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How to fix a Roomba that can’t return to its docking base

One of the best features of today’s Roombas is their ability to go “Home” or, in other words, return to their home base. The home base in iRobot’s charging station allows Roombas to recharge their batteries and, in some cases, empty out their dust bins before returning to work.

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30 minutes

What You Need

  • Roomba

When everything is well, Roomba always knows how to find its home base and can navigate back to it without any help, using infrared signals and mapping technology to dock in just the right way. They typically return every 90 minutes or so while cleaning. But when this capability fails, Roombas flounder. They may navigate aimlessly or run until their battery runs out of juice and emit an emergency alert. That’s a sign something is wrong, and our guide will help you put it right!

How do I get my Roomba to find home?

Step 1: Look at your virtual walls in the app.

Most Roomba models come with the ability to set up virtual wall barriers with the app once a room — or multiple rooms — have been mapped. This feature is incredibly useful for helping Roombas avoid sofas or tables or to stay away from the kitchen.

But there’s a catch: You can’t put a virtual wall anywhere near the home base, or the Roomba could get confused when it comes back to charge. Check your virtual walls, and if there are any within about 8 feet of the home base, remove them.

iRobot Roomba j7+ in dock beside dog.

Step 2: Make sure the Home Base is placed correctly.

If your home base isn't in a good position, the Roomba may not be able to clearly read its infrared signal, which can cause all sorts of problems. Keep all objects away from the home base and make sure it's on a level surface. Don’t put the home base near stairs or other potential “cliff” zones that the Roomba may be able to sense. The home base needs 1.5 feet of clear space on all sides and at least four feet of clearance from furniture.

Step 3: Make sure the Roomba is starting at its home.

This step is especially important if you have an older Roomba model, which is generally programmed to know where they started cleaning from and return to that spot when they are finished or when their batteries get low. If you carry a Roomba away from its home base and put it in another room or at the start of a mess, it may get confused about where it is and how to return home.

The iRobot Roomba i7 cleaning a living room.

Step 4: Clean sensors.

Clean the sensors, especially the sensors on the front of the home base, but also those on the Roomba. If the sensors get covered with dust, they can start malfunctioning and create problems with the Roomba finding its dock properly.

Step 5: Check the base power.

If the Roomba doesn’t seem to respond to home commands at all and doesn’t seem to be charging, check your home base. Does it have power? Does plugging it into another outlet fix the problem? This could be an easy fix if your home base isn’t working.

iRobot Roomba i3 Plus dirt disposal unit.
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Step 6: Check your Wi-Fi.

Without a Wi-Fi connection, a Roomba cannot obey commands to return home or to go to any particular spot at all. If your Roomba isn’t responding to navigation commands, make sure your Wi-Fi network is up and that your Roomba is properly connected. Disconnect and connect to see if this helps restore app capabilities.

Step 7: Take a look at the sun.

This step made sound weird, but home bases don’t do well in direct, bright sunlight. It interferes with the infrared signal sent to the Roomba that guides it back home. Move the home base to a spot where direct sunlight won’t be a problem. Bright lights can also sometimes cause issues, but sunlight is a more common culprit — especially if you notice your Roomba only gets lost at certain times of the day.

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