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iRobot Roomba Combo j7+: a Worry-Free Mop Vac for Low-Traffic Floors
iRobot launched the robotic vacuum category in 2002 with the first Roomba, and it continues to be the most well-known robot vac brand and among the smartest and most easily programmable. And now, with the Roomba Combo j7+ robot vacuum and mop ($1,099.99), iRobot breaks new ground in the robotic mop vac category with a mop head that fully lifts up and away, so you can vacuum and mop all of your floors in one pass without the potential worry about soiling your carpet with a dirty mop head.
The Combo j7+ is a lazy dweller's cleaning nirvana, a largely set-it-and-forget-it device in its non-mopping state. You just tell the Combo j7+ what rooms or areas within rooms you want vacuumed, when, and how often. Your floor cleaning chores are then automatically completed for days, weeks, or even months without any additional human interaction. Your only regular maintenance is replacing the bag in the Combo j7+'s Clean Base canister into which the dirt from all your vacuuming sessions is sucked every six months or so, depending on how often you run your robot vac and how filthy your floors and floor coverings get, changing the filter when you see it gets too clogged, and clearing hair from the rollers and corner brush every so often, depending on your pet or human hair shedding situation.
But in its dual vac-mop state, you lose the Combo j7+'s set-it-and-forget-it convenience. A full mopping reservoir can mop up to 1,000 square feet of bare or hardwood floors on eco mode, which means you'll need to refill it at least every other cleaning session, depending on how much of your bare floor space needs mopping and how effectively you need the floor mopped. You'll also need to swap out the mopping pad when you see it gets too dirty to clean your floors effectively. And, the mop doesn't have spinning scrub pads like the Ecovacs Deebot X1 Omni ($1,549, on sale for $999). So mopping, in this case, is really wiping. For low-traffic floors, wiping will be enough, but if you're looking for a scrubbed-clean kitchen floor, the Combo j7+ is not the mop vac for you.
The Roomba Combo j7+ is pricey for a mop vac at $1,099. However, it's the only mop vac that lifts the mop head up and out of the way for worry-free mopping and vacuuming in one run and is the best product on the market for low-traffic floors.
Design and logistics
Roomba's Combo j7+ is a self-emptying robot vac, which means it requires around two feet of vertical space against a wall to accommodate its canister, 18 inches on either side and at least four feet in front. Inside the canister is a place to slip in a vacuum bag to collect potentially months' worth of debris and a smaller space to store extra replacement bags ($19.99 for a three-pack). So to save a couple of shekels a year, you could empty and reuse the canister bag, but prepare for a dusty experience./p>
Otherwise, Combo j7+ set-up and ergonomics are straightforward. Just plug the base into a wall AC outlet, slide the actual robot onto the base's twin charging pins, and charging automatically begins; a swirling circular blue LED lets you know it's charging. You'll also need to slip the included crescent-shaped washable microfiber mopping pad into the lift-up retractable mopping extension. The Combo j7+'s mopping reservoir easily clicks out of the front of the robot, but it does take a bit of jostling to click it securely back in.
As with all robot vacs, you'll want to run the Combo j7+ a few times around your abode so its programming can construct a floor plan map of your living space. Once the map is created, you can edit it – create virtual room dividers, name your rooms, and block off rooms or spaces you don't need/want the Combo j7+ to go – within the extensive Roomba app.
It's relatively easy to program the Combo j7+ with the iRobot app. You can create favorite routines, which include picking which rooms to clean, the sequence of rooms to be cleaned (i.e., kitchen first, followed by the living room, then one bedroom, etc., depending on your abode's layout), and what cleaning methods you want to deploy in each room – vacuum only or vacuum + mop with the choice of low ("eco"), medium ("standard"), or high ("ultra") amount of mopping liquid applied in each room. You'll probably want to choose "ultra" liquid for high traffic/high dirt areas such as foyers and kitchens; standard or even eco are fine for other less trod rooms, especially if you demand all shoes off indoors.
