Robotic vacuums are only gaining in popularity. While the novel idea of them wore off years ago, they have become more of a staple in homes across the country. Leading the way, iRobot has been producing Roomba models for over 20 years and has no signs of slowing down. With so many models available, how are you to choose?
The Roomba 960 and Roomba 980 were two of the most popular, well-received and most purchased models of the last couple of years. This Roomba comparison will put the Roomba 960 up against the Roomba 980 to see which one is better suited for your specific needs and your home’s layout. Read on to find out which iRobot vacuum is best for you.
The Roomba 900 series saw a lot of advancements in robotic technology, intelligence, and features. At the top of the class is the Roomba 980, with vSLAM camera-based navigation, allergen reducing filtration, a two-speed motor and a deeper clean on carpeting than any previous model.
The Roomba 960 also has the same bragging rights to the technology, filtration, and navigation. It does not have the higher speed motor and won't clean as deep on carpeting as the 980 does. However, the 960 is virtually identical in every other way. With tangle-free rubber extractors, a large collection bin and the ability to clean any surface type, the Roomba 980 and 960 are two models worthy of your final purchase decision.
In the end, the choice will come down to two options: carpets or hard floors. If you have a large floor plan with primarily carpet, shedding pets, and allergy concerns, the Roomba 980 should be your first choice.
If you have a medium to a large floor plan with primarily hard flooring, shedding pets, and allergy concerns, the 960 is an optimal decision for you.
How These Roomba Models Are Similar
The Roomba 960 and 980 are cut from the same cloth. The 900 series introduced a number of advancements, and both models bear the majority of them. Let's take a look at those similarities now.
The 900 series models are all the same dimensions with a small, almost negligible weight difference for the 980 (0.2 pounds heavier). The width, circumference, and height are all the same and both the 960 and 980 come in at 13.8 x 13.8 inches in diameter and 3.6 inches in height.
Recharge & Resume
Each of the machines will sense when its battery falls below 15% and will head back to the charging station, known as the Home Base, to recharge. The charging cycle lasts three full hours for a dead battery.
Once the batteries are charged, the robots will return to the spot they left off and resume cleaning.
iRobot calls this process “entire level clean,” though it is more widely known in the industry as “recharge and resume.”
The Roomba 960 and 980 are both considered self-charging robots. They monitor their battery levels internally and keep track of how far they are from the charging station.
When the battery is low enough, the two models will return to the Home Base and recharge their batteries without you having to do anything.
Both robots use the second generation navigation system known as iAdapt 2.0. This system relies on sensors to prevent the robot from falling off stairs, bumping into walls or furniture hard enough to cause damage and to take photos to create a 3-dimensional map.
The mapping is done using a process known as visual simultaneous localization and mapping, or vSLAM.
The camera mounted on the top of the two robots will take hundreds of low-resolution photos per second.
The algorithm then compiles the images into a 3-D composite that it uses as a map. It will be able to identify walls, doorways, corners, furniture, and obstacles.
By using this map (which is updated with every cleaning run), the robot will know where it is in your home, where the charging station is, what is already clean and what is left to clean.
The map, sensors, and camera allow the Roomba 980 and 960 to clean your floors in a manner that is more consistent with how you would clean them; using a back and forth parallel line method.
Of the entire sensor set, the most necessary are the cliff detect sensors. These infrared sensors look for drops, ledges, and cliffs (such as stairs or uneven floors) and alert the robots if the fall is higher than 1.5 inches.
If the drop is less than half an inch, the robot will not be alerted at all, continuing on its way. Between half an inch and ¾ inches, the robot will slow down and be more cautious. Over ¾ of an inch, the robot will stop and change direction.
These sensors protect the robot from falling off stairs or getting hung up on taller thresholds.
Tangle Free Rollers
The 900 series also saw the use of dual, counter-rotating brushless and tangle-free extractors.
Instead of the standard brush rolls found on most vacuums, the rubber paddles on the rubber and plastic extractors work to sweep and gather debris, agitate carpet and separate hairs or strings.
Because the rollers rotate in opposite directions, they can pull apart debris to help prevent clogs or longer items like hair from getting tangled and wrapped.
This, obviously, isn't 100% certain and hair will get wrapped around the rollers. Clean up is made simple, though.
Since there are no bristles, you have to pop out the rollers and wipe them off with your hand before putting them back. Cleaning the rollers used to take several minutes, often requiring scissors or clippers to remove hair and string. Now it takes seconds.
Edges & Corners
Using the side brush, the Roomba 960 and 980 both clean along edges and corners. As the robots run along the walls of your home, the side brush reaches out to sweep dirt and dust (or gathered pet hair) to the center of the machines for collection.
