The iRobot Roomba 981 is a well-built robot vacuum with outstanding performance on bare floors. It's also effective at cleaning pet hair from most surface types. It has excellent battery performance, good automation features, and cleans rooms in an organized, back-and-forth pattern. Unfortunately, it struggles with clearing debris from carpets, especially high-pile carpets. Also, like many other robot vacuums, it incurs high recurring costs and requires a lot of routine maintenance.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is impressive on bare floors. It easily clears pet hair as well as debris like sand and cereal from bare surfaces, without losing suction as its dirt compartment fills up. Its maintenance needs are fairly demanding, but it feels sturdily-built and each part is easily accessible.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is alright on low-pile carpets. It's well-built, excellent at maneuvering itself, and easily picks up pet hair and most large debris like sand. However, it struggles to clear smaller debris like baking soda. It also has fairly high recurring costs and several parts that require routine maintenance.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is okay on high-pile carpets. It clears a good amount of pet hair, but has more of an issue with debris like sand, and really struggles with fine material like baking soda. It feels very well-built but is a bit difficult to maintain, and has several parts that need to be replaced regularly.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a great option for cleaning up pet hair. It has no issue clearing pet hair from bare floors and low-pile carpets and picks up a good amount from high-pile carpets as well. Unfortunately, it has several parts that require routine maintenance, but it's very well-built and has removable brushrolls, which makes it easier to remove any hair wraps.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a robot vacuum and isn't designed to be used on stairs.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a robot vacuum and isn't designed to clean the inside of your car.
The iRobot 981 has a great build quality. Its body is made of hard plastic, with a glossy top and rubber wheels. The two brushrolls are also made of rubber and rotate in opposite directions. The dirt compartment feels fairly sturdy and is partly made of see-through red plastic. There's a sensor inside that detects when it's full, which is indicated with a light on top of the vacuum. There are also indicator lights for the battery, Wi-Fi, dirt detection feature, and if there are any errors. The three buttons on top of the vacuum allow you to start and stop a cleaning cycle, have it spot clean a specific area, and send it back to its dock. The vacuum comes pre-assembled, so you only need to set up the charging dock.
The iRobot 981 has demanding maintenance needs, with several parts that should be serviced regularly. They're all fairly easy to access, however.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has quite a few parts that need to be replaced regularly.
You can buy each part separately, or purchase a "Replenishment Kit" from the manufacturer that includes brushrolls, three filters and two side brushes. While iRobot doesn't indicate how often the side brushes should be replaced, you should do so when they are visibly worn.
The iRobot 981 has excellent storage capabilities. It's slightly wider than the iRobot Roomba 960, but still doesn't take up much space and mounts to the compact charging dock by itself.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has a good-sized dirt compartment for a robot vacuum. Sensors detect when it's full and notify you with an indicator light on top of the vacuum or through the companion app. The dirt compartment cover won't close unless a HEPA filter is inserted.
The vacuum comes assembled, so you only need to set up the charging dock.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has an unlimited range as long as its battery is charged, but it can't go up or down stairs.
This vacuum has very good portability. It's slightly heavier than other robot vacuums such as the Shark AI Robot but it comes with a carrying handle for when you're carrying it from room to room or up a flight of stairs.
The iRobot 981's battery performance is excellent. Set to its most powerful suction mode, it provides about one hour of continuous cleaning time. In 'Eco-Mode', which is its most conservative mode, it lasts for roughly two hours. However, in its default 'Automatic' mode, it automatically adjusts its suction power depending on what surface it's cleaning and how dirty it is, so the actual battery life may vary. It takes a little more than two hours to recharge, which is longer than the iRobot Roomba 960. There's a battery indicator light on top of the vacuum that turns red or green depending on the remaining battery life, and you can also see the battery status in the app.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has a few different quality of life features. It automatically adjusts its suction power and brushroll height depending on what surface it's cleaning, and it uses a sensor to detect and focus on dirtier areas. In 'Automatic Mode', the vacuum will adjust its suction power as it cleans, or you can manually choose between two settings, 'Eco-Mode' or the more powerful 'Performance Mode.'
