The Best College Dorm Essentials
Going to college for the first time can be daunting, but having a dorm room that feels more like a home can make a huge difference. That’s why we’ve spent more than 150 hours over the past three summers evaluating the best dorm bedding, appliances, and other essentials to ease the transition from childhood home to dorm room.
This review covers only gear for your dorm room. If you’re interested in school supplies (e.g., pens, notebooks), please check out our review of the best school supplies.
Table of contents
- Closet, laundry, and cleaning
- Desktop, decor, and entertainment
- Food and drink
Good dorm bedding should be comfortable, but it isn’t a long-term investment. If your room has a twin extra-long bed you’ll probably use the sheets only a few years, max, so you shouldn’t spend much. There aren’t a ton of good-quality, yet affordable twin XL sheets, but after considering 11 sets and testing two, we think Target’s Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set is the best for most dorm beds. They were nearly as soft, durable, and wrinkle-resistant as the top-performing sets in our main sheet guide despite being a fraction of the price. They proved very durable in all of our tests at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s textile-testing lab. And because they’re made of 100 percent cotton, they’ll breathe better than the cotton-polyester sheets offered in a lot of college linen packages. The twin XL size currently comes in only four colors (white and dark gray, and blue global and gray ring), but for about $30 for a set (including shipping) we think they’re an exceptional value.
If you want a percale set that’s a little cooler against the skin than our main pick we also like Target’s Threshold 300 Thread Count Ultra Soft sheets (flat, fitted, and cases). At around $40 for a complete set (with shipping) they aren’t as great a deal as our main pick, and they also don’t feel as soft and aren’t wrinkle-resistant. But because they have a very dry hand (the opposite of silky/slippery) they will feel nicer than our main pick for warm weather. The sheets currently come in a wider range of colors than our pick, too—aqua, elephant, ivory, red, and white—in case you want more options. To read more about why we like these sheets, read our full review of the best dorm sheets. —SH Staff
Buying a comforter for college is a tricky proposition: If you’re in a dorm with a twin bed, you might need that twin comforter for just a few years, which makes investing in a down-filled comforter (or another high-quality material like wool) an often unnecessary expense.
You have a couple of possible solutions to this conundrum, but we like the SleepBetter Beyond Down Gel Fiber Comforter from Costco for dorm use. Chances are, you’ll eventually want to transition to a down-filled comforter, but the Beyond Down is the cheapest down-alternative comforter we feel comfortable recommending. In our extensive, cross-country testing, we found that it beat out all direct competitors in terms of keeping us warm but not sweaty. No, it wasn’t as warm as our pick, but it’s still comfy, snuggly, and warm. If you aren’t a Costco member, you’ll pay a 5 percent surcharge—but it’s still quite affordable. —Jamie Wiebe
The Xtreme Comforts is the only pillow in our tests that suited a variety of sleep positions. Everyone loved how supportive it was without being too stiff or firm, and its moldability made it more comfortable than you’d imagine a pillow filled with cut-up foam would be. And for around $40 (less for the slim version), it’s a worthy, yet attainable splurge on even a tight budget, because few things pay more dividends than a good night’s sleep. However, if you prefer quantity to quality, the fluffy Premier Down-like Personal Choice medium-density pillows are great for back sleepers and you get two for less than the price of one of our top picks. You can read more about all of our picks in our review of the best pillows. —Michael Zhao
Most dorm beds are hard and unforgiving. The best way to fix this (without ordering your own twin XL mattress) is to put on a mattress pad. Most colleges will give you the option of buying an egg-crate foam topper for a few bucks at the beginning of the school year, and we think that’s a great route to go. But if you want something a bit more luxurious, we’ve got you covered. Looking at Sleep Like The Dead’s well-researched mattress topper comparison chart, you can see that fiber is the way to go for the best mix of comfort and affordability: A low-end memory foam topper—which will hold heat like an oven—can smell like chemicals, and you can clean it only by vacuuming it and wiping it down. With that in mind, we recommend the Pinzon Basics twin XL mattress pad as the best inexpensive cover for dorm beds.
