I’ve always been intrigued but never impressed by robotic vacuum cleaners. I could understand the draw, but I couldn’t piece together the effectiveness. How could an oversized hockey puck clean the floors as well as an upright? I mean, they can’t see the dirty spots, they are slow, they are limited by batteries, and they have really (really) small bin capacities. They also cost several hundred dollars, and the most popular robotic vacuums get very mixed reviews from owners. With all that in mind, I managed to keep them off my gear wish list for years.
Then, in comes Groupon and their ‘Goods’ section. One day I happened to be sauntering the Goods section, where single products are heavily discounted for a limited period of time, and I saw the Dirt Devil Whiskers DSV (Dusts, Sweeps, Vacuums). It was priced at $115, and it was fresh on the market – just released in Winter 2011. Being such a new product meant there were no reviews for it, which meant I had no good reason not to get it. What really pushed me over the edge had nothing to do with the Whiskers, well not the vacuum at least. My Finnish Spitz, Kita, is a heavy heavy shedder. She sheds incredible amounts of fur despite brushing. On top of that, her hair is blonde and my hardwood floors are dark. Needless to say, if I don’t stay on top of vacuuming the hardwood, things get…furry. Like a fox. A…fire…fox.
Now, for most people, vacuuming once a week is part of their routine and it’s no big deal. For me, I find vacuuming to take up too much of my time and it is monotonous and irritating. So here was a mysterious $115 potential solution teasing me, with a countdown timer next to it counting slowly to 0d 0h 0m. A TIMER! Dammit. I had to.
Being so new to the market, the Dirt Devil Whiskers has very few published reviews. In fact, aside from infomercials, I could only find two third party reviews, and thankfully they are decently positive. Having such little knowledge about this product made me a bit uneasy, so I set some expectations for it while it was in the mail.
First of all, the Whiskers is not intended for carpets or rugs, so I only intended to use it on my hardwood areas. Second, it’s capacity is small. So small, you can’t even fit a computer mouse in there. Therefore, I had to expect to empty it out a few times during its cycle.
Third, there is nothing fancy about the Whiskers. No room-detecting technology, no home base that it returns to in order to charge itself, no scheduling features, no walk-the-dog capabilities. Essentially, all I came to expect from the Whiskers was that it would clean up Kita’s hair slowly, it would need emptying often, and I would probably need to run it at least every day. To me, that sounded a whole lot better than manually vacuuming for 1.5 hours every weekend.
I definitely did not expect the Whiskers to work any miracles, and nor should I. It’s not only one of Dirt Devil’s flagship robotic vacuums, but it’s nothing special. You literally plug it into a wall by hand, it charges for 4 hours, you unplug it and press the button and let it do its thing. When its done, it stops in its tracks and beeps at you to come pick it up, like a long lost hockey puck maid child. I set my expectations low, but I still expected it to do the one thing I bought it for: keep Kita’s shedding manageable.
After shipping, the Dirt Devil Whiskers cost me $125 on Groupon. Although Groupon deals sometimes repeat, if you don’t want to risk waiting a lifetime you won’t have to pay much more. It looks like you can get the Dirt Devil Whiskers (shipped) for just under $150 if you do some simple internet sleuthing on Google. Considering the MSRP is $169.95, I wouldn’t pay a dime over $150 for an average deal on Whiskers.
Whiskers is an interesting little device. Although my expectations were rightfully low, I’m fairly impressed by the little thing. For being what it is, it actually does a great job picking up Kita’s discarded hair and light debris. In other words, it serves its purpose for my household very well. That said, it does have its fair share of shortcomings, some expected and others I didn’t.
As expected from such a small vacuum, the suction is minimal. It works well for leaves, dirt, dust, hair, and crumbs, but it isn’t going to pick up pebbles, staples, or other comparable items. If your only intention for Whiskers is to pick up pet hair on hard flooring, its low suction can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. Because it has low suction, it will ignore things like cables, jewelry, and other things that you don’t want to be sucked up on accident. For my dog’s hair, I’m completely satisfied with its suction.
Also expected, the capacity is minimal. I found the dirt bin needing constant attention during its first few cycles at my house, but after you run it a few consecutive times in the same space, it will be able to run the entire hour without needing to be emptied. I really believe that is the key to being happy with Whiskers. Run it once every day, and it will stay on top of the accumulation of hair and dirt, as opposed to running it once a week or month and getting frustrated when it gets clogged in 5 minutes.
The “D” in “DSV” means ‘dusting.’ The Whiskers DSV version comes with a removable plate that holds a dusting pad. This dusting pad follows behind the vacuuming port and greatly increases the effectiveness of the robot by trapping anything the suction might miss. At the end of the cycle, you simply just toss the dusting pad. The only time the dusting pad has been a problem is when Whiskers gets stuck. When Whiskers needs to be moved, you have to pick it up, which can drop a lot of the dirt and hair from the dusting pad. For these occasions, I just aim the Whiskers at the mess it just made, and let it clean up after itself. Otherwise, the dusting pads work fairly well. Well enough for a $115 automatic vacuum anyways. The only downside is that the pads are one-time use. So you can either buy third party dusting pads in bulk or make your own reusable pad by cutting up some old cloth.
