iRobot Scooba Floor-Washing Robot

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I finally got to test the iRobot Scooba at home, and I'm happy to report that the floor-washing robot, one of our 2006 coolest inventions picks, is surprisingly effective.

Although iRobot's Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner, was a hip innovation, it had its share of problems. It was better at capturing the imaginations of robot lovers than it was at capturing the grit and grime that collect in carpet. It occasionally choked on wires, tassels and other stringy things that might be lying in its path, and could easily be shown up by the vacuum cleaner you already own. Since most people don't own floor buffers or other electric mopping equipment, the Scooba isn't following a hard act. The alternative to robot floor washing is pulling out a mop or scrubbing on your hands and knees.

The other advantage Scooba has over its big brother Roomba is that the areas you want to clean with the Scooba are somewhat more confined. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most likely candidates for regular scrubbing, and it only takes the Scooba around 10 or 20 minutes to thoroughly cover even a spacious chef's kitchen. In our house, it managed to cover every inch of the kitchen floor in that time. The linoleum that had been greasy and sticky, with the occasional crusted food spot, was buffed to a smart shine.

It's smart enough to avoid steps or other kinds of drops, and what's nice is that it won't cross any boundary that's over three millimeters high. Chances are, the Scooba will respect a door jamb or other low boundary separating your kitchen and bathrooms from the rest of the house. If not, the kit comes with a Virtual Wall that creates an invisible border that the Scooba will not pass.

Before you put it into action, you have to charge the battery and fill up its tank with cleaning solution—a liter of water mixed with two ounces of specially designed concentrate from Clorox. Incidentally, the concentrate contains no bleach, nor does it contain anything that might make the floor sudsy. You have to use the special formula; anything else will void your Scooba warranty. The folks from iRobot say that the solution—three 32-oz bottles for $18 or five for $25—will be available online or where Roombas and Scoobas are sold. They also suggest that, if you're out of the solution, running the Scooba with plain water will work to at least some extent.

That's because the main force of the floor washer is a rapidly rotating brush that buffs the floor with the cleaning agent then sucks up the dirty water into a separate tank. On the front, there's a small vacuum mechanism meant to pull grit and small particles out of the way before the scrubbing. Another advantage the Scooba has over the Roomba is that it's easier to empty out when the cleaning is over. You dump the dirty water into the sink or toilet, shake the vacuum filter out over the trash can and eject the brush and— get this—throw it into the dishwasher.

The Scooba cleans up to 200 square feet on a single tank of cleaner in an estimated run time of around 45 minutes. Its battery lasts a little longer than that, but only a little, so it's recommended that you charge it whenever it's not in use. If you don't, and let the battery sit too long, it might require a 16-hour re-conditioning charge. It's built for use on tile, linoleum, vinyl, marble, slate or stone, and sealed hardwood. You don't want to use it on unsealed hardwood or stone, or any laminate wood. Of course, carpets and rugs are out of the question.