iRobot invented the Roomba, so is its newest floor bot, the iRobot Combo j9+ still a market leader? The company has made some possibly curious choices about how this bot works, so in this hands-on review I’ll try it out, show you what it’s good at and what it won’t do. And I’ll explain why this mopping miss isn’t actually anything to worry about.
iRobot Combo j9+ robot vacuum and mop
A solid vacuum robot that manages to also be decent at mopping, which isn’t always a given with combo vacuums.
- Beautiful design
- Auto mop refilling
- Excellent obstacle avoidance
- Seems to ‘see’ dirt and clean more thoroughly
- Good vacuum power
- Excellent mopping (when using Smart Scrub)
- Learns & Prioritizes cleaning dirtiest rooms first
- Voice control: Works with Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa
- Pet Poop detection
- No mop-only option
- Struggled with finer pet hair on rugs
- Mopping pad does start to smell
- Cleaning zones must be created in advance (no spot cleaning)
- Dustbin may not empty completely
iRobot Combo j9+ robot vacuum and mop review
Plus I talked to iRobot about this bot and they gave me some interesting insight about why it does —and doesn’t—include some popular features.
What you get
iRobot has been taking its time advancing in the robot vacuum world. As the de-facto inventors of the robot vacuum, making Roomba as synonymous with floor cleaning as Asprin, Jello and Kleenex are with their own product categories.
This is iRobot’s first foray into a fully automated vacuum and mop combo unit. The company is several years behind competitors Roborock and Ecovacs, but in my opinion, if they’ve taken their time developing the product in hopes of making it the best it can be, this may have been worth the wait.
The Roomba Combo j9 robot itself has a very unique design where the mopping plate actually lives on top of the robot on a set of articulating arms. When the robot detects that it needs to begin mopping, it lifts the mop and plate off its own back and settles it under its backside.
Watch my hands-on, in-home full review of iRobot Combo j9+
The Roomba Combo j9+ comes with an automatic dustbin emptying and water-refilling station that can manage some of the maintenance for you (the Plus in the name denotes it has that auto-empty base). I will say the base station is both compact and extremely well-designed, using what appears to be a wood grain top to help it blend into your space a little better; you could even use this as a small side table, and that’s exactly what iRobot intends.
(By the way the iRobot j9+ is the vacuum-only version of this bot, in case you’re wondering. ‘Combo in the name indicates the Roomba can mop, while the ‘+’ denotes an autoemptying base station.)
What you won’t get
It is worth noting what you will not get with this unit, particularly because these features are extremely common on robot competitors. The base station is smaller because it has a more limited feature-set: The mopping plate is not going to be cleaned or dried by the dock. It’s up to you to keep the mopping pad tidy.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to iRobot team about this new floor robot. iRobot tells me this is for a few reasons; primarily that it feels self-cleaning base stations become nasty and dirty themselves after a few days or weeks of self-cleaning and the company is trying to figure out if it can do better.
iRobot says the company has been prioritizing dirt and dust pick-up and making their robots the absolute best at vacuuming. They developed some impressive vacuuming and dirt detection features, and even improved object recognition and hazard avoidance (Roombas can detect and avoid pet poop, by the way), something the company was already extraordinarily good at.
The question I have is does the hyper-focus on vacuuming mean the robot will not be as adept at mopping? We will find out in my cleaning tests.
Something you should know: no mopping-only option
There is something you should know before we get too much further. This robot has only two settings; it will vacuum, and it will vacuum and mop together. There is no mop-only setting. Within a few days I found this extremely disappointing… But we will get to more on this and why I think it’s a problem coming up.
Setting up your Roomba is going to be a really easy process. I’ve set up quite a few floor cleaners from iRobot and have always found the experience quick and easy.
You’ll power the robot on by plugging it in, and ensure that it’s got a little bit of charge. Then use the iRobot app to connect to your home Wi-Fi network. The app is easy to follow and takes you through the process step-by-step. I was online and ready to roll in about five minutes. The first thing your robot will need to do is create a virtual map of your home. It does this by going out on an initial vacuuming run, and using its array of cameras and sensors to map your space. I had a very accurate virtual map on the very first day.
With the virtual map you can schedule room-specific cleanings, find your robot at any time, or even create no-go zones and the app makes this easy even for newbies.
Let’s get a closer look at the mop.
Some robot mops use a simple flat cloth dragged across your floor and call it mopping, or perhaps they may use a sonic vibration of the pad to help scrub, while other (more expensive) bots use spinning fluffy pads to scour.
The Roomba j9+ appears to have tried to find a middle ground, and opted for a narrow, crescent-shaped flat pad with a microfibre cloth on top for its mopping. There is obviously no spinning, and no vibration, but iRobot says the bot uses what’s called smart scrub which combines downward pressure on the mopping pad with a back-and-forth motion over stains that it detect with its cameras and sensors.
You can see this in action in my video; the bot runs back and forth over the floor, overlapping its motion to rub stains and spills away.
This combines with downward pressure from the bot is what should be able to scrub off even dried on spills and dribbles.
Cleaning – you can’t just mop
Now with that said, you don’t get to decide when and where your robot mops; the robot does it for you. This is because iRobot says the dirt detection features are so robust that you shouldn’t have to intervene.
But in truth there were many times when I had drips and dribbles on the kitchen floor that I just wanted taken care of, and had to wait for the robot to figure out when to mop on its own. This usually followed a lengthy bout of vacuuming, meaning it was more often than not just faster and easier for me to wipe up small spills with a cloth… which honestly is probably true of a lot of floor bots.
