Some time ago, iRobot bought a company called Evolution Robotics. Evolution made a product called Mint. Mint was a floor-mopping robot that could use wet or dry pads to clean your hard floors. iRobot re-branded the Mint-bots as the Braava line a little less than a year ago (August 2013), and [presumably] apart from some modifications to suit iRobot’s production and supply chains, remained unchanged.
The new robots were the Braava 330 and the Brava 380t, formerly Mint and Mint Plus. They cost $200 and $300 (though the 380t seems down to $240 these days), respectively. We just got a new Braava 380t for our apartment, which is floored 100% in laminate and vinyl throughout.
Why Braava and not Roomba, or Scooba?
Honestly, the cost barrier on Roomba and Scooba is huge. The Scooba is $600, and the new high-end Roomba is $700. A 750 sq. ft. apartment does not require a $600 automatic vacuum cleaner. And really, what you pay for in Roomba in Scooba, more than anything, is convenience. To elaborate on what I mean by this, let’s talk about what Braava doesn’t do. The Braava does not:
- Support scheduling or automatic cleaning – you have to tell it to clean.
- Dock back into its charger at the end of a run (it’s a standing duck, or a plug with a wall wart).
- Vacuum (duh).
- Memorize the layout of a room (more on that later).
These are the features you pay for in a Roomba or Scooba. Personally, I’d call them luxuries, not necessities. I’ll take the Braava at half the cost if it means I have to take a hand vacuum along the edges of the room / furniture (takes a whole 5 minutes) and physically put the robot on a charger and physically push a button in order for to clean. Not a big deal, if you ask me.
Also, Scooba isn’t technically laminate floor-safe. It puts out a fair amount of liquid, and if your laminate isn’t installed with sealed joints, including along the walls, you could get seepage and warp the floor. No bueno, especially if you’re leasing. Some people use Scoobas on unsealed laminate, but I would not.
What does Braava really do, then?
Braava is actually two things, which is why it has two cleaning mode buttons (dry and wet). One, it’s a mop. But it’s also a floor duster and sweeper. The “dry” mop mode of the Braava (doesn’t mopping imply wetness? who uses a dry mop? crazy people, that’s who) just runs in a pattern over the cleaning area, including along the walls, and uses a dusting cloth to gather up debris and push larger junk to the edge of the room. It collects a lot of dust on that rag, too, and for the allergen [and grossness] reduction alone, this feature is awesome. You can slightly dampen the cloth, too, if you want to increase the dust collection factor.
Hitting the wet mode button initiates a different behavior in Braava. Instead of just zigzagging across the cleaning area, Braava will go back and fourth, overlapping and “scrubbing” the floor with the textured terry pad. The reservoir pad base (standard on the 380t) slowly wicks liquid out of the reservoir and onto the cleaning pad (via a small antimicobrial fabric wick, which is replaceable), so the mop stays wet throughout the cycle. There’s no bladder or pump or anything, it’s totally passive and low-tech (reliable!) – just a plastic tank and the fabric wick.
Does it actually work?
Yes! Our mopbot has absolutely exceeded my expectations in some regards. In dry mop mode, it covers a huge surface area (up to 1000 sq. ft.) and collects a whole lot of dust, even if I run it every day. It has never once gotten stuck, either, and it always covers the full area it can reach.*
(*except the kitchen and bathroom, because there is raised trim separating their vinyl floor from the laminate, and the Braava won’t “jump” over it by design.)
In wet mop mode, it gets up a fair amount of stains in our kitchen, and I usually have it do two or three passes to get it really clean (our kitchen is checkered B&W soft vinyl, it gets dirty really easy, and it shows it). On the laminate, the wet mop mode covers our whole living area, though if you want it to do more than 350 sq. ft. of wet mopping, you’ll have to move it where you want to go, along with the navigation beacon (more on that in a second).
What in god’s name is a “navigation beacon”?
iRobot has chosen not to give the former Mint-bots the company’s iAdapt on-board navigation. That’s because the way the mopbot navigates is supposedly superior and – given the tasks it’s designed to complete – necessary. Braava uses something called a “navigation beacon” (aka companion cube), which bounces a signal off the ceiling which the mopbot uses like a sort of GPS. The Braava has a big, transluscent window on the top, and this is where the magic happens. Using the static beacon as a reference point, Braava builds a map of a room as it cleans, making sure it cleans the entire room, and in dry mop mode, that it doesn’t cover the same area twice. In wet mop mode, it uses this map to ensure all areas are thoroughly scrubbed. Also so it doesn’t run off stairs or ledges.
The mopbot’s trusty companion cube.
The cube needs to sit somewhere relatively high up (eg, waist height), and point roughly toward the center of the area you want the robot to clean. The cube takes two C batteries (yuck! Li-ion and a charger next time, guys), so you can move it anywhere without dealing with cords. The Braava displays a rating of 1-3 lights for signal strength with the cube, though if it goes out of range (never happened so far, even with 3 walls separating them at the furthest point), it can usually find its way back. This sounds like overkill, right? If you look at the product, though, it really isn’t.
Roomba navigates itself and memorizes basic room layouts for future use (Braava starts fresh every run), but it also has to cover the same area many, many times in order to achieve desired results, because vacuuming requires multiple passes from multiple directions for maximum effectiveness. A mop is a mop – it sweeps along the floor. It doesn’t really matter in what direction, and it’s kind of a binary operation – an area has been mopped or it hasn’t. A vacuum is far more variable in terms of efficacy. A mop is going to sweep what it can sweep. Dry mopping, especially, doesn’t really benefit from multiple passes, so the Braava requires a more precise location system to achieve maximum efficiency and coverage to make sure it doesn’t hit the same area too many times. It’s less important for wet mopping, but the robot still needs to map the room to make sure it’s getting all the nooks and crannies.
