Not a Great Housekeeper? Rosie the iRobot to the Rescue

Despite the fact that I work online, the truth is that I'm not that much of a techie. I don't do Instagram. I don't own a Kindle or an iPad. I don't do even do online banking, or reserve campsites online, because I'd rather a phone conversation, with a live person. I'm not that much of a gadget person, either.

So although I'd heard about those amazing, vacuum-cleaning robots, and admired them from afar, I was pretty sure I'd be the last person on Earth to ever have one. I already had my cheapie all-plastic Eureka vacuum, and my trusty broom and dustpan, all of which seemed to do the trick.

My 600 series iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot came into my life as a house-warming gift from some dear friends, the Gores. I felt so grateful for their generosity to present me with such an extravagant present. Darcie, Jim, Laura and Jeff Gore are all extreme techie people, so I was not surprised that this would appeal to them. Plus, Darcie, Jim and Laura all have robot vacuums in their homes, and love them. The Gores could be Roomba ambassadors. For all I know, they are.

Darcie said that many people actually name their Roombas, which seemed absurd, since I've never named a new appliance before. Wait. Was this an appliance? But, OK. I humored her. I named my Roomba "Rosie" after the Jetsons' maid, a dependable robot who cleaned, cooked and even acted as a defacto domestic adviser and grandmother.

The Jetsons family photo. Rosie the robot is on the left, and appears to be goosing George Jetson.

As a kid, the Jetsons, the family of the future, was one of my favorite cartoons. I couldn't wait to grow up and buzz through in the sky in my flying car, and have Rosie the robot wheel around and clean up my messes.

My friends went home, and left me to get to know Rosie on my own.

She was round and flat and solid, with a little flip-up handle, I guess for carrying or relocating her.

She looked nothing like a vacuum. No cord to plug in. No messy dust bag. No long handle to grip and push back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In fact, this was human-hands-off vacuum that sought out dirt and worked alone, something that blew my mind.

My little iRobot looked more like piece of athletic equipment that a muscle-bound person would throw during an Olympic competition.

I read the directions, and chose a location for Rosie's docking station in the living room beneath a side table. That's where my Roomba would charge itself, and after cleaning, return all by herself to the docking station where she would park and snap into place. What a world.

After Rosie was fully charged, I pushed the "clean" button to see what she would do. Off Rosie went like a shot, whirring, and wildly spinning her little under-belly brushes, dislodging and sucking up particles from baseboards, rugs and floors, racing back and forth in no particular order, at least not that I could discern.

I know it seems weird, but this is the only way for me to capture this video for tomorrow's column. It will make sense tomorrow. I hope.

Posted by Doni Chamberlain on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

She seemed in such a hurry! And she was unstoppable. If she hit an obstacle, she'd flip around and try another path, undaunted. About an hour later she was done, and returned to the docking station. She even sang a little instrumental victory song to signal her mission was complete.

I extracted Roomba's small debris-collection bin and was shocked to find it filled to capacity with dust, crumbs, paper, thread, lint, and just all kinds of bits and pieces of little stuff, all of which I dumped into the garbage.

I could learn to love my little Rosie.

Since then, I've learned more about Rosie. Mainly, although she isn't rattled by thick electrical cords (as demonstrated under the chair, in the video above), she is not fond of thin fabric that gets in her way. For example, my living-room drapes are long, and because I haven't gotten around to hemming them yet, they sag on the floor. Rosie doesn't approve. She'd prefer I not procrastinate. She'd prefer I shorten those drapes to make her job easier.

Rosie is a Love-and-Logic kind of gal.  She made her point when she sucked up my living room curtains, chewed them up and then refused to spit them out. She went on strike. I got the message as I carefully pulled the tattered curtains from Rosie's undercarriage.

Rosie had her way with Doni's curtains, but it was Doni's fault for leaving them so long.

Yes, Rosie. Sorry, Rosie. I'll get right on that, Rosie.

The thing I love most about Rosie is that she's a much better housekeeper I am. For one thing, although I like the concept of a clean house, it's rare for me to vacuum all the way under all the furniture, mainly because vacuums are usually too large and cumbersome to reach into all those narrow, confined spaces. That's why God invented moving days.

But bless her little mechanical heart, my Roomba roommate has higher cleaning standards than her owner. In fact, her specialty is cleaning beneath furniture. One day, I caught her looking frustrated when she kept banging into my bed frame, trying multiple ways to gain access it, to no avail.

