Robotic vacuum cleaners are equipped with sensors that allow them to navigate without falling down the stairs or running into furniture. Whether a robot vacuum has infrared, photocell or piezoelectric sensors, every robot’s navigation system has limitations.

Virtual Wall Barriers

Sometimes, robot vacuums are unable to “see” objects below the beam that their sensors emanate, or an item may be too dark or shiny for the robot to accurately gauge. Often, sensors get covered in dust, which reduces their object-avoidance rate.

The Solution: A Barrier

When we say barrier, we don’t mean a makeshift one you crafted on the fly with boxes or accent furniture. Some robotic vacuums are compatible with virtual wall barriers or magnetic strips. These barriers are designed to help robot vacuums distinguish one room from the next, and they prevent the robot from entering areas that you don’t want it to go and bumping into items you don’t want it to touch.

What Are the Benefits of Robot Vacuum Barriers?

As opposed to just letting a robotic vacuum have free reign over your house, virtual wall barriers and magnetic strips streamline the automated vacuuming process. First, these barriers give you more control over where the robot vacuum goes, so it doesn’t disturb you while you’re making calls in your home office or putting your children to bed.

Boundaries for your Robot Vacuum

These barriers also protect valuable items. That hand-painted vase from Japan? There’s no risk of the robot knocking it over if there’s a virtual boundary protecting it. Plus, you don’t have to move that delicate sofa table that’s been in your family for three generations, and you won’t strain yourself under the weight of heavy furniture.

Virtual boundaries also save you time. The quick act of placing virtual boundaries for your robot vacuum means less room prep time for you. Since a boundary can keep a robot out of certain areas, the robot’s battery power won’t be wasted on vacuuming rooms that are already clean.

What Is a Virtual Wall Barrier?

Most virtual barriers look and perform the same way. They are short and shaped like a mini-tower. Virtual wall barriers use infrared technology to assist a robotic vacuum cleaner with navigation. They shoot out an invisible infrared beam that spans at least several feet and gets wider in its center. As soon as the robot detects the beam and gets close to it, the robot vacuum will change direction.

Some virtual wall barriers have more than one purpose. In addition to creating a robot-blocking wall, dual-mode virtual barriers may also act as a lighthouse, guiding it to one room. When the robot is finished vacuuming that room, the dual-mode barrier leads it to the next room. With a lighthouse-type virtual barrier, the robot won’t bounce around your entire house, making the vacuum more efficient.

Other dual-mode virtual barriers don’t have a lighthouse feature. Instead, these barriers offer a wall mode and a halo mode. In halo mode, the barrier creates an infrared ring around itself. Every item inside of the ring won’t be touched by the robot because it can’t cross the beam.

Virtual Wall Barriers or Strips

What Is a Magnetic Strip?

Magnetic strips, or boundary markers, are another tool some manufacturers offer for robot vacuum navigation control. Unlike virtual wall barriers, the barrier you fashion from a magnetic strip is visible. Special sensors on the robot are designed to detect the presence of magnetic tape in the robot’s path, and robots will avoid it just as they do with virtual wall barriers.

This black strip is thick and wide, and it comes in a compact roll. When unfurled, the strip spans many feet, but you can customize the strip by cutting it to the length you desire. Therefore, you can create a straight-line border, a halo or any configuration that comes to mind.


What Are the Benefits of Virtual Wall Barriers?

With a virtual wall barrier, you get certain benefits. These little boxes aren’t space hogs, so you won’t have to make room for one. The barrier they make can’t be seen, which means there are no decor clashes with which to contend. As far as setup goes, the process is easier and faster in comparison to magnetic boundary strips, and you can move a virtual wall barrier anywhere, anytime.

Boundaries for your Robot Vacuum

What Are the Benefits of Magnetic Boundary Strips?

Even though magnetic strips are the lower-tech option, they have some unique advantages. With a magnetic strip, you are free to shorten the strip to any length. Alternatively, you can lay down multiple strips to make the barrier longer than the reach of a virtual wall barrier. Since magnetic strips adhere to the floor, there is no risk of them getting pushed or knocked over.


What Are the Limitations of Virtual Wall Barriers?

Virtual wall barriers require batteries to work. Therefore, you’ll have to spend money in the long run on replacement batteries. If the batteries are low, you may experience a reduction in performance. While it is affordable, the cost of a single virtual wall barrier outweighs that of one magnetic strip roll. If you want to activate a virtual wall, you must physically do it – If you forget to turn it on before you rush out the door, you’re out of luck.

What Are the Limitations of Magnetic Boundary Strips?

The biggest limitation of a magnetic strip is once you use it, you can’t reuse it. The underside of the strip is coated with an adhesive, which loses its tackiness when you pull the strip off the floor. This also means that you must buy another roll once the strip has been used. Occasionally, the ends of a strip may curl, forcing you to secure them with tape or heavy furniture.

Boundaries for your Robot Vacuum

What Robot Vacuum Brands Work With a Virtual Wall?