I also spray the dusting pad with hardwood floor cleaning product (Bona or Bruce) and found that it will temporarily wipe the floors with it. Although it doesn’t necessarily mop the floors with the product, it does seem to have an easier time trapping dirt with a wet dust pad. Don’t oversaturate the dust pad with liquid though, because it will provide too much traction against the floor and Whiskers won’t be able to move. It’s not exactly packing a V6.
The biggest issue I have with Whiskers is that it easily gets stuck on rugs and carpet. I have about 6 rugs of varying sizes and materials throughout a large hardwood area, and Whiskers often gets stuck on these rugs, requiring immediate attention. As soon as the robot’s wheels get lifted off the ground, Whiskers will just sit there running in place until it is out of juice. This is a major design flaw in the bumper design. The designers cut out a portion of the front bumper where the “whiskers” sweep. This raised portion of the bumper allows taller rugs to fit under it, which means Whiskers will have no problem detecting a rug on a perpendicular path, but if it hits the edge of the rug at an angle (which happens more often), Whiskers bumper won’t detect it and it will drive partially onto the rug and immobilize itself.
This design flaw is a huge nuisance with Whiskers. On its first run through my house, I had to correct it 7 times. In fact, it ended up requiring so much attention during cycles that I eventually duck taped some pieces of plastic to the bumper, so that they hang as low as the rest of the bumper.
This modification does not affect the performance of the sweepers, and it has prevented 60% of the prior immobilizations. The other 40% still occur on shorter rugs, but a simple taco fold of each rug eliminates the problem. Whiskers is actually capable of driving over smaller rugs, but I still recommend folding them or rolling them up temporarily anyways to avoid potential hassles.
The mentioned design flaw immobilizations account for 99% of all immobilizations in my experience. Aside from those rug/carpet immobilizations, I have only seen Whiskers get stuck twice, and they were both in the same spot on the same cycle – a fluke perfect alleyway created by a rug and a chair that Whiskers just couldn’t escape. In these situations, where Whiskers is detecting a rapid bumper hit, but unable to turn around, it will turn itself off. After moving the chair a half-inch away from the rug, Whiskers never had that problem again. In fact, it’s amazing how little room it needs to navigate tight spaces.
Whiskers is just over 3 inches tall, which makes it perfect for getting under couches, cabinets and end tables. My house has elevated cabinetry in the kitchen, so I especially admire Whiskers for braving the dirty, dark unseen things underneath those. And yes, Whiskers does spend plenty of time under there.
The computer is programmed to do three different types of cleaning patterns: random directions, circling with an increasing radius, and then edge following. Whiskers will cycle through all three every 7-9 minutes and then repeat the steps. The edge following cycle is especially useful because it not only helps it move to different areas of the house (and difficult areas like under my kitchen cabinets), but it picks up the majority of the dirt since dirt typically collects next to the floorboards. Watching it follow floorboards and sweep up dust that has collected along the edges evokes a feeling of success as you watch it suck up dirt you had been hoping it would get to eventually.
When the robot is in edge following mode, it often finds a leg of a chair or table instead of a wall. If your furniture has small legs, this won’t be a problem because the logic will detect that it is doing long circles without hitting anything and it will move on to another area and find a new edge to follow. If you have large legs on your furniture, it might circle a leg for 3 minutes until reverting to random directions.
The highlight of Whiskers is just that, its whiskers. The sweeping whiskers greatly increase the productivity of the vacuum, as they pull in dirt and hair towards the suction port that is actually outside the diameter of the vacuum itself. The little sweeper arms dig out dirt that a normal upright can’t get to (like under the dishwasher), and when the whisker brushes get dirty they are extremely easy to clean, unlike rolling brushes on uprights. Adding on to this productivity is the 50 minute run time, which surprisingly covers the majority of a ~1600 sqft hardwood area of my house.
The Dirt Devil Whiskers is far from perfect, and you will more than likely find yourself correcting the robot 1-3 times per use if you have rugs and carpet. It’s a little on the loud side, but it’s far quieter than an upright. The thing is, this vacuum wasn’t intended to be perfect. It was built for one thing, trapping light debris on hard floors. If all you have is an empty space of hardwood, it will work amazingly. Unfortunately, we all have furniture and rugs that Whiskers will get hung up on sometimes. After learning its limitations and adapting to them, I have found Whiskers to be a huge help around my house. Running it once a day is all I need to avoid the dreaded weekend date with an upright. To me, Whiskers is a great tool for my home under my conditions, and I will continue using it daily. Plus, unlike Kita’s hair, Kita doesn’t seem to mind it at all.