Every time I test out a robot vacuum they all go through the same cleaning test; for mopping, I will spill drips and dribbles on the floor of things like coffee, soy sauce or juice. I will let some of these dry to see how well the robot is able to scrub up dried-on messes. When it comes to vacuuming I will also sprinkle finer things like flour or sugar, rice or oatmeal and larger cracker pieces on both carpet and hard floors to test suction.
As you can see with the mopping…
The Combo j9+ was okay at wiping up small damp spills, but sometimes the mopping pad wasn’t saturated enough to completely clean a spot, and would smear things around. Id’d give it about an 8 or 9 out of 10 on wet spills.
With dried on spills I can say the Smart Scrub feature makes a huge difference. I let it tackle dried coffee on the floor just on a single-pass setting. As you can see in the video it did quite a poor job, and left most of the spill behind. When I sent it back to the same area with the smart scrub feature enabled, it was easily able to scour away the entire area, including a large dried spill I made accidentally and didn’t think it would get. By the time the Combo j9+ was completely finished, the floor was spotless.
One last little caveat I’ll add here is that for the most part the robot should be able to figure out how best to clean your home on its own; however if you create a special clean zone, you may not find the smart scrub feature enables by default and you’ll have to turn this on yourself.
Retractable mopping pad: better or worse?
iRobot has some thoughts on why a retractable mopping pad—the Auto-Retract Mopping System is better than simple mop lifting, saying that a few millimetres of lifting may not be enough to prevent rugs from being dampened, or germs from being spread onto carpets or rugs.
When it comes to vacuuming the Combo j9+ is quite good at getting dedicated spills off the floors. It does appear to have the ability to see when there’s more debris or dirt and it will make numerous passes over a very dirty area.
On carpet and rugs, the Combo j9+ was also good at the dedicated spills, picking up about 95-99% of those, but it was less adept at getting the stubborn pet hair that tends to congregate on rugs.
Prioritizes dirtiest rooms first
One of the features that’s interesting about the Combo j9+ is what’s called Dirt Detective.
Dirt Detective creates a cleaning plan based on how often each room is cleaned and how frequently dirt is detected in each room. You can see the current state of clean in the iRobot Home App. Selecting Dirt Detective to start cleaning will enable your robot to automatically prioritize the dirtiest rooms and use the most optimal cleaning settings for each.
I can confirm that when I sent the j9 out it would often start in my kitchen, which I’d say is the room that needs the most attention.
Last note on the vacuuming; iRobot refuses to play the pascals game. By that I mean the company does not disclose what the suction power of its robots is (usually shown in pascals, like many other manufacturers do). The company tells me this is because “suction does not always equate to better cleaning performance. Suction is only one factor in a complex cleaning equation that includes agitation, type of debris, air path, sealing, etc. Many robot vacuum makers list inflated suction power figures, which is more of a marketing tactic.
If you want to have your robot clean higher traffic or frequently dirty areas more often, you will need to create what’s called a cleaning zone. Unlike some other robots, you cannot simply choose a zone on the spot and have your robot go out. You will need to create these zones in advance and store them in the app. (Great for regular cleanings but not as great for the, ‘oops I dropped some sugar over there’.)You can do this by going into your robot, and choosing your map. Once you have clicked into the map you will see the option for Zones and Clean Zones. Once you create that zone once, you can use it again and again.
Didn’t see a runtime declared on the iRobot website, but surfing around and checking the Amazon listing, it appears we can expect about 140 minutes of runtime on a single charge.
Overall review: iRobot Combo j9+
Overall the new iRobot Combo j9+ won me over, because at its heart it cleans really well. Let’s go over the pros and cons.
On the pro side, the design of the base station is quite lovely, and the auto mop refilling is helpful, as is the auto emptying of the dustbin. Obstacle avoidance and hazard recognition is outstanding, and there was not one time where the bot got stuck and I had to rescue it. I think the cleaning power is excellent, and the dirt detective feature does truly seem to work; more often than not I definitely found it working harder on dirtier areas. And with the smart scrub feature enabled, the mopping plate is truly able to power away even set in and dried on stains. Plus the more it cleans and learns your house, the more it will learn where dirt tends to congregate and it can prioritize cleaning those areas first.
That’s not to say this robot doesn’t have its downsides; in the end, they may or may not be major dealbreakers for you but they are things you should be aware of. For starters, you cannot simply ask this robot to go out and mop. It decides where, and how it cleans. I did find that it struggled suctioning finer pet hair out of plusher rugs and left quite a bit behind.
There is no automatic cleaning of the mopping pad, and after a while, it did start to smell quite musty and mildew. My recommendation would be to wash the pad every few days if you see it picking up more spills. There is an extra step or two to create special cleaning zones and you can’t simply enact a spot cleaning. I did also find the dustbin didn’t quite empty fully every time; it was really just a few crumbs left behind that wouldn’t impede the next cleaning, but it’s something I’ll keep an eye on. The other downside for some folks is going to be the high price.
Recommended retail price is about $1799CAD/$1399USD (though I have seen them on sale for much less). if you spend just a smidge more you could upgrade to a floor-cleaning robot that does have more self-cleaning and mop-washing features. You can find it on Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart.
Even so, taking a look at this bot on its own merits, it’s a mostly capable and thorough floor bot that does a great job. I can definitely recommend the iRobot Combo j9+ to you and it’s now my top pick for iRobot floor bot.
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