I’ll admit it: I have residual trepidation from the last time I reviewed a Shark smart vacuum. The company’s other home appliances may be reasonable dupes for price options, but when I received its first-ever smart robot vacuum, I ran it 35 times and it never developed a map. I lived in a 1,000-square-foot house where I could walk from my bed to my daughter’s room in 12 steps.
So my expectations for Shark’s new AI Ultra robot vacuum were very low—especially since I hate most robot mops. I’ve tested many over the years, and few have seemed faster or more effective than simply dragging out my Swiffer manual. But time has passed, both for me and for Shark. Now that I live in a larger house with different types of flooring, the Shark AI Ultra has become one of my most reliable cleaning companions. It may not scrub as hard as Ecovacs’ enormous and expensive Deebot X1 Omni, but it’s surprisingly effective at half the price.
If you’re familiar with robot vacuums, you know that they tend to be pretty finicky about placement. That goes double for a robot vacuum that doubles as a mop. If you want to be able to start the vacuum from your phone, without carrying it into the kitchen, you have to … well, find a place to put it in the kitchen. That way, the robot doesn’t have to travel, dripping, across your carpet.
Most robot vacuums I’ve tried can be safely stowed in discreet locations (I’ve even parked a few under the couch), but oftentimes mopping vacs take up more space. Chances are you’ll have to move the garbage bin and the dog food bin in the kitchen, as I did, to make room for the Shark AI Ultra. Accessories are also an issue. Some vacuums, like the iRobot Roomba j7+, have storage bins inside the docking station, but others like the Shark require you to empty out a shelf in your closet.
When you switch between mopping and vacuuming, you also have to swap out the dustbin, so I needed to find a convenient place where I wouldn’t forget about that too. It comes with an effective and pretty innocuous-smelling cleaning solution. (If you don’t like it, you can use plain water.)
The Shark dock itself is fairly unobtrusive. I measured it at 14 inches high and 19 inches deep, which isn’t too big compared to other auto-empty docking stations. After I plugged it in and it charged, it mapped my (now larger) house accurately after one 20-minute mapping run—a huge improvement over my first Shark robot vacuum.
To Each Their Own
Everyone uses their robot vacuum and mop differently. Some people want to pick up their whole house after the kids are in bed, set up a routine, and wake up to a sparkling new house, like a bunch of elves came through in the night.
I used to clean like that. But now that my husband is traveling for work and I am single-parenting two grade schoolers, a dog, and a grouchy hamster during the week, I take my bits and pieces of cleanliness when I can get it. Shark’s SharkClean app (iOS, Android) is remarkably simple and easy to use. Once I mapped my house, I designated separate rooms and added a no-go zone around the fireplace, where vacuums tend to fall in.
When my kids are in school, I pick up the kitchen, fill the mopping bin, and lock it into the bottom of the robot vacuum. I particularly appreciate that the app offers a time estimate (that is reasonably accurate) for how long the cleaning will take. I was also surprised by how effective the mopping was. It’s very hard for a robot vacuum to calibrate mopping correctly. If it releases too little fluid, it’s not effective. Too much and it leaves your floor a dripping, soggy mess.
The Shark’s bin releases just enough cleaning fluid, and most importantly, it wiggles as it mops to scrub the floor. If you select UltraMop in the app to spot-clean, you can see the squiggly pattern in the floor as it mops. The microfiber cleaning pad, which was easy to slide on and off the bin, showed a lot of that dirt.