Amazon reviewers say the Pinzon is plush and thick, like “sleeping on a cloud.” The similar Croscill 500 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Mattress Pad, according to reviewers, can fall apart in the wash and tends to tear, even when someone is putting it on a bed for the first time. One caveat: Pinzon recommends that you have this pad professionally cleaned or dry cleaned, and Amazon buyers confirm that attempts to throw it in the machine don’t work: “I have to set the water level in the washer to low or it floods because it’s so large and doesn’t absorb a lot.” —JW
If your roommate frequently pulls all-nighters, we recommend the Bedtime Bliss Eye Mask to keep the light out of your eyes. Not only is it the favorite out of the six we’ve tested in the past two years, it is also the top-rated sleep mask on Sleep Like The Dead’s crowdsourced sleep mask leaderboard and is the best-selling mask on Amazon.
What sets the Bedtime Bliss apart from most sleep masks is a sculpted, structured design that’s contoured to sit on your face like a pair of soft goggles with fabric lenses that rest around your eyes (instead of pressing on your eyelids). As a bonus, it comes with a small stuff sack for storage and a sample set of earplugs (which aren’t as good as our earplug pick). —MZ
Disposable earplugs can help block the sounds of noisy neighbors or your roommate’s personal business while you study or sleep. That’s why we spent several hours researching new contenders and tested four top-rated models while sleeping in a house that was next to an airport in order to determine that Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam earplugs are the best earplugs for most people.
These earplugs’ 32-decibel noise-reduction rating was one of the highest among the models I tested. According to Cooper Safety, that’s enough to reduce the volume of a gas lawnmower to that of a normal conversation. What made the Mack’s earplugs so effective is the fact that I could insert them and rest assured that they would stay in the whole night. Meanwhile, the Howard Leight LPF-1 and MAX1 might be favorites from crowdsourced sleep-aid review site Sleep Like the Dead, but they would inevitably fall out in the middle of the night. Thus, they failed to block out the noise of planes landing and taking off throughout the night, despite the MAX1’s 33-decibel noise-reduction rating. The Howard Leights also made my ears ache on occasion, whereas the Mack’s earplugs have a tapered shape that was consistently comfortable night after night. —Erica Ogg
When you’re in college, a reading light can come in handy, especially if your roommate goes to bed early. After testing three top-rated lights, we recommend the Mighty Bright XtraFlex2. Once you compare it with the competition, you can easily see why the XtraFlex2 has been the best-selling book light on Amazon for several years now. On its low brightness setting, it emits just enough light for personal reading but not so much that it will leak into your roommate’s space if they’re trying to sleep. And on the high brightness setting, the light is perfect for searching under the bed for a lost object. We can’t say the same for the ultra-bright Energizer LED Book Light or the too-dim Mighty Bright TravelFlex. What’s more, the XtraFlex2 supports 28 hours of reading time on three AAAs whereas the Energizer lasts only 10 hours.
We looked into rechargeable options as well, but came away unimpressed. The Red Kite Book Light is the most popular rechargeable, but it costs significantly more than our pick, lasts only 10 hours between charges, and uses a nonstandard USB cable for charging that’s difficult to replace if you lose it. —JW
After spending 30 hours on research, reading hundreds of reviews of 54 best-selling condoms, interviewing nine experts (including a chemical engineer and two sex workers), and then having 32 volunteers try 30 different types, the LifeStyles Skyn condom won out in our tests for average-size penises. It’s made of polyisoprene, which is hypoallergenic and is better at transferring sensitivity compared with natural latex. Next to the competition, it’s also more attractive, less expensive, and available in more styles (e.g., ribbed, ultra-thin, large). For slimmer penises, the Okamoto Zero Zero Four 004 was our testers’ favorite, and larger testers preferred the Billy Boy XXXXXL. To read more about why we like our picks, please read our full review of the best condoms. —Bianca Jarvis
After six hours of research and tests of four of the most-promising totes, we like the Saltwater Canvas Mesh Shower Bag for shuttling shampoos and body washes to the shower. It’s made of mildew-resistant mesh that’s thicker and stronger than the materials used in any of the other caddies we looked at, including the popular Honey-Can-Do Quick Dry Shower Tote, which in our tests was prone to sagging unless fully packed. The Saltwater Canvas bag’s thick material meant it was the only caddy that could stand upright on its own when set on the ground. We also appreciated the bag’s double-reinforced offset handle that allows you to hang it in the shower stall for easy access to your stuff.