I hate when Rosie's upset, so I bought bed risers so Rosie could zip freely beneath my bed and gobble up every dust bunny. I know she's happier with this development. I can tell. She just sounds happier. She almost whistles when she works.

Although the Gores like to leave their robot vacuums to work while they're gone, so they return home to the satisfying sight of vacuum tracks on the carpets, after a few rogue Rosie incidents in my absence, I feel more comfortable giving her some supervision.

There was the time I'd left Rosie to clean and when I returned, the house was quiet - no sound of Rosie working. But she wasn't in the docking station, either. I looked everywhere, and still couldn't find her. Finally, I looked under my bed. Sure enough, there she was, sleeping. Hey, what is a bedroom if not for sleeping? Poor thing. She worked until her battery died.

I had to crawl on my belly with a long stick to extract her from beneath the bed.  I tenderly set her in the docking station to recharge.

Another time I arrived home after leaving Rosie running through the house, and I found little pieces of red Christmas wrapping paper strewn everywhere, squished like little origami accordions. She must have found the paper under the couch. She didn't have to throw it around.

I will do a better job of picking up paper, Rosie. I promise.

But even when I'm home with Rosie, she has a mind of her own. Once I was sitting, uh, in the bathroom when the door banged open. Just about gave me a heart attack. It was Rosie. Obviously, she hates when I shut her out. I've learned to lock the bathroom door if I want privacy when Rosie's on the move.

Similar to people who clean before their cleaning person arrives, I've learned to Rosie-proof the house before put her to work. I pull all the cords and curtains up and out of her way. I'm a quick study. But then, Rosie is a good teacher.

I've learned that if there's a room that I don't want Rosie to enter - such as the bathroom - my iRobot Roomba came with a small Virtual Wall device that looks like a black plastic flask that does the trick.

iRobot's Virtual Wall sends a signal that tells the Roomba to not enter.

When placed on the floor, the Virtual Wall sends out an invisible barrier that the iRobot Roomba will refuse to cross.

Mostly, like good housemates, Rosie and I have adjusted to one another. I'm hemming my long curtains. She doesn't barge into the bathroom uninvited.

Even so, as wonderful as Rosie is, I haven't given up my old Eureka vacuum, because there's one extra thick bedroom rug that Rosie - Lord knows she's tried - cannot manage to climb up and over to vacuum. So she just bangs into it, and keeps trying different sides of the rug, in hopes that she can gain access that way.

That's how I discovered Rosie's competitive streak. One day, while Rosie was busy vacuuming the living room, I got out my Eureka upright vacuum to clean that plush bedroom rug. Suddenly, Rosie burst into the bedroom, and slammed full force into that thick carpet. She stopped, that single green eye blinking madly, and went nose to nose with my Eureka.

A vacuum standoff between Doni's Roomba and Eureka.

This would have been a good time for Rosie to learn the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (thick carpet pile).
Courage, to change the things I can (the direction)
And the wisdom to know the difference. 

In the meantime, I'm so happy with Rosie that I'm considering broadening my technical comfort zone. Maybe one day I'll get a Kindle, or an iPad, or even one of those Priuses that can parallel park.

But only if I get the green light from Rosie.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

49 Responses

  1. Beverly Stafford says:

    Since we had laminate installed in our Redding house and since we track in bits of the bark that covers the backyard, I have thought many times that a Roomba would be a Godsend. Your article is pushing me in that direction. More and more of our furniture is chosen because it is flush to the floor. Your Rosie would approve.

  2. Tim says:

    You know, I’ve had my roomba for a couple of years now and I never knew that was a flip-up handle on top! Here I’ve been picking mine up like a turtle all this time – guess that’s what I get for just skimming the instructions…

    They do seem to have a personality — mine has definitely trained me not to leave shoes (and their laces) sprawled haphazardly in the mudroom. And it is reminiscent of a super helpful child that *almost* does the job perfectly. Rather than complain about that rug’s upturned corner, I just feel thankful for the help and surreptitiously kick the rug back into place when roomba is not looking.

  3. conservative says:

    Having a dog means 5 minutes of vacuuming every day. When I dump out the Shark Navigator, it is equal parts of dog hair and dirt. Dogs and cats track in a lot of dirt.

    My dog is six, so he probably has another ten years to live. Many of my friends don’t get another one when the dog or cat dies. I worry about what will happen to him if I die first.

    I wish there were a robotic dog who would play convincing barking noises when the outside motion sensors activate.

    When I lived on five acres in unencorporated Shasta county, almost everyone had one or more dogs. Their contribution to crime prevention earned them my cleaning time.

