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Will robot vacuums make the leap into disinfecting at CES 2021?

How well does your robot vacuum clean? If you bought a new model sometime in the last year, chances are that it cleans effectively thanks to a trove of new technologies. While 2020 ushered in the beginning of the robot vacuum security guard, with models features cameras that turned them into traveling security sentries to keep an eye out for intruders, very few could actually disinfect the surfaces they clean off. With CES 2021 knocking on the door, I’m hoping to see a leap in this area.

Current mopping robots just use water

You read that right. The vast majority of dedicated moppers and 2-in-1 robot vacuum combos on the market rely on nothing more than water for their mopping function — including the Samsung Jetbot Mop I reviewed. Sure, it may be enough to dust off surfaces and remove a stuck-on stain, but it does nothing to ensure that microscopic germs, bacteria, and other nasty baddies are eliminated. We broke down the two basic kinds of robot mops not too long ago, but as consumers continue to focus on having a cleaner home due to the ongoing pandemic, disinfecting will become more critical.

Samsung Jetbot Mop on floor
John Velasco / Digital Trends

One of the main challenges is that disinfecting solutions would wreak havoc on some of the plastic components or tubes used by these bots, potentially damaging them in the process. Most robot vacs that mop come with explicit warnings to not use any other solvents or cleaning solutions other than just plain water. The chemicals in them could have harsh effects on how the robot performs over time.

Following the trend of a cleaner home

During the height of the pandemic, consumer awareness regarding air purifiers substantially increased. In fact, it’s estimated that the global air purifiers market will grow from $1.8 billion in 2019 to $2.3 billion by 2023. Even though studies still don’t paint an accurate picture of the effectiveness of air purifiers in combating threats such as the coronavirus COVID-19 virus, consumers are still willing to take any and all precautions.

UVC lighting solutions also grew in use and popularity, and companies were quick to bring to market gadgets that cover the gamut. From portable UVC wands to larger UVC sanitizer boxes, many folks were willing to use these UVC gadgets to help sanitize surfaces, clothes, and their electronics. However, there are many factors that come into play in regard to the effectiveness of UVC light in inactivating the virus — such as the wavelength, dose, and duration of the light.

homedics uv-clean phone sanitizer
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There were several other devices announced last year that were developed to help fight the spread of germs in the home. Take for example the Lifx Clean, announced not too long ago, which leverages High Energy Visible (HEV) light to eliminate bacteria on surfaces. What’s notable about it is that it looks and functions very much like any of the company’s other smart lights. Another device that stood out last year was the Samsung Smart AirDresser, a mini closet-like compartment that uses the power of steam to keep clothes refreshed — but more importantly, eliminates 99.9% of four viruses (adenovirus, influenza, coronavirus, and herpesvirus).

Disinfecting robot vacs can be practical

The examples I gave above about the various gadgets that can help keep the home clean may seem over the top and borderline impractical, but some of those solutions can somehow make their way in some capacity into robot vacuums. Yes, I wouldn’t be shocked if UVC light were somehow incorporated — but that would likely involve extremely slow passes in order to be effective. Steam could also somehow be introduced, but I’d imagine that it’d be a bit more impractical due to the potential power hog of the heating elements.

Eufy RoboVac L70 Hybrid mopping
John Velasco / Digital Trends

For my apartment’s hardwood floors, I usually spray a disinfectant solution or cleaner after they’re cleared of dirt and debris by my robot vacuum. Alternatively, there are plenty of people that rely on cleaning wipes, such as Swiffer’s wet mopping pads, to clean floors. Since most of today’s robot vacuums simply have a mopping pad attachment, I often wonder if they could be reengineered to accommodate these cleaning pads — like Walmart’s Great Value Disinfecting Wet Mopping Cloths, which claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria and cost a mere $7 for a 24-pack.

It seems like an easy thing to accomplish, which could be achieved in a way that doesn’t come into contact with critical components that may erode due to the chemicals. Still, this is the kind of leap that’s needed to give robot vacuums more value beyond just mopping floors with water. It’s wonderful that my feet enjoy the clean feel after my current robot vac combo mops, but it’s not clean in the sense that bacteria and other germs are eliminated.

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John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
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