Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mop

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Erin Lawrence

Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mop

What’s next for the company that basically invented the robot vacuum? iRobot and its Roomba seems like it’s been left behind as the robot floor bot category has evolved… while others are creating fully automated floor machines, Roomba is just kind of ticking along making minor upgrades. So is it still worth getting a Roomba? Especially when the much-touted mopping feature wouldn’t perform as advertised?

iRobot Combo j5+
3.5

Summary

The iRobot set the standard for the robot vacuum, but it hasn’t kept up with competition, especially when integrating mopping functions. For what it does, this one doesn’t measure up to the high cost.

Pros

  • Auto-empties
  • Can do 2 cleaning passes or just 1
  • Best in market hazard recognition and detection
  • Avoids pet accidents

Cons

  • Have to swap bins to mop
  • Mopping bin must be added as accessory before use
  • No adjustable suction or waterflow
  • No vibrating or scrubbing mopping pad
  • Auto-emptying is very loud
  • May take multiple outings to map
  • No mop cleaning or drying
  • Mop tank leaks water slowly
  • With Mopping plate dustbin will not auto-empty
  • Mopping is limited to light wipe
  • Expensive for what it does
  • Dirt detection doesn’t work with mop installed?

Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mop

Picking the right Roomba vacuum for your household in 2023 involves understanding a few terms in the way the company names their vacuums. The “Combo” moniker indicates the vacuum having mopping capabilities as well while the “+” points to iRobot’s Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal docking station being included for the price. Basically, opting for the non-plus model leaves you with the small charging station puck, and saves you around $200 USD.

Read my review of iRobot Roomba s9+

What you get

The Roomba Combo j5+ is a dual purpose vacuum and mop from iRobot. While some bots can manage vacuuming and mopping, and do either one or both at the same time all on their own, this particular bot does require some help from you to switch it from vacuum-only mode to vacuum and mop. You’ll see why in a sec. The $999 Canadian price put it near the uppermost tier of vacuum robots but since that top end has continued to climb even higher approaching $1500 or $2000CAD, I guess in a way you could call this a more mid priced option.

Determining whether the iRobot Combo j5+ is a good fit for your household involves identifying the vacuum’s limits. There is a reason why the pricier Roomba j7+ and j9+ models exist after all. Think of the Combo j5+ as a robot vacuum which you’ll primarily use as a vacuum with the mopping feature as something you could use if you don’t mind the sacrifices that come with it.

iRobot makes this obvious with its “swap and mop” system because why have a dedicated dust bin when you can use the included Combo Bin for both mopping and vacuuming?

Unfortunately, the Combo Bin removes the vacuum’s ability to automatically empty its contents to the docking station because the water tank within the bin blocks it. iRobot’s Dirt Detect technology which causes the vacuum to work harder in dirtier areas also doesn’t work with the Combo Bin installed. Keep those caveats in mind before buying as iRobot advertises the self-emptying capability as a core feature. On the upside, having swappable bins is quite neat as you can choose between having more space for longer vacuuming sessions or sacrificing some space to do a little bit of mopping.

What’s in the box?

There’s not a lot in the package; you’ll get the recharging and Auto empty dock with power cord, your j5 Roomba robot, and an extra bin for mopping alongside a small cloth. An extra filter is also in the box.

Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mopThe auto-empty bin is smaller than some of the other newer floor bots, because all it’s doing is emptying the dustbin; there’s no auto-refilling or autoemptying or self cleaning of the mopping module here. It’s actually got a nice design that’s a little smaller and more elegant than some others.

iRobot Combo j5+
3.5

Summary

The iRobot set the standard for the robot vacuum, but it hasn’t kept up with competition, especially when integrating mopping functions. For what it does, this one doesn’t measure up to the high cost.

