A Date With the iRobot Braava 380t Floor Mopping Robot

There’s a reason behind my reluctance.

I’m not happy with it.

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I got an iRobot Braava 380t Floor Mopping Robot last year. My expectations for cleaning quality were bottom-of-the-barrel low. I knew the machine has a footprint of something like 8 inches by 8 inches. I knew it wouldn’t do well with small spaces, under chairs, and near walls and corners–all places where dog furballs accumulate. I wanted something to strictly manage things between cleanings–to avoid having the house become too terrible.

And the iRobot does do that. It scoots itself around my oddly shaped living room and picks up some dirt on its microfiber pad. It doesn’t do a perfect job, but it is significantly better than nothing. Its cleaning ability met my low expectations, and if that were all there was to it, I’d recommend it to anyone with similarly moderated expectations.

What I failed to anticipate and now feel stupid for not having considered, is that the Braava is not a maintenance-free mopper that does your mopping for you. Rather, it is an additional device in your life that you have to maintain and manage on a daily basis for it to do what you want it to do.

When the iRobot has done doing its halfway decent job, I have to pick it up, carry it to the trashcan, open trashcan, and remove the microfiber cleaning cloth.

Oh, and there’s the remote locator thingy that you have to turn off too.

braava photo

Image by Janitors A Date With the iRobot Braava 380t Floor Mopping Robot

Then, you take the machine back to the charger and let it charge for the next use. I’d say you just drop it in by its handle, but the handle is on the same side as the charging connectors, so you can’t just casually drop it in. This is a trivial little design detail, I know, but I would think iRobot would know that the kind of people who buy robots to clean for them want things to be convenient.

Before cleaning, you have to turn on the locating cube and take the main unit out of the charger and put a new cleaning cloth on (which it does not ship with). All told, I question if I am saving time over using a broom.

Unfortunately for the fate of the iRobot in this review, I can’t figure out who this is for. If you are a clean-freak, you will go crazy as the machine seemingly avoids picking up the tumbleweed-style dog hair that accumulates in our household. If, like me, you are tolerant of such flaws but just want a device to save you time, you will also go crazy because the machine just added a few tasks to your list.

The iRobot has many happy owners. The device is highly rated on Amazon. I doubt they can all be wrong, but I, for one, can’t figure out what they see in the thing.


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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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14 thoughts on “A Date With the iRobot Braava 380t Floor Mopping Robot

  1. One gathers that the Bath castle does not feature one or more relatively low-usage floor-spaces the size of full-length basketball courts. Sad.

    Or is it that the device needs re-charging and cloth replacement before it could handle such a task? So, maybe you’d need two or more. If so, then maybe re-charging and replacement for two or more at a time would be more efficient. Perhaps you should purchase a few more (using the OT link, of course).

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  2. I used to be in the same social circle as a woman who did computor security for a research hospital. She had a rumba. Didn’t care how well it worked, but she loved the idea of it more than it. Then she had twins and while she was never a very neat person, it didn’t worsten anything. I am sure she has one of these.

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  3. I have one of these, looks like exactly the same hardware, only from back before iRobot bought Evolution, so it’s branded a Mint.

    I find I don’t need to do anything with the command cube – it goes into a low-power state when the main unit is off, so the batteries last almost forever. The original rechargeable battery went first, but it’s a fairly common part. The “tires” OTOH, are not available from a third party, and iRobot has upped the customer service ante by not selling parts – all repairs are in-house (and billed as such). As a result, mine are now super-glued to the wheels.

    Mine did ship with cloths, both wet and dry, but I never use the wet cloth (hardwood floor, and I do the kitchen/bath the old fashioned way). Even for the dry, cloth maintenance is more trouble than it’s worth, so I use disposables – the brand is trademarked but it rhymes with “stiffer”.

    As you say, it’s not exactly going to produce cleanroom-quality results. It doesn’t pick up the (as we’re discovering recently cancer-causing) little rubber chunks from artificial turf, and it does have a tendency to leave things behind when it slams into walls and such.

    All in all, I think the results are worth the effort – although it will have to last a while in regular use before it’s worth the effort plus the cost.

    I see two basic benefits: (a) you look to visitors like you give more of a crap than you really do, (b) it’s best at cleaning the open spaces, which are the most traveled, so it’s good at pre-emptively getting stuff before you track it through the other rooms.

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  4. I have a Roomba vacuum (500 series, the disc-shaped ones) and it’s great. Drives itself onto the charger when it’s done (though obviously you still need to empty the dust hopper, and periodically clean the brushes and rollers).

    None of the mopping ones (the iRobot version was called the Scooba or something) seem like they work all that well from what I have read, and my tiles are really uneven so I doubt they’d work at all in my house.

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  5. Vikram, I’m curious why, if you don’t use the wet-mopping function anyway, you didn’t just get the Roomba vacuum instead, which as I noted charges itself when done (and can be set on a timer, to leave its charging station and go do its thing on the days and times you choose)?

    As I said, yes, you DO have to empty the dirt hopper into the trash (as you would a manual vacuum, or a dustpan you were using with a broom, or a Swiffer cloth), and you DO have to periodically clean the rollers and brushes (as you would with a manual vacuum, particularly if you have pets or long-haired people in your household), but they do a decent-enough daily job, and they aren’t much more than the Braava you got (Costco has the 655 Pet model for $350, while it looks like you can get the Braava you got for around $250 on sale).