    • conservative says:

      Shasta county is awfully dusty in late summer and fall. The first rain to wash away some of the dust is nice. A friend regretted putting solar panels on his roof. The output fell because of dust in August when he still needed A/C. He had to get up on the roof and hose the panels off three times.

  4. cheyenne says:

    How does Rosie do on corners of the room?

    • Tim says:

      Roombas have a little rotating brush that kind of dusts/flings things out of the corners and into the main vacuum path – so it does reach corners. Sort of. But they’re not really ideal for detail work.

      Like automated car washes, Roombas do a fine job cleaning the daily grime and extending the interval between more thorough (& time-consuming) hand cleanings.

    • Well, as you can imagine with a round vacuum, it can’t really get into corners all the way, but it gets the areas right up to them.

  5. Leslie says:

    Anjelah Johnson posted an Instagram video today about her Roomba. She left the house for longer than usual while it was running. That day, she was keeping a friend’s dog and it had an accident on the carpet. The video of the poopy Roomba was funny and stomach-turning, followed by another video an hour later of a clean Roomba and a plastic sack full of yucky paper towels. Lesson learned lol

  6. AJ says:

    Besides giving me my morning guffaw, your article also made me think that I wanted one of those . . . .

  7. Michelle says:

    We too named ours Rosie. I got the (racist eye) from two people until I explained that Rosie the Robot was from the Jetson’s a cartoon that was generations ahead of political correctness! Our Rosie devours thrives on a belly full of dog hair. Which may or may not have led to our 1st generation Rosie’s demise after two short years on planet earth. At which time my el cheapo husband finally lamented she was worth her price. ( he had to carefully calculate the price over 2 years tho) Three indoor Jack Russell terriers preclude us from hiring a cleaning lady, so Rosie is a good affordable compromise and can take the harassment– ie barking from our girls. Altho just last week our newest rescue terrier refused to move from her spot on the rug in front of the blazing wood stove, until Rosie calmly navigated right over her paw! Emmie reluctantly relinquished her spot and relocated to the couch. Ours is a Neato. Brand name aside, she gets a days worth of dog hair on every run and for that I am thrilled!

    • I wondered how Rosie would handle dog hair. It sounds as if she does just fine. (Funny about Rosie going over the dog’s paw. It’s rolled over my toes before. It didn’t hurt.

  8. Ginny says:

    Wonderful tale, Doni. I have been thinking about getting one, but with 2 dogs and 2 cats, it might suck up their toys that appear all of a sudden all over the living room, and then those that seem to find the bedroom, kitchen, and even the bathroom more to their liking. So guess I am stuck with the ‘old’ fashioned vacuum!

    But, I can dream!

  9. Deb Deb says:

    I loved this article! When my mother move from her house into a smaller apartment, my sister bought her a Roomba. My mom has a very bad back, and it made sense that she shouldn’t have to haul a heavy vacuum cleaner around anymore. Guess what she named her Roomba? Rosie! For the same reason, too 🙂

    My mom got a bit of a start when the clocks changed and Rosie woke up an hour earlier than expected that week (she’s programmed to run on Friday mornings). I think she does get blocked from one room (er, Rosie, not my mom) because she needs supervision if she’s going to tackle it – there’s a tricky piece of furniture that she can’t seem to get out of, so she can’t be left alone. Poor Rosie probably just wanted a cup of tea and a five minute break!

    I kind of want one too, but am not sure it would handle the cat hair, the tight corners, or the stacks of books and piles of fountain pen repair stuff. But there are times when I am sorely tempted….!

    • LOL, looks like Rosie is a popular name. I love the story about your mother. I’m glad that Rosie is working well for her. (I don’t program mine; just start her when the place looks like it needs vacuuming. But I do empty the little dirt bin every time. )

      I think your robot vacuum would handle the cat hair, but now, the pen parts, that might be a problem.

  10. Beverly Stafford says:

    Which model do you have, Doni? I looked at various ones, and most of them look the same – except for the price tag.

    • Tim says:

      In my opinion:
      If you’re going to supervise it (or don’t mind starting it manually before you leave) get the $275 614/620. If you want to schedule it to run while you’re away or asleep, get the $300 650/652. If you tend soil carpets quickly (pets), get the $350 870 (better suction + HEPA filter).

      If you’re a techie and want a basic “smart home” vacuum get the $325 wifi-enabled 690. If money is no object, get the $700 camera-equipped home-mapping 960 for hard floors or the $800 980 if you have carpet (better suction).

