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Robot mops can’t sanitize your floors. Here’s why

In the modern world of smart devices, you can automate nearly any part of your day. Robot vacuums can clean the floor. Smart dishwashers can turn on when you leave so you have clean dishes when you come home. Now, even mopping can be taken care of by automatic devices.

No one really enjoys mopping. It’s a time-consuming chore, and even though products have come along over the years to speed up the process, no floor is ever cleaned as much as it should be. Robot moppers help by doing the task every day and significantly reduce the amount of dirt and grime on hardwood and tile floors — but are they really clean?

Most robot moppers can’t sanitize floors. Cleaning built-up dirt and debris has little impact on the number of bacteria and viruses that live on the surface if the proper cleaner is not used.  You can’t put a disinfectant cleaner into a robot mop, though. Here’s why.

The kinds of robot moppers

There are two basic kinds of robot mops.

There are single-purpose devices, including the iRobot Braava line, which only mop floors (though many single-purpose robot mops can do a dry sweep before spraying the floor with a cleaning solution). This dry sweep helps to clean dirt and debris from the floor and clear anything that might interfere with the mopping.

Roborock S6 MaxV brushes
The Roborock S6 MaxV is a 2-in-1 combo that uses only water to mop. John Velasco / Digital Trends

There are also 2-in-1 options, such as the Roborock S6 MaxV, a device that both vacuums and mops the floor. Most 2-in-1 devices do not make the distinction between jobs independently; the user has to swap out the vacuuming pad for a wet pad on the bottom of the robot mop. There are some exceptions to this, however. Some models of robot mops, like the iLife V8, has a chamber that can handle both wet and dry contents.

Due to their dual-duty, 2-in-1 vacuum-mops are typically more expensive, but their mopping performance often do not perform as well as a dedicated device.

How robot mops clean

Almost every robot mop in existence can clean your floor with nothing but plain water, although many do have additional solutions you can add to enhance the cleaning experience. Water is the universal solvent.

Robot mops transport fluid from an internal reservoir through a series of tubes to a nozzle that sprays the floor ahead of the mop. Plain, clean water doesn’t leave behind residue or debris that can clog or inhibit the flow. Combined with a semi-abrasive pad, simple water is enough to clean most spills and stains from the floor.

However, it doesn’t have any disinfectant properties. Killing bacteria and viruses on the floor of your kitchen or bathroom requires different, often harsher chemicals than what are used in a robot mop.

iRobot Braava Jet 240 review
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

You shouldn’t add anything extra to your robot mop either. If your robot mop includes a cleaning solution, you can mix it with water inside the tank per the directions provided with your device. Straying from these directions can damage the internal components of your robot mop.

The plastic tubes that carry fluid from the reservoir to the nozzle can erode over time due to exposure to strong chemicals. Many chemicals can leave behind particles that build up and form clogs, or find their way into the motor of the device.

Of course, many people make their own cleaning solutions and use it in their robot mops, often for long periods of time before trouble arises. However, doing so voids the warranty.

The challenges of cleaning solution

We reached out to iRobot and spoke with Justin Stephens, the Product Manager of the Braava line of robot mops. According to him, there are numerous challenges that go into developing a cleaning solution. The solution has to provide sufficient cleaning without interfering with the internal mechanics of a robot mop. Furthermore, the solution has to be able to cover the floor without affecting the traction of the robot mop, either.

If you want to do a deep, disinfecting clean, you should do that as a stand-alone activity and save your robotic device for daily cleaning.

Hundreds of hours of research are poured into developing cleaning solutions for robot mops, and most companies have their own formulas. Given these challenges, the DIY solutions you can find online are best avoided. There is no way to gauge how it might affect the device.

But if you want to ensure your floors are properly clean, what are your options? “If you want to do a deep, disinfecting clean, you should do that as a stand-alone activity and save your robotic device for daily cleaning,” said James Baussmann, senior public relations manager for iRobot.

Ensuring your floor is free of bacteria is best done with a disinfectant spray and a traditional mop, rather than a robot mop. When asked about the challenges of integrating a disinfectant into a cleaning solution, Justin Stephens said that most disinfectants are intended to remain on the surface for a certain amount of time before being wiped away, whereas robot mops tend to spray and wipe without adequate time for a disinfectant to work.

The correct solution

The best way to clean your floors is to do it separately from your robot mop. Let the device clear the dirt and debris from your floors, and then go over the floor with a disinfectant spray afterward. It’s not a good idea to do it beforehand since the spray might affect the traction and performance of a robot mop. When it comes to deep-cleaning and disinfecting an area, the best solution is to mix in a bit of elbow grease. Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our society, we can’t blame that people want to take all the precautions when it comes to sanitizing surfaces.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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