When the 960 and 980 get into a corner, the side brush sweeps out the corners in the same manner. Because of the size and shape of the Roomba models, you won’t get your 90-degree angled corners completely clean. You will still need to manually sweep them out, either before or after the robot begins work.
Full Bin Indicator
The devices also come with a sensor located inside the collection bin. It will detect when the debris collected has filled the space (both will hold up to 0.6L worth of waste). When it does, the Roomba will make a tone and light up a small icon on the top of their bodies.
If you let the robots continue on, the bin will fill up, and the robots will shut down until it is clear. This shut down prevents the motor area from getting clogged or develop a build-up of dust in areas you can't get into to clean.
Clean Map Reports
Through the iRobot Home App, you will be able to see the Roomba 960 and Roomba 980 clean map reports. This history shows you the map the robot used when cleaning your floors along with different color areas of the progress.
Light green areas are where the robots cleaned, dark green dots are where the Dirt Detection System activated, and white areas are where the robots did not clean. These reports also show you the cleaning time, how much battery charge was needed, and if there were any errors along the way.
In older models, it was possible to use the Virtual Lighthouses to confine the robot to a room for a specific amount of time.
The hope was to get an entire room cleaned before allowing the robot to move to another place.
With the Roomba 980 and 960, though, this is no longer needed. Because of the mapping technology, the robot knows where it has and has not been.
iAdapt 2.0 keeps the robots on track and makes them clean the entire space. Instead of a clumsy, random cleaning pattern, the two robots will clean one room and then the next, resulting in what is known as Multi-Room Cleaning.
Dirt Detect Sensors
Another feature the two models share is the dirt detection system. This series of infrared lights (the same ones that detect cliffs and drop-offs) determines if the area just passed is clean or still has debris. The lights are triggered when the signal is bounced off particles, alerting the Roombas that there is still dirt in the area.
When the sensors trigger, the 980 and 960 will make a loop returning to the spot for another pass. This will continue until the area no longer triggers the sensors.
iRobot put a high-efficiency filter in both the 980 and 960. These filters are HEPA quality (although they do not go through HEPA certification anymore) and will capture particles down to 3 microns.
The filters will reduce allergens in your home by up to 99%, which will cover pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.
Cleans All Floor Types
Both of these models are capable of cleaning all floor types. For hard surfaces, this will include tile, laminate, vinyl, stone, marble, and granite. On carpeting, you can clean low pile and medium pile carpeting as well as tight-woven high pile carpet.
How These Roomba Models Are Different
While both the Roomba 980 and 960 are a part of the 900 series robots, they do have a few differences.
The Roomba 960 comes equipped with a 3300mAh battery pack. The battery powers the robot for up to 75 minutes (less if you have more carpeting) and takes just shy of three hours to recharge completely.
The Roomba 980 ships with the same 3600mAh battery but uses it more efficiently. The lithium-ion battery provides up to 120 minutes of runtime. When it dies, it will take three hours to recharge fully, which like the Roomba 960, will happen automatically.
The Power Boost feature to change the speed of the motor when the 980 is on carpeting is the main difference for the runtime difference.
Inside the box, there isn't a lot of difference either, but there is one that could save you a handful of dollars. The Roomba 960 comes with the robot, the Home Base charging system, an extra filter, side brush and a dual-mode virtual wall barrier for containment.
The Roomba 980 comes with all of these things as well, plus a second virtual barrier. You can purchase more barriers if you need them around your home, but having two is generally plenty for most applications, so the Roomba 980 becomes a slightly better deal for this additional inclusion.
As we mentioned above, the dimensions of the robots are identical. Each one is 13.8 inches in diameter and 3.6 inches tall. The dual-speed motor inside the Roomba 980, though, along with a few extra resistors on the motherboard, causes the 980 to weigh a little bit more, 0.2 pounds more to be exact.
Newer Generation Motor for 980
Most of the Roomba 800 series, along with every model in the 900 series (including the 960) uses the second-generation motor. All except the Roomba 980, which uses the latest 3rd generation motor.
The Roomba 980 is the first Roomba to use a two-stage motor. The new motor increases suction when the robot is on carpet, spins the extractors faster to agitate carpet better, loosening and lifting dirt and debris from the fibers better.
You also have the option to disable the higher speed, which can get quite loud, though we are sure you won’t want to after you see how much it can pull from your carpets.
Deep Cleaning on Carpets
The second speed on the motor of the Roomba 980 allows for the inclusion of an automatic switch for when the robot is on carpet.
Known as Carpet Boost, or Power Boost (which is what iRobot calls it), the robot will sense what type of flooring it is on, adjust the cleaning head and increase or decrease the speed.