So how well does the Combo j7+ clean? As a vacuum, its suction is not as powerful as a stick or canister model for heavier particles. But you can run the Combo j7+ every day or even multiple times a day to ensure anything missed will eventually get picked up. Or, if one room is particularly soiled (such as a foyer where mud or other mess is tracked in), you can set the j7+ to run two passes during a single session. After each session – or if it needs more battery power in the middle of a session – the robot automatically returns to its charging base, which sucks the accumulated dirt out and into the base canister with a loud WHOOSH! and recharges itself. When fully recharged, it then returns to its automated rounds.
While maybe not creating as powerful suction as a manual vacuum cleaner, the Combo j7+ is powerful enough to suck up – or at least get tangled in – light throw rugs such as light bathmats or towels, for instance, that it recognizes as floor coverings, while smartly skirting around odd pieces of clothing. I simply blocked off the bathroom to keep the Roomba from worsening the situation. The Combo j7+ cannot get behind doors or into other nooks and crannies narrower than its 12.5-inch width, but, at around 4.5 inches tall, it easily cleans under the bed and other upholstered furniture that often doesn't get cleaned beneath. It also has no trouble navigating over T-molding room dividers. The Combo j7+ can get trapped, however – it frustratingly struggled and failed to the point of draining its battery trying to extricate itself from within the spindly legs of our bar chairs, so I blocked off that small 4 x 2-foot area as well.
Instead of an extending mop arm that you find on many vacuum-mop combos, the Combo j7+'s mop rides on top and then tucks underneath the robot when it washes floors so the unit's footprint doesn't change when mopping. Generally, the Combo j-7+ can mop wherever it can reach to vacuum, but because the robot is round and the mop extension is crescent-shaped, it will naturally miss corners. The Combo j7+'s mopping arm lifts up and back atop the unit when only vacuuming instead of merely lifting up, usually up to 5mm, as with other models. This complete retraction of the mopping arm means there's no chance of wet mop waste dripping or dragging onto carpets and rugs when vacuuming, which is often an issue with other lift-only vac-mop combos.
The best of these lift-only models, the Ecovacs Deebot X1 Omni, which has spinning and vibrating mops heads unlike the j7+'s stationary pad, will wash and heated-air dry its mop heads between runs, so you can program separate mop and vacuum runs, as you can with the j7+, without fear of cross-contamination. However, unlike the j7+, the Ecovacs Deebot X1 stores old mopping water until you manually empty its canister, so you're then dealing with sometimes storing stinky wastewater in its base.
Even with a double mop pass with "ultra" liquid application, the j7+ will not satisfactorily scrub away stubborn spots, especially in kitchens where stains can get ground into and remain obvious on a lighter-colored wood floor; for instance, the Combo j7+ took several sessions to satisfactorily obliterate some minor soap stains that I let accumulate for testing purposes. But, if you run the Combo j7+ often enough, you can stave off the eventual manual elbow-grease wet mopping or Swiffer scrubbing.
While the Combo j7+ might not be as efficient a cleaner compared to manually vacuuming or mopping, it is smart. It knows when it's on a covered or a bare surface – at no time did the Combo j7+ attempt to mop one of my rugs – and the app lets you know where the j7+ is and what it's doing.
Fueling the Combo j7+'s smarts is its sophisticated PrecisionVision Navigation camera-based object detection, identification, and avoidance system that, according to iRobot, recognizes more than 80 common objects. On only one occasion did the Combo j7+ suck in a short USB cable left lying on the floor, easily dislodged by a quick jerk. But I do try to clear the floor of unnecessary cables, paper, shoes, socks, etc., to get the best vacuum results, a habit I'm happy the Combo j7+ forced me into since clutter is my normal state of existence.
iRobot also insists it can understand around 600 voice commands, but this requires you to memorize each command's specific wording and syntax. I could barely remember the command for just initiating vacuuming and mopping everywhere. Voice commands worked fine when I uttered the trigger phrase correctly. Still, I found it easier to tap the app than frustratingly rephrasing a series of incorrect commands at Alexa, Google, or Siri.