Not all robotic vacuums are made to work with a virtual wall – tower or strip. Manufacturers who do offer this feature range from household names to up-and-comers. When it comes to virtual barriers, iRobot is the king. Many of its Roombas are compatible with lighthouses and dual-mode barriers. As a major player in floor care, the Bissell SmartClean comes with an invisible wall barrier. Even smaller brands use virtual wall barriers, like iLife.

Other manufacturers stick with the tried-and-true boundary strips. Samsung, a leader in advance technology, provides boundary strips for its POWERbot. The premium Shark brand also offers magnetic marking tape for its line of ION robot vacuums. In addition, select Neato models come with boundary strips.

Can You Mix Virtual Wall and Robot Vacuum Brands?

Unfortunately, a specific virtual wall barrier brand is only compatible with robot vacuums of the same brand; this doesn’t mean you can use a virtual barrier with any model from the same brand. Consider iRobot as an example. iRobot’s dual-mode virtual wall barrier only works with robots from five of seven of the brand’s robot vacuum series.

On the other hand, magnetic strips from one brand can usually be used with robot vacuums from another brand. However, the robotvac in question must have the capability to detect and work with boundary strips in general.

Boundary Strip

Are Generic Virtual Walls Available?

Since there is no cross-compatibility with virtual wall barriers and robotic vacuum cleaners, there are no generic virtual wall barriers that you can buy. This is not the case for magnetic tape. Due to its wider compatibility, you can usually use generic magnetic boundary tape with the robot vacuum of your choice.

Where Can I Put a Virtual Wall?

The possibilities for placement are practically endless. If you have a room with an archway instead of a door, a virtual wall barrier or a magnetic boundary strip can block your robot vacuum’s path. These two virtual walls are also useful for keeping your robot vacuum away from a fireplace while in use, pet food, expensive gadgets or fragile furniture. If you’re too afraid to rely on the robot’s anti-fall sensors, a virtual wall placed at the top of your staircase will give you peace of mind.

For a virtual wall barrier, you want to make sure it’s not too close to the robot vacuum’s dock. This prevents signal interference. A piece of furniture or a stray toy in the direct path of the virtual wall may also cause a problem. Before you turn on the tower, measure the threshold or area you want blocked to ensure the virtual wall’s infrared beam reaches that far.

Robot Vacuum Barriers

How Do I Set up a Virtual Wall Barrier?

To enjoy the benefits offered by a virtual wall barrier, you must set up the barrier properly. First, insert the batteries. Then, decide where in your house you want to put the virtual wall barrier. Once you place the barrier with its front facing in the right direction, turn on the power. If the barrier offers multiple modes, choose the mode you want. Most barrier towers have indicator lights that let you know whether the barrier is working or needs troubleshooting.

How Do I Set up a Magnetic Boundary Strip?

Preparing a magnetic boundary strip is different from setting up a virtual wall barrier. To start, measure the no-cross line you want to create. Next, cut the strip according to the measurement you just took. If you want to make a halo around an object, you will need to cut several pieces to enclose said object. Finally, lay the strip, or strips, flat on the floor.

Best Affordable Robot Vacuum Using Virtual Walls

iRobot Roomba 690 Robot Vacuum-Wi-Fi Connectivity

With the Roomba 690‘s dual-mode virtual wall barrier, you control where the robot goes (and more importantly, where it doesn’t go). Flip the switch to make a wall up to 10 feet across archways and hallways, or flip it the other way to form a 2-foot-per-side halo next to fireplaces and pet dishes. The barrier operates on two AA batteries, so there’s no risk of tripping over a power cord.

iRobot Roomba 690 Robot Vacuum-Wi-Fi Connectivity

Other navigational technologies are integrated into the 3.6-inch-tall Roomba 690, such as a quick-thinking microprocessor. Four cliff sensors prevent the robot vacuum from tumbling down the stairs, and a light touch bumper sensor helps the robot avoid collisions. The room confinement sensor that detects the virtual wall also guides the robot to its dock every 90 minutes for a recharge, and dirt-detect sensors increase the suction when the robot needs more cleaning power.

A pair of multi-surface brushrolls loosen and lift stubborn debris from hard floors and carpets while an angled side brush sweeps along wall edges. As the robot vacuums around your house, its floor plate rises and falls to match the height of the floor for a close clean. Treaded wheels help the 690 traverse thick carpet pile, and the filter-equipped bin keeps dirt, dust and debris contained.

iRobot Roomba 690 Robot Vacuum-Wi-Fi Connectivity Review

Below the carrying handle that iRobot built into the faceplate, there are three localized controls – auto clean, dock and spot clean. Onboard indicators provide at-a-glance information about the 690’s Wi-Fi connection, battery power and operational issues. Robot control, scheduling and coverage map are available on the iRobot HOME app. For hands-free starting, stopping and docking, pair the robot vac with your Alexa or Assistant device.

