to tell the Scooba, "you missed a spot").
Pros: Small for factor allows for corners and small space cleaning, practically one-button operation, virtual walls features keep the Scooba contained where it needs to stay, reduces the need for deep cleaning sessions.
Cons: Strong sunlight on floor can confuse sensors, cannot be left unattended due to habit of getting stuck, charging/battery setup isn't as refined as hoped, not yet truly a replacement for elbow grease.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.