The Saltwater Canvas bag features one large main compartment, three pockets on the outside, one small pocket on the interior, and 9-inch-high walls that are taller than any other caddy’s. We comfortably fit full-size bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a bottle of body wash, a loofah, face soap, a razor, a toothbrush, and a tube of toothpaste inside. Thanks to those tall walls, this bag can hold heavy, full-size bottles without falling over, unlike the shorter YaeloDesign Shower Caddy. —Eve O’Neill
After testing the superpopular Crocs, Havaianas, Ipanemas, and Old Navy flip-flops, we’ve determined that Old Navy’s Classic Flip-Flops are the best shower shoes. They’re dirt cheap, they come in a variety of colors, and they’re comfortable right out of the box. We weighed them dry, soaked them in the tub for an hour (they floated), and wiped them down before weighing them again to see how much water each soaked up—like our other contenders, they didn’t retain any water weight, which means they won’t dampen clothes in your locker or backpack. They do squeak a bit when wet, so if silence is important to you, you can get the Havaianas. But the Havaianas cost about five times as much per pair. —MZ
After roughly 42 hours of new research and real-world tests, including dozens of times drying off after showers, recording how quickly the towels dried, and weighing and measuring them for fiber loss and shrinkage, we think Target’s Fieldcrest Luxury Solid Towel is the best for most people. We’ve consistently found that it outperforms pricier towels. It doesn’t rank as the most luxurious towel we tried, but it does absorb water quickly and dry faster than plusher ones. It also feels nearly as soft as towels twice the price. It’s affordable, even on a student’s budget. And at its current price of only about $13 each, you could buy at least two so you have a spare for laundry day. —MZ
Closet, laundry, and cleaning
We considered more than 50 laundry baskets, searched out reviews, and then conducted our own testing to find the best laundry basket. For college students, we recommend the Starplast Tall Flex Laundry Basket because it’s affordable, durable, and easy to carry. It’s made of flexible plastic, so you can grab both handles with a single hand to carry it up and down stairs—and because the plastic is smooth, it won’t snag clothes. Its tall, narrow shape takes little floor space in a crowded dorm closet, and the basket has plenty of ventilation holes, so even sweaty clothes at the bottom can dry. —Chris Heinonen
After looking at dozens of models and testing two, we have found that The Container Store’s Nickel Duchess 5-Hook Overdoor Rack is the best around. It’s solidly built, and the oval nubs at the end of each hook are smooth enough that they shouldn’t damage delicate fabrics—unlike the blunt, mushroomlike ends on the Spectrum Windsor 6-Hook Over the Door Rack. The Duchess measures 19⅜ inches wide and 12¼ inches high, with a 1¾-inches-wide hanging bracket that should fit over most interior doors.