One reason humans and pets are fascinated by robot vacs is their independence of movement. Some robot vacs advertise that they follow a logical, row-by-row snaking cleaning path. That's not the Roomba. I have followed the Combo j7+ around on its rounds and can make neither hide nor hair of its movement logic once it enters a room. That doesn't mean the j7+ doesn't complete its cleaning rounds – it does; I'm just not sure how it covers all the necessary territory, given its seemingly random meandering.
iRobot just added a new Check In security feature for its built-in camera. You can livestream what Combo j7+'s front wide-angle camera sees while it's cleaning, or you can just tell the unit to go to a specific room so you can see what's going on in there. Check In allows you to change the Combo j7+'s viewing direction and to zoom in, which means you can use it to locate objects that have rolled under furniture. Check In also lets you snap a picture of what it sees. Check In doesn't include night vision, though, so even with its front light, you might not always be able to see clearly in a dim or dark room unless the unit is right in front of an object. At press time, Check In was still in beta, and iRobot has not indicated when it will be broadly rolled out via one of the company's regular over-the-air software updates.
As noted, you'll have to refill the Combo j7+'s mopping reservoir frequently; the app gives you a four-wavy line indicator of its water/cleaner level. You'll get a notice in the app if the reservoir needs filling before a job; if you don't refill, the Combo j7+ will just vacuum. I got two-plus mopping runs of my compact 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom apartment on a single reservoir. You'll want to fill the reservoir over a sink because, with just a half-inch wide oval opening, which includes an attached rubber stopper, it will spill over as you add cleaner and water. Included are single session packs of Bona hardwood or non-wood hard surface (tile, vinyl, stone, laminate) floor cleaning concentrates, which you mix with water. You can buy a 128-ounce bottle of the Bona cleaning concentrate of your choice ($17.99).
One chronic Combo j7+ problem, a problem faced by all vacs, robot or manual, is long hair, both human and pet. The Combo j7+ is equipped with a "sweeping brush" – since the Combo j7+ is round, it needs this extending spinning brush to reach into corners. But long hair winds around this spinning brush and creates a sort of a hair beehive (see circled in the image below) that, every few sessions, needs to be cut away, which requires unscrewing the brush. You'll also have to cut away and pull out hair that entwines around the two relatively easily removable rubber rollers.
You'll also need to replace and wash the machine-washable mop pad and replace the filter attached to the side of the reservoir. Exactly when depends on how dirty they seem upon inspection. iRobot hints that pads should be replaced after every mopping, but this seems unreasonable from both a maintenance and cost perspective unless your whole family is constantly tracking in mud. iRobot does say that pads can be washed up to 30 times before needing replacement, but I suspect they'll last longer than that – microfiber is a rather hearty material.
Filters sit outside the mopping reservoir (pointed out in the photo below), so eyeballing it to determine if it needs to be replaced is easy. iRobot doesn't make any explicit filter replacement frequency/condition recommendations, and they can't be washed and reused like filters on stick vacs. But caveat emptor on identifying the correct replacement filter. There are two models of the j7+: this Combo j7+ and a NON-Combo vacuum-only j7+. Unfortunately, each j7+ model annoyingly uses a filter that's slightly different in size – they are NOT interchangeable (which I found out the hard way). iRobot told me that the filter's "dimensions are different because of the reworked Roomba Combo j7+ bin that accommodates the liquid in addition to dry debris." However, identifying the correct j7+ filter when shopping online can be a bit confusing, especially if you want to buy a cheaper non-iRobot replacement. A three-pack of iRobot Roomba Combo j7+ filters ($29.99) is available on iRobot.
Fortunately, the j7+ rollers and corner brush for both the Combo and vacuum-only versions are identical.
The bottom line
As a robotic vacuum cleaner, I don't hesitate to recommend the iRobot Roomba Combo j7+. It has plenty of suction, navigates well, and takes care of dry debris for weeks at a time. So it really comes down to the mopping feature, and then it's a matter of personal preference since there are tradeoffs for the best solutions on the market. Either you get the Ecovacs Deebot X1 Omni, which scrubs floors but has the downsides of storing potentially stinky wastewater from washing the mop head between runs, and the possibility of leaving mop droppings on carpets if you mop and vac in one pass. Or, you go with the Roomba Combo j7+, which mops and vacs in one pass, but wipes instead of scrubbing. For most people, the Roomba Combo j7+ is the best mop vac for low-traffic floors.
[Image credit: Stewart Wolpin/Techlicious and Andrea Smith/Techlicious]