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Good information. Thank you. I was looking at a tech site which reviewed various ones, and one very inexpensive one, Eufy RoboVac 11 at $250, came in as second only to the much more expensive Roomba. Fewer bells and whistles by far, but it got the job done.

        • Tim says:

          If my memory serves, the Eufy tested pretty well with Consumer Reports.

          My only concern with using another brand is wondering whether you’ll be able to buy filters or a new battery in 5 years. Even if iRobot goes out of business, there are millions of Roombas out there and generic replacement parts for it are already on Amazon (i.e. a new generic Roomba battery is ~$25)…

  11. gmonteri says:

    Doni, you are a good writer, bringing joy and wisdom to dozens, maybe hundreds, of delighted readers. Actually, I always look for your articles, even when they’re about things I care nothing about. This one was charming and relevant. Thanks.

    • Thank you. LOL, not to put too fine a point on it, but aNewsCafe.com has an audience of tens of thousands of unique monthly visitors. (Have I mentioned lately that this summer we had an all-time breaking record of 94,000 unique monthly visitors? True!)

      Of course, I’m just one contributor to this site that brings people here. But I’m glad you enjoyed the column, and I’m glad you’re part of aNewsCafe.com.

  12. Diane Evans says:

    Great story.

  13. No robot is taking my girlfriend’s job. That’s a joke, sort of, she’s much cleaner than me. I may get one of these things. I’m surprised you don’t have the Kindle, it really changed my reading life for the better.

    • Oh, R.V., you’re living dangerously, man. LOL.

      Yeah, maybe I’ll get a Kindle one day.

      • Ginny says:

        There is something about having a book in the hand, even if slop drops onto the page, that I love, even if stuff drops onto the page, but mostly not as my old hands hold things well. ;o))

        Rosie is a good name. Maybe I will look at a good Rosie. Which model do you have? I check the Ne; they go for as much as $1,000. Ouch!

    • Beverly Stafford says:

      I LOVE having Kindle books on my tablet – also on my phone, Jim’s phone, Jim’s tablet, the PC, and both laptops. We donated dozens, if not hundreds, of books to the local library, and now I have dozens if not hundreds of eBooks on our various devices. I’m always disappointed when there is a book I want, but it doesn’t come in eBook form. To be able to read in low light while Jim watches television programs that don’t interest me is great. And I don’t have to use both hands! One friend said that now he doesn’t have to worry about dripping mayonnaise from his sandwich on his print book because the device is stand-alone. I resisted for a long time, but no more.

  14. If you ever need a sitter for Rosie when you take a trip, she can come over to my house . She could come have a play date with my upright vac.,too. Such a fun story Doni. I don’t have one but now I’m thinking of getting one and I hope they like birdseed and feathers . PS You can get a kindle app for your phone or computer, too. Yes, get the Prius.

  15. Joanne says:

    Love the tale of Rosie.

  16. Karen C says:

    Great writeup. I have wondered about those appliances myself.

  17. Cate says:

    Rosie is way better to live with than anyone you’d meet on match.com 🙂 She’s fun, has a great personality, and cleans the house!

  18. Ol Brier Bush says:

    If it only had a seat and hydrulic controlls.

  19. Janet Tyrrel says:

    Mine is named “Nellie” Neato. I can easily kill an hour by just watching her work! Favorite for me is when she stops, then heads back to the station, swivels around and backs up to the charging unit.

  20. Carla says:

    I love my roomba. With 2 dogs and 2 cats I knew pet hair was a problem, but I was amazed by how much it picked up the day after vacuuming! I named mine Hermie after a little character my daughter made up years ago.

  21. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    We have a yellow lab, so the only downside of the Roomba is that I have to empty it about 4 times if it’s been a few days between sweepings. I prefer having it run while I’m away. It’s a tad noisy if you’re trying to work or read or watch TV. I do love that it easily gets under our big 6-burner Viking oven & stove and vacuums up God Knows What from that dark and mysterious place.

    • Yes, it is kind of noisy. Maybe now that I know how to Rosie-proof the house before I leave, I can trust her to behave while I’m gone. (Wow. Cleaning under the stove. That’s awesome, because you’re right. That’s a place that gets gnarly. )

      btw, no segue, but I hope people took action after your prescient advice a few days ago when you said, “SELL SELL SELL!” And I hope you took your own advice, too. 😉 Maybe you can retire now?

  22. Terry says:

    LOL! Delightful. Thank you, Doni. 🙂

You must be a subscriber to comment. Click here to subscribe!