May 6, 2011 -- Mom's work is NEVER done. Can she get a little help? Sure! How about a robot?
The Jetsons' dream of mechanized cleaners and laundry folding robots is not quite here, but innovations in robotic vacuums, mops, litter box cleaners, gutter cleaners, and even sauce stirrers promise mom some respite. But do they really deliver?
My job for "Good Morning America" and Yahoo's Upgrade Your Life is putting these claims to the test.
In my years of testing, the vacuum cleaners are amazing. Roomba from iRobot was the pioneer here. While it is great on hardwood floors and low-pile rugs, it doesn't have much suction for deep-pile rugs. If you have a longhaired dog, plan to spend 10 minutes cleaning the brushes every week (and the motors can burn out faster because of the strain of hair coiled around the brushes).
A new player in the robotic vacuum market is the Neato. It has a stiff price tag at $399, it's loud, but on deep carpets, its suction does a serious cleaning job. Another plus compared to the Roomba is that it leaves a symmetrical pattern on the carpet that looks neat and tidy. It truly lives up to that infomercial promise -- set it and forget it. In my mind this is the holy grail of home robots and a Mother's Day gift that would save Mom 30 minutes or more each week.
Does Mom hate dealing with the cat's mess? The Litter-Robot looks like a plastic igloo. The cat enters, does its business and leaves. Seconds later the housing of the litter box rotates to scoop out the clumped litter and encase it in a sealed tray for later removal. The goal: reduce smell and consolidate waste removal.
Does it work? Yes, if your cat will use it. I've gathered reports from testers around the country (I'm a dog person, sorry) indicating that larger or skittish cats may be hesitant to enter the litter robot, but if they do, the device does minimize smell. It's a little noisy, and expensive at $329, but any device that minimizes mom's exposure to poo is a good thing.
And speaking of the messy jobs -- mopping is a pain. The Scooba robotic mop has been on the market for a while, but now a smaller version the Scooba 230 is cheaper ($299) and it's built for the bathroom. Does it work? Yes! Best feature -- it's small enough to go around the base of the toilet (mothers of boys, we know what the issue is here). Mom will never get down on her hands and knees to scrub around the throne. Priceless! Added bonus: the folks at iRobot who make the Scooba tell me their surveys show consumers use the device three times more than they regularly mop. So the result is a cleaner, fresher smelling bathroom for all.
Who wants to get up on the ladder to clean messy gutters? (OK, this may be a job you foist on Dad, but Father's day is coming up so let's include it in our home robotic roundup).
The Looj gutter cleaner uses rubber flaps and stiff brushes to auger out leaves and gutter debris. You drive it with a remote and while the premise is good and many online testers report good results, I couldn't get the Looj to navigate my gutters properly. It just kept getting stuck.
I'm sure gutter sizes and configurations vary so it must work in some, but I wouldn't want to shell out $89 for a device that made more work of an already miserable job. The makers of Looj say they have a money-back guarantee and their website has full specifications on which gutter sizes work best with the device.
Finally, the Robostir. The infomercial promises it is the "extra hand you need in the kitchen."
Robostir looks like a tripod with silicone feet. You place batteries in the main housing on top and then adjust the speed to agitate the sauce you have (faster for thick sauces slower for thin sauces).
It was helpful with thinner sauces that needed an occasional stir, but when I used it to try and make gravy, it couldn't handle the thickener and my gravy came out LUMPY -- horrors! For $15, it is a fun and an occasionally useful tool, but depending on an automatic pot-stirrer could be a recipe for disaster.