When the 980 is on carpet, the motor will provide more power, spin the tangle-free extractors faster and lower the head to agitate carpet deeper. This creates more suction to remove more dirt from your carpet fibers. The Roomba 960 doesn’t have Carpet Boost or the second speed in its motor.
You might be surprised at the amount of sound produced by these small robots. iRobot has not been known for creating quiet vacuums, and the 980 and 960 are no exception.
In testing from various distances and on different surfaces, the Roomba 960 produces about 65 dB on hard flooring and low pile carpet. This is equivalent to being right next to your microwave or using a hairdryer. You won't be able to hear a conversation when the Robot is within about three feet of your location.
The Roomba 980, on the other hand, is slightly worse. The 980 produces an average decibel rating of 70 on hard flooring and on low pile carpet, which is the equivalent to a busy city street, or a car horn from 50 feet. You won’t be able to run the vacuum while you sleep or hear your TV if the 980 is in the same room.
Roomba 960 & 980 Comparison guide
What about the Roomba 985 model?
In your research, you may have come across the Roomba 985 and wonder what it is all about. The Roomba 985 is essentially the Roomba 980 but sold exclusively (at time of release) through Costco. There is a price difference in the 980 and 985 as well as a few small extras that are included in the vacuums.
The 980, as we stated, comes with an extra filter, an additional side brush, and two dual-mode virtual wall barriers. The Roomba 985 (which can now be found through Costco and Amazon) only comes with one virtual barrier (like the 960) and doesn't include the extra side brush.
For Costco members or those that want the Roomba 980 for a little less money, the Roomba 985 is an option. You can see our complete review of the Roomba 985 and decide for yourself if it is worthy of consideration.
How the Roomba 985 Compares to the 980/960
Because the differences are only what is included in the box (and the price) the Roomba 985 and Roomba 980 are interchangeable.
Each one has the 3rd generation motor, high-efficiency filtration, and Carpet Boost technology.
To compare the Roomba 985 to the Roomba 960 is the same as comparing the 980 and 960.
The differences between these two models are also the motor itself, the slight weight variance and Carpet Boost.
However, the accessories that come with the 960 slightly different than those that come with the Roomba 985.
You will get an extra high-efficiency filter, an additional side brush, and one dual-mode virtual wall barrier. The 985 gives you an extra filter and the dual-mode virtual wall barrier. You still won't get an extra side brush with the 985, though.
The Roomba 900 series has a lot of items that are compatible with the robots. Some of the accessories, like the Home Base charging system, are essential to the operation of the robot. These accessories include:
Other accessories are non-essential to the operation of the robots but can make things easier on you. These items include:
Setting Up the WiFi Connection
Each model uses wireless communications that allow you to make use of the mobile app and voice commands. The set up for both is the same, which we will cover briefly here. You can refer to your Roomba owner’s guide for exact details.
You will initially need to download the iRobot Home App. Once downloaded, you can sync it to the Home Base charging station which will then allow the app to locate your robot and begin set up.
The mobile app will take you step-by-step through the process, which should only take you about 5 minutes. Once connected, you can name your robot and begin controlling it with the app or voice commands.
How to Charge these 2 Roomba Models
Both the Roomba 960 and Roomba 980 are self-monitoring robots. What this means to you is that beyond the initial charging session, you won’t have to worry too much about the battery getting charged.
For the initial charge, you will need to plug in the Home Base and set it up correctly (more on this process in a moment). Place the robot in the Home Base as if it had docked itself and the Home Base will begin charging the robot. The process takes about 3 hours to get a full charge, at which time you can start using the robot.
From that point on, the robots will know when their battery is getting low on power and will return to the charging station on their own to refuel.
Now and then there are issues with the robots not getting a battery charged. These can include the robot not making it back to the Home Base in time, a problem with the battery or an issue with the Home Base.
If the robot dies because it didn't make it to the charging station, the process is the same as the initial charge; you will have to place the robot on the dock manually.
For all other instances, you will get an error code (a series of beeps from the robot along with a blinking light on the face) to let you know precisely what the problem is. Most of the time, it is a lousy charging connection die to worn or dirty connection plates. You can clean these off and try again.
For issues with the battery itself, you can file a warranty claim (if it has been less than a year) or purchase a replacement battery.
Positioning the Roomba Home Base
To ensure there is a proper charge on the battery and that the robot doesn’t get stuck, you need to place the Home Base properly.
You will need to plug the Home Base into an outlet, so the first step is to make sure you have one that is accessible. The floor the base sits on should be a hard surface (not carpet) and level to keep the front of the ramp flush with the floor.