    The way I look at is this: yes, I still need to keep a manual vacuum on hand for periodic use – if nothing else, you just can’t get enough suction out of a battery-powered motor to really get area rugs deep-cleaned. A thorough, heavy job requires a person working by hand.

    But if I could pay someone $350 dollars to do a daily quick half-assed vacuuming of my house for the next several years, that’s actually a pretty good deal. Even though it’s half-assed (we all know that full-assed is always more money and more work and more time. That’s just the reality.)

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    • “But if I could pay someone $350 dollars to do a daily quick half-assed vacuuming of my house for the next several years, that’s actually a pretty good deal.”

      This is why I’m debating a Roomba. And may even splurge for a higher end one. With the little ones, even a thorough cleaning last all of, oh, 47 seconds. And while I am getting comfortable accepting more mess, I can’t really let crud accumulate on the floor because Little Marcus Allen is in the “Put everything in the mouth” stage. And while I don’t stress too much about what he ends up mouthing (I once laughed as he ate goose poop, never moving to stop him…), it is probably better to address the issue.

      If I could thrown on the Roomba before I leave for work and come back and the floor is cleaner than when I left, huzzah! I’ll still need to do the big weekly/semi-weekly clean but the daily stuff will be handled.

      My friend has, I think, the mid-tier one, and it returns to its base for charging, which seems like a really nice feature.

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      • I got mine at Costco (I had a friend with a membership) and their Coscto-exclusive model came with most of the available bells and whistles at that time (a couple functions I’ve never even used), for cheaper than the lower-end models elsewhere, so definitely compare what each vendor says is included in the price.

        I have since upgraded mine to the same suction motor/hopper that is in the Pet model (it’s a little more powerful motor than the base one, with a larger hopper). I’ve had to replace a few parts over the years, but what’s cool about it is many of the mechanical parts are modular and designed to be very easily-replaced by you. You will have to clean (and replace) the brushes/filters periodically, but I find it a pretty useful cleaning tool on the whole.

        It’s not that it does as good a job as you do; it’s that it does an acceptable job while you are doing something else. I would definitely have paid a person $500-600 to do the amount and quality of work it has done over the years I have owned it.

        If you would pay a neighbor kid $1/day to adequately-sweep your place daily, then in a year, it’s done that.

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        • Question: I have a two bedroom apartment with one bedroom off each side of the living room. If I turn the thing on when I leave in the morning and leave both bedroom doors open, will it find its way into the bedrooms eventually? I don’t want to have to do a ton of picking up. I generally keep the floor decluttered, but there is your typical amount of furniture and things under beds and it’d be frustrating to find the think cleaned for 12 minutes and sat stuck under a bed behind a wedged in soccer ball for 10 hours and 48 minutes?

          Regardless, sounds like if I have realistic expectations (it won’t eliminate the need to vacuum but will cut down on how frequently) and I get the right one for my situation, it is a sound investment.

          Oh, I also have hardwood, a basically no-pile area rug, and probably medium pile wall-to-wall carpet. There is also pretty even tile in the kitchen which I don’t really care about it vacuuming but since that can’t be closed off, I assume it’d find its way in there. Can it handle all those surfaces?

          Lastly, how do I keep it from murdering me in my sleep?

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          • will it find its way into the bedrooms eventually?

            Yep; and it can do about three full-sized rooms on one charge before it needs more juice.

            I generally keep the floor decluttered, but there is your typical amount of furniture and things under beds and it’d be frustrating to find the think cleaned for 12 minutes and sat stuck

            It will occasionally get stuck in certain spots, and yes, that is frustrating. After you’ve used it a few times though, you will figure out where your trouble spots tend to be and correct for them (tuck electrical cords away, place a trash can in front of an opening that is *just* tall enough for it to get stuck under if it goes under the right way, etc.) and it’ll happen fairly rarely after that. It also comes with a “virtual wall” (mine actually came with two, but I’m not sure if they still do*), which is just a little IR-beam emitter that you can use as an invisible barrier, to keep it out of any area you don’t want it in.

            Can it handle all those surfaces?

            Yes, and there’s really no reason not to let it vacuum the dust and hair off the kitchen tile too; my house is all tile/hardwood, with just area rugs. It does it all.

            how do I keep it from murdering me in my sleep?

            Look man, you can’t have everything, and the robot uprising is inevitable. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, is my motto.

            * in addition to being a virtual wall, mine can also function as “lighthouses” that can be used to guide the Roomba through complicated cleaning setups; I’ve never used this functionality, I just use doors/barriers/virtual walls to enclose the total area I want cleaned and let it go. Given that it doesn’t seem like they are even offering this function anymore, I am not sure how useful it was to anyone. I also don’t really use the timer function, since I do a quick once-over to make sure the floor is decluttered before it runs.

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  6. Will,
    Think of it as an interim light cleaner. It’ll not do the hard stuff for you but it’ll probably help keep things looking better than nothing. My step mother bought me a roomba and that’s what i’ll use it to keep the cat hair levels down…when i get around to using it :)

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  7. I am happy to find a realistic review of this product. I am skeptic when in comes to all kinds of products and I know that most of the reviews on the internet are sponsored and can’t give me a realistic opinion. I am planning to get a robot vacuum cleaner or a floor mopping robot and I want to know exactly what to expect! Thanks for sharing!

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