The iRobot Roomba 981 is equipped with two rubber brushrolls that rotate in opposite directions, as well as a three-armed side brush that's meant to push debris into the robot's path.
The iRobot 981 has an exceptional performance on bare floors. It easily clears pet hair, small debris like sand, and large debris like cereal, and loses virtually no suction performance as its dirt compartment fills.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has an okay performance on low-pile carpets. It easily clears pet hair and picks up a good amount of large debris like sand, but struggles with finer material like baking soda.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has a mediocre performance on high-pile carpets. It picks up a good amount of pet hair but doesn't do as well with debris like sand and baking soda, and may need a few extra passes to clean these surfaces properly.
The iRobot 981 has amazing maneuverability. It cleans in an organized pattern, moving in horizontal and then vertical rows, finding paths around obstacles, and returning to spots it had trouble cleaning. Its auto adjustment feature helps it adapt to different surfaces as it cleans, and you can also set it to decide automatically if an area needs one, two, or three passes. It's small enough to fit under low couches and tables, and while it pushes electric cords around a bit, it doesn't get stuck on them. However, it has a bit of issue cleaning rugs with tassels, because they can get tangled with the side brush. It's also a very loud vacuum.
The iRobot Roomba 981 has good automation features. It has a camera on top to help it keep track of its location and move around obstacles. You can use its companion app to start a cleaning job, make a cleaning schedule, and pilot it remotely. There's also an edge clean setting, where the vacuum does another pass along walls and furniture at the end of a job. The app can notify you when the dirt compartment is full, and you can choose to have it return to its dock when that happens, or just continue cleaning.
After a cleaning session, you see a map of the area it cleaned in the app, but unlike iRobot vacuums with more advanced navigation systems, like the iRobot Roomba S9, you can't use it to set virtual boundary markers.
The vacuum works with Google Home and Alexa. You can also use the buttons on the top to start and stop cleaning sessions without an internet connection.
We tested the iRobot Roomba 981 in Black. You can see its label here. It's also sometimes available in another color, Night Blue, or as a bundle with a replenishment kit, which includes extra brushrolls, side brushes, and HEPA filters. We expect our results to be valid for those variants as well. If you come across a different variant, please let us know so we can update our review.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a versatile robot vacuum. It performs best on bare floors, where it does an outstanding job. On carpets, it cleans up pet hair effectively but struggles more with debris. It has good automation features, although its navigation system is less advanced than some other iRobot models, such as the iRobot Roomba S9. It has excellent battery life, but unfortunately requires a lot of routine maintenance and incurs high recurring costs, which isn't unusual for robot vacuums. For more options, check out our lists of best robot vacuums, the best robot vacuums for pet hair, and the best robotic vacuums for hardwood floors.
The Neato Botvac D7 is a better vacuum than the iRobot Roomba 981 for most uses. The Neato performs better on carpets, has more automation features, and is much easier to maintain. Nevertheless, the iRobot has a much better performance on bare floors and better maneuverability.
The iRobot Roomba i7+ and the iRobot Roomba 981 have different strengths, but the 981 is better for most uses. The 981 has a much better performance on bare floors, longer battery life, and more automation features. On the other hand, the i7+ delivers better performance on carpets and has the ability to automatically empty its dirt compartment into a larger container built into its charging dock.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a better-performing vacuum than the Roborock S5. The 981 clears more pet hair and debris from all surface types, and is better at maneuvering itself. On the other hand, the S5 has a longer battery life and more advanced automation features, including the ability to set virtual boundary markers for the vacuum.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a better vacuum than the iRobot Roomba E5. The 981 delivers better performance on all surface types, especially bare floors. It also has fewer recurring costs, a bigger dirt compartment, and better automation features. On the other hand, the E5 is slightly smaller and lighter, making it a bit more portable and easy to store.
The iRobot Roomba 981 is a better robot vacuum than the Shark AI Robot. The iRobot feels better-built and is easier to maintain. It also performs better on all surface types and has superior maneuverability. However, the Shark has a longer battery life and you can set boundary markers for it via its companion app.