You also need to make sure there is enough clearance for the RCON sensor to locate the signal from the infrared beam coming from the Home Base. This means leaving about 2 feet clean on either side of the base and 4 feet open in front of the base.
Tips for Using a Roomba
Using a Roomba robotic vacuum should be an enjoyable and stress-free experience. To assist with that, you should follow a few tips to keep the robot running in top-notch condition.
Frequently Asked Questions
We will now answer some of the most common questions asked about the Roomba 960 and Roomba 980 models.
Has the Roomba 980 been discontinued?
iRobot is no longer manufacturing the Roomba 980. They still make replacement parts and honor warranties for it, but with the release of the next two generations of robots (the Roomba i-series and Roomba s-series), the 900 series is no longer being produced.
Does the Roomba 980 empty itself?
The Roomba 980 does not have a self-emptying bin. This is an exclusive feature to the i7+ and s9+ models only.
Can I use this Roomba 980 with 220 volts power?
The rating for the lithium-ion battery for the Roomba 980 is between 110 and 240 volts. You can use a power adapter for the higher voltage. However, you should note that using a North American model Roomba outside of North America immediately voids the warranty.
Roombas are manufactured for different regions, and it is recommended that you buy a model that is compatible with your region by default.
Is the Roomba 960 good for pet hair?
The Roomba 960 uses the tangle-free extractors that are incredible at collecting pet (or human) hair. The maintenance is low, cleanup is a snap, and the rubber paddles don't miss much of anything. You should ensure that you remove the end caps during your maintenance routine and remove the build-up of hair around them that will occur.
Can Roomba 960 clean specific rooms?
The only way to make the Roomba 960 clean a specific room is to place it in the room and block off any exits. The digital process, called Imprint Smart Mapping, allows you to select individual rooms in your home to be cleaned (or avoided). However, this feature is only available to the Roomba i7 and s9 models.
Can a Roomba 980 clean a carpet efficiently?
With the two-speed motor and the Carpet Boost technology, the Roomba 980 is far superior to any previous Roomba model at cleaning carpets. With the vSLAM navigation, the robot won’t miss any spots in the home, either, making it quite efficient and reliable.
How can I extend the battery life?
The lithium-ion batteries in the Roomba 980 and 960 models are designed to go through about 3000 charging cycles. Each battery (depending on use) should last at least three years, with many reports stating the battery has lasted for up to 5 years. To prolong the battery, you can place the robot in idle mode when you are gone for extended periods, allow the battery to fully deplete once a month, and run the robot every day to drain and refill the battery.
Does Roomba resume after charging?
Not every Roomba has the recharge and resume functionality. The Roomba 960 and 980 models, though, are capable. If the entire floor space were not cleaned prior to the robot needing to refill the battery, it would resume from where it left off to finish the job once the battery is charged.
How do I reset a Roomba unit?
Resetting the Roomba 960 and 980 models is the same process. Remove the robot form the Home Base if it is currently docked and press and hold the Clean button for 10 seconds. When you let go of the button, the robot will beep to let you know the reset was complete.
How long do Roomba robots generally last?
Each Roomba robot comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year limited warranty. However, as long as you maintain the robot and replace parts as needed, your robot can last several years. Some owners still have and use Roombas that were released in 2001. The longevity, though, depends a lot on how well you take care of the robot.
How do I contact iRobot Roomba customer support?
Contacting iRobot customer support is as easy as making a phone call, initiating a live chat, or sending an email. Depending on your needs (sales, service, or technical assistance), the contact numbers or methods may change. You can get all of the options specific to your needs by visiting the website.
Where are the best places to buy a Roomba 980?
Roomba models are sold all over the place, including Kohl's, Target, and Canadian Tire. For the Roomba 980 and 960 models, though, the best place to buy a new robot is through Amazon. Each new robot will still have a 1-year warranty. Because of their age and the release of later generations, you can no longer purchase these models through the iRobot website.
There are a lot of different models to choose from. For what seemed like the longest time, the Roomba 980 and 960 were the top models in the market. Each has their worth along with their pros and cons. Even with newer, more advanced models being released, these two models are considered among the best.
If you have a medium to large-sized home and mainly deal with hard flooring instead of carpet, the Roomba 960 might be a better option for you. You will still get the benefit of vSLAM navigation, WiFi communications, HEPA quality filtration, and low maintenance. You will also save a little on the price without having to require a higher speed motor and more carpet suction.
Likewise, if your home is mainly carpeted, you will enjoy the extra power from the two-speed motor and the benefits of Carpet Boost technology to get a deeper clean on low, medium and high pile carpeting, along with the other benefits that are mentioned with the Roomba 960.
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