Pros

  • Auto-empties
  • Can do 2 cleaning passes or just 1
  • Best in market hazard recognition and detection
  • Avoids pet accidents

Cons

  • Have to swap bins to mop
  • Mopping bin must be added as accessory before use
  • No adjustable suction or waterflow
  • No vibrating or scrubbing mopping pad
  • Auto-emptying is very loud
  • May take multiple outings to map
  • No mop cleaning or drying
  • Mop tank leaks water slowly
  • With Mopping plate dustbin will not auto-empty
  • Mopping is limited to light wipe
  • Expensive for what it does
  • Dirt detection doesn’t work with mop installed?

Set up

It’s been quite some time since I set up a Roomba vacuum, but I’m delighted to report that little has changed; these robots will set up in just a couple of moments with just a few taps on the iRobot app. Once you get your bot plugged in and it has a partial charge, you can add it into the app and connect it to your home’s Wi-Fi network. Once connected to Wi-Fi you’ll be able to have all automated control over your cleaning bot.

Extra setup steps

I’m going to jump ahead here for a moment and let you know there’s an extra step to the set up process that may or may not be made clear to you—it was not to me.

iRobot Combo j5+ reviewYou will need to add the mopping bin to your iRobot app before you will be able to clean with it. I’m led to believe by iRobot customer service that instructions on this should be included in your package, but they were missing from my box. That meant a frustrating few hours of troubleshooting and a call to customer service for help. I’ll get to more on this in a sec…

Mapping your home

The first time you send your robot out it will begin to map your home. iRobot says it may take several runs through your house before it is able to generate a full map. While this is much longer than many other floor cleaning robots today, it’s not that bad. I had my map generated on the first day, within about 2 hours.

When you’re ready to mop you’ll need to swap the bins. First slide the small tab from the cloth into the notch on the bottom of the mop module, then lay the cloth onto the grippy velcro which will hold it securely in place. Then fill the water tank. With this mopping module, the water tank is actually quite small (210ml/7oz). You can see it in this particular photo/video; the water tank wraps around the dust bin, which means the dustbin size and how much it can pick up it also smaller.

When you make the switch, your robot should automatically detect it’s time for a wet-dry combination clean and also start water flowing.

How does j5+ compare to j7?

The Roomba j5 essentially converts Roomba’s j7 vacuum to a hard floor vacuum & mop system with the switch of a bin.

Vacuum suction power

Despite scouring the Internet, I was not easily able to find out what the declared suction power of this robot vacuum is. This is a pretty common spec that many people are familiar with, measured in pascals. I found it a little odd that this was not information that was made obvious.

Vacuuming

You can expect the Roomba j5+ to move around your home in neat, efficient rows for a wall-to wall clean without missing a spot. With overlapping passes, your robot purposefully & logically cleans in parallel lines across multiple floor types.

Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mopThe vacuuming is actually quite good and I’d say the j5+ gets about 95-99% of all debris.

One other thing I absolutely need to point out here is the jet engine level noise the J5 combo produces when it is auto emptying the onboard dustbin. It is easily one of the loudest auto emptying sequences I have ever heard, and it seems to go on forever.

The onboard dustbin gets emptied into an enclosed bag that holds up to 60 days of debris, depending of course how often you’re running it.

Mopping – not as easy as you think

I ran into some trouble when I decided to switch to mopping.

I filled the mopping tank and loaded the mopping place into the robot. Water immediately starts leaking onto the pad, so don’t fill the tank until you’re absolutely ready to use it, and don’t set it down on any wooden surfaces.

Despite supposedly being able to understand when each plate is installed, the j5 began a series of auto-empty attempts. It tried to empty the bin three times in a row.

No auto-emptying with Mopping plate

The problem of course is that this bin is not actually compatible with the auto-empty station.

The mopping plate essentially covers the port where the auto-emptying takes place, which means when you have the mopping tank installed, your robot cannot empty its own bin.
This is actually a huge problem, and if you were thinking you would just simply leave the mopping plate on all the time, this means you can’t do it if you want the robot to empty itself out.

Review: iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum with mop

Setting aside that frustration for the moment, I went looking for any instructions about what I was doing wrong when trying to initialize the mopping. There’s no manual and only basic three-step instructions in the box, so I followed the directions to go to iRobot owners guide website. In case you need yours you can find it here.