Best Affordable Robot Vacuum Using Strips

Eufy [BoostIQ] RoboVac 35C

If you don’t want the RoboVac 35C to vacuum a fragile area rug or enter a certain room, all you have to do is cut a piece off the 6.6-foot-long roll and put a boundary strip on the floor. The 35C also comes with double-sided tape to keep the strip in place. When the 35C’s dual-hall sensor detects the strip’s magnet, the robot changes directions.

Eufy [BoostIQ] RoboVac 35C

For safe second-story use, Eufy added a drop sensor to the 35C. An infrared sensor in the bumper directs the 2.85-inch-tall RoboVac 35C to steer clear of obstacles, and a tempered glass top prevents the robot from getting scratched. There is also a sensor that detects heavy areas of dirt, automatically engaging BoostIQ mode. In this mode, the robot’s suction jumps to 1,500 pascals in fewer than 2 seconds.

Whether the 35C is vacuuming hard floors or medium-pile carpet, a pair of heavy-duty wheels keeps it steady. The double-helix brushroll works with two side brushes and the 55-decibel suction system to collect and lift debris into the 20.3-ounce dirt bin. Allergens such as dander, dust and pollen are captured by the high-performance filter set.

Eufy [BoostIQ] RoboVac 35C Review

A 2,600 mAh lithium-ion battery provides up to 100 minutes’ worth of runtime. The vertical onboard control panel offers convenient touch functions like charge and spot clean while those modes along with directional, edge and quick clean are found on the remote. Basic voice commands can be given to the 35C through Assistant or Alexa, and the EufyHome app offers extras like the audible robot locator.

Best Robot Vacuum Using Smart Mapping

iRobot Roomba s9+ (9550) Robot Vacuum

iRobot put all of the latest robotic vacuum technology into the Roomba s9+, including its proprietary vSLAM smart mapping system. vSLAM (visual simultaneous localization and mapping) involves the use of an optical sensor, which collects 230,400 pieces of data every second to make an precise map of your home. Coupled with Imprint Smart Mapping, the s9+ adapts to the dynamic structure of your home and sends a level-by-level map to the iRobot HOME app.

iRobot Roomba s9+ (9550) Robot Vacuum

The 3.5-inch-tall robot is equipped with four anti-fall sensors and a suction-increasing dirt-detect sensor. Other sensors scan the room 25 times a second to avoid obstacles. iRobot also integrated Imprint Link into the Roomba s9+, allowing it to become a cleaning partner with the Braava Jet M6 Robot Mop. Even though it doesn’t come with a dual-mode virtual wall, the s9+ is compatible with one.

Although the top-loading 13-ounce bin holds a decent amount of debris, the s9+ will connect to the automatic dirt disposal to unload that debris into a massive disposable bag. The D shape and five-fin brush allow the robot to clean corners deeply, and its flexible pair of extra-wide brushrolls remove stubborn dirt from all floors. To trap mold, dust and dander, the robot uses a 99-percent efficient filter screen.

iRobot Roomba s9+ (9550) Robot Vacuum Review

The lithium-ion battery promises a 120-minute runtime with a 2-hour automatic mid-clean recharge, after which the robot will resume cleaning. A few basic functions are accessible on the robot itself; however, you can do more with iRobot’s smartphone app, including by-room scheduling and map-border customization. The Wi-Fi-equipped robot also works with Assistant or Alexa, so you can tell the s9+ to start or stop cleaning, dock to the charger or vacuum a particular room.

Recommended Robot Vacuums
Best of the Best! Budget Pick Great for Carpets
iRobot Roomba i7+ (7550) Robot Vacuum with Automatic Dirt Disposal-Empties Itself, Wi-Fi Connected, Smart Mapping, Works with Alexa, Ideal for Pet Hair, Carpets, Hard Floors, Black eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S (Slim), Robot Vacuum Cleaner, Super-Thin, 1300Pa Strong Suction, Quiet, Self-Charging Robotic Vacuum Cleaner, Cleans Hard Floors to Medium-Pile Carpets Roborock S4 Robot Vacuum, Precision Navigation, 2000Pa Strong Suction, Robotic Vacuum Cleaner with Mapping, Ideal for Pet Hair, Low-Pile Carpets & Most Floor Types
Roomba i7+ Eufy 11S (Slim) Roborock S4
 • 75min Runtime
 • 1800Pa
 • Keep Out Zones
 • Clean Base
 • 100min Runtime
 • 1300Pa
 • 150min Runtime
 • 2000Pa
 • Precision Navigation

Robot Vacuum Buying Guides

Best Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Best Robot Vacuum Mops
Best Affordable Robot Vacuums

Best Robot Vacuums for Hardwood Floors
Best Robot Vacuum for a Big House/Large Floor Space

Best Ecovacs Deebot Robot Vacuums
Best Eufy Robot Vacuums

The Best of HouseholdMe in Your Inbox!

We’d love to stay in touch, sign up for the HouseholdMe team to contact you with great news, content and offers.

* indicates required