If you want to cover areas outside the cube’s range – wait for it – you’ve got to buy another cube. They’re $40 apiece. The cubes need to have some coverage overlap to work in tandem, and only the 380t supports working with multiple cubes. The cubes don’t extend the maximum sq. footage of the robot, either, so watch out for that (granted, that just means picking it up and moving it to where you want to sweep or refilling the reservoir).
OK, this cube business sounds pricey for a multi-room house. Any other drawbacks?
Yes. The Braava will not go over floor molding. If all of your rooms are separated by floor molding (a raised piece of trim under a doorway or other transition), the Braava may not be for you. Granted, if you only have occasional molding (we have it in the kitchen and bathroom), it’s not a big deal. In fact, I like that when I put the mopbot in the kitchen, the floor molding makes sure it only wet mops the kitchen (honestly, who wants it dragging around stuff from the kitchen floor into the living room?). Of course, this feature is designed with carpet in mind, so that the Braava doesn’t climb up onto a rug or into a carpeted room.
Relatedly, the Braava does not work on carpets. It’s a mop. Of course it doesn’t. You don’t mop a carpet. Or a rug. Unless you’re insane. Get away from me, you carpet-mopping maniacs.
Pro Clean Reservoir, top view with filler cap, cloth at edge of photo
I also wish the liquid reservoir had more capacity. As it works now, it holds 4oz, plus whatever’s in the cloth when you attach it (you should always dampen it beforehand, otherwise the wicking won’t get it fully damp until halfway through a cycle). More capacity would mean a greater wet mop surface area (that’s why it has a 350 sq. ft. limit, because it runs out of liquid around then).
And while it’s not a drawback per se, it needs to be said, because so many people (and reviewers) don’t seem to get it: Braava is not. a. vacuum. It does not pick stuff up, at least not stuff of substantial size. It collects dust, hair, liquids, and maybe a few small crumbs if you’re lucky. You will still have to vacuum. If you want a vacuum and a mop and don’t want to ruin your laminate, buy a Roomba and a Braava, or a Scooba if you don’t have laminate.
There’s a reason that it’s half the cost of the Scooba, and less than half the cost of the latest Roomba.
And on that same note, it’s also not a steam cleaner or a floor buffer. It lightly mops your floors. It is not going to pull up years-old tar or random sticky spots that have been in your kitchen since that one time you made fried Oreos a few summers ago. If you want a deep clean for your floors, you still need to mop.
So, why get it?
Easy. Because It removes 95% of the work of mopping and sweeping up a hard-floored house / apartment, and it does that 95% a lot more often and a lot better than I [and probably you] would. The remaining 5% is vacuuming the areas it can’t reach and the stuff it piles up, and the deep cleaning or scrubbing you’d want to give your floors a couple times a year.
A Braava will reduce the allergen factor in your house when used regularly, it will keep your floors looking nice and clean, and it doesn’t require much in the way of babysitting. It’s super quiet (just the whisper whine of the electric motor), it can do up to 4 hours of work on a single charge, mine hasn’t gotten stuck or lost a single time at this point, and if you use the included cloths and either water or a water / vinegar (cheap) solution as opposed to Swiffer pads and solution it’ll even help pay for itself.
Granted, a $300 mop / duster is not for everybody.
Any other things I should know?
- Don’t get the cheaper one. The 380t comes with the extended-release Pro Reservoir attachment which wet cleans a lot better, which is otherwise $30 separately. It also comes with a Turbo charge dock that takes 2 hours to charge as opposed to 4+ on the wall wart. The 380t has a bigger 2000mAh battery, and by design covers more square footage. (The 380t is often on sale on Amazon for $240, too, so it’s even less of a hit to take.) The only reason to get the base model is if you’re only using it for like, one small room.
- If you have pet hair issues, this is actually probably better than a Roomba for keeping it under control, especially if you just dampen the cloth. And a lot cheaper.
- The Braava has three moving parts: the electric drive and the two wheels attached to it. Call me crazy, but I’d venture a guess that this thing’s pretty reliable. Which is good, since it’s only warrantied for one year.
- You don’t need a second cube unless you want it for the convenience, just move the one it comes with to another room if you want it to clean another room. Cheaper, and not really difficult.
- It really does clean along the edges of walls. It’s actually very good at it. And it gets around chair / table legs really closely, too.
- You probably can’t just put any pad you want on this thing, they have to be roughly Swiffer shaped. You could cut your own cloths, though, just know that the Pro Reservoir wet mount requires a pad that will stick to Velcro. The dry mount just holds the cloth with some rubber grips.
- There are no forbidden solutions in the Pro Reservoir pad, use whatever you want. I’d recommend non-viscous liquids only, though, both for the wicking and the fact that the reservoir would probably be hard to clean out if something got stuck in there.
- There are “quick” modes for both dry and wet mopping that skip the precision edge cleaning to save time. Just hold either cleaning mode button to start them.
- You can pause and then resume cleaning by pressing the cleaning button or just picking up the robot.
What would I like to see in the next version?
This is easy.
- Smartphone control app. Yesyesyesyes.jpg
- Self-docking and scheduling would be nice, they don’t seem cost-prohibitive. They’re probably afraid of cannibalizing Roomba and Scooba sales more than it being a technical / cost issues, sadly.
- Larger wet mop area support (so, bigger battery, larger reservoir).
- More wet mop modes (eg, a deep clean mode with more passes).
- Rechargeable cubes. Screw this C battery business.