After going through the manual with a fine toothcomb, I couldn’t find any reason why the mop would not start cleaning. I swapped the tanks back around a few times and tried again with the same results; the Auto-empty bin kept trying to evacuate the mop. I also could not schedule the mopping clean in the iRobot app, and at no time would the app recognize when the mopping bin was installed.

I finally broke down and dialed iRobot’s customer service number (1-877-855-8593). After waiting for about 30 minutes I learned one needs to add the mopping plate to the app as a special accessory in order for it to work!

Nowhere in any of the instructions included in my box does it say you need to add the bin separately, but the customer care rep told me this is standard operating procedure for this robot.

How to add iRobot Combo mopping bin as a special accessory

To do this, you need to go to the iRobot app and hit the hamburger menu in the top right. Choose Add your product, then let it search. Choose Scan QR Code and scan the QR code which is printed on the top of the mopping bin. You’ll get a confirmation and further instructions on how to use it.

Actual mopping: no mop lifting

If you’ve created a home map, you can use it to create “No Mop Zones” giving you better control of the areas you want to mop and don’t want to get wet. To be clear, there’s no mop lifting, so if the j5 does venture onto a rug, with the mop attached you might find it damp afterwards. I actually didn’t find it would get rugs damp enough to worry me, but my rugs aren’t super precious.
You also need to prepare yourself for the extra manual work involved with mopping. The docking station doesn’t come with refilling water tanks so you need to refill every time, and it lacks automatic mop cleaning or drying features (again, you’ll pay dearly for these on other robot models).

How well does it mop?

All of that aside it’s time to get to how effective it is as a mop… and unfortunately the news is not good. This mop is mostly limited to a light dusting wipe to follow up your vacuuming. It’s not really going to clean or mop anything, and certainly nothing substantial or dried on. I tried it on an extremely small of dried coffee and I’d say it was only able to remove about 50 or 60% of it..

Hazard recognition and detection

iRobot as always been one of the leaders when it comes to hazard detection, recognition, and avoidance. In my experience I robot is still doing a good job with this. The robot did not get stuck or trapped at all in my testing.

Overall review: iRobot Combo j5+

Overall have to say I’m extremely disappointed in this robot. iRobot was one of the first robots I ever reviewed and I have a lot of love for the brand, but it appears the company has just not kept pace with the rest of its competitors. I can see the way this review is leaning without even tallying things up, but let’s go over the pros and cons anyhow.

On the pro side, it vacuums well, and empties its own dustbin into a sealed bag. The Combo j5+ is also outstanding at hazard avoidance and navigation, including at avoiding poop (though since I don’t have that problem I could not personally verify this).

When it comes to the cons, I’m going to need a few lines here to recap; You have to swap dust bins out in order to mop. The mopping bin must be set up as its own accessory before it can be used. The mop has no scrubbing or vibrating properties to scour away dried-on dirt. The auto emptying is jet engine loud. There’s no adjustable suction or water flow and no mop cleaning or drying. The tank constantly leaks water and should be emptied and put away after each use. If you are using the mopping plate you can’t Auto empty the dust bin so you do manually need to tip it into a garbage can. The dirt detection feature also does not work if you have the mopping plate installed. And the mopping is really only good for a light dusting wipe. Finally, this is a very expensive floor robot to have this many limitations.

Selling (regularly) for about $999CAD/$799USD, there’s just no way to justify this kind of price. My recommendation would be if you like the iRobot brand, to go with one of their budget bots like i3+ EVO since it will have many of the vacuuming properties you’d be looking for at a far lower price. I also love the peerless vacuuming abilities of my Roomba s9+ which I still run three times weekly. If you want better overall floor cleaning ability including better mopping, I’d recommend spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a more premium-level automated floor cleaning bot something like the Ecovacs T20 Omni or one of Roborock’s vacuum and mops. I am also about to review the newest iRobor flagship bot, the iRobot Combo j9+ and I have high hopes this will be a lot more versatile.

Shop the iRobot Combo j5+ robot vacuum on Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart.

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