In our testing, we found the rack hung easily on a small door (24 inches wide and 1½ inch thick). The bracket had a quarter inch overhang, so the rack did wiggle a little on the door, but not enough to prove annoying. We didn’t find that the bracket scraped the door paint, although we did find one user comment about the bracket making it hard to shut a door—though, truthfully, this could be an issue with any over-the-door rack. The Nickel Duchess 5-Hook Overdoor Rack should be able to hold heavy bags and bulky jackets without bending or breaking. —Christine Cyr Clisset
After performing 150 hours of research, examining 252 stain swatches, doing 136 pounds of laundry, testing 20 different detergents, consulting with a surfactant specialist, and analyzing laundered fabric with a UV/Vis spectrometer, we concluded that our favorite detergent pods are Tide Pods. They’re not as efficient at cleaning as our favorite liquid laundry detergent—none of the pods we tested cracked the top 10 in stain-removal performance—but they are very convenient. Just toss one on top of your laundry basket on your way out the door. It’s way better than lugging around a giant jug. At about $20 for 72 pods, a container of Tide Pods isn’t any more expensive than regular Tide, and it’s available in five scent varieties—including the unscented Free & Gentle.
If you’re more concerned about saving money than you are about convenience, Target’s Up & Up Free and Clear was among our top five detergents in performance and currently costs only 12¢ a load. —Leigh Krietsch Boerner
We have a guide to the best hangers that will keep your clothes looking great for years to come, but the truth is, college students probably don’t need anything that fancy. After talking to closet organizers and clothing designers, we’ve learned that for inexpensive clothes, any old hangers will do just fine—so long as they aren’t the wire ones you get for free from the dry cleaners, which can rust and form creases.
With that in mind, our advice is to head to your nearest big-box store and pick up a couple of packs of the store-brand plastic ones. But if you’d rather order online, Mainstays Plastic Hangers are currently $10 for 18 and will work well for most shirts and jackets. If you need something that offers heavy-duty support for coats, clips for skirts, or a sculpted shape for a blazer or suit, check out our full guide to the best hangers. —MZ
If you want a vacuum for occasional tidy-ups, the Black+Decker CHV1410L is a powerful handheld vacuum for people on a budget. Its strong suction and portability make it great for dusting off your desk or bed, or for picking up the occasional snack spill (no liquids though!). We like this thing because most days it’s the most affordable hand vac with a reasonably strong lithium-ion battery. Most other models at this price still use NiCd batteries, which is a bummer because the suction starts to fade a few minutes into each cleaning cycle, cutting the effective cleaning time just about in half. However, it doesn’t have a hose or floor attachment. But many dorms will have a communal vacuum you can use for that stuff as needed. You can read more about the Black+Decker in our review of the best portable vacuums. —MZ
Desktop, decor, and entertainment
Wall hanging supplies
Get your stuff off the floor and onto the walls to save space. 3M’s Command Hooks are the best adhesive hooks we’ve found, and their adhesive backing sticks firmly to most surfaces but also comes off easily, so you can avoid damaging the walls (which we’re assuming your RA will appreciate). They come in a range of sizes that will hold anywhere from a half pound to 5 pounds. The Medium Designer Hooks will hold up to 3 pounds, enough for a small bag, a collection of belts, or other light objects. For hanging towels, we like the brushed-nickel Medium Traditional Hook, which will bear up to 5 pounds. The Small Wire Hooks will work well for anything weighing less than half a pound, like necklaces or keys.
In our tests, all of the Command products worked well, though only after we followed every step of the installation instructions: Clean the surface with alcohol, attach one side of the two-sided tape to the hook, attach the other side to the wall and press firmly for 30 seconds, then wait an hour before hanging anything. Otherwise, the hooks fell off. Users are enthusiastic about Command Hooks, and Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, and Erin Doland of Unclutterer recommend them.
For heavy coats or a full backpack, you’ll have to mount something permanent (if you can), or look into an over-the-door hook.
For hanging posters, try Command Poster Strips, which use the same easily removable adhesive as the Command hooks. They are available in a package of 48 strips, which should take care of your dorm room for around $7. These strips are much better at keeping stuff on your walls than poster putty, especially for larger objects. —Christine Cyr Clisset and Michael Berk
Dorm desks aren’t renowned for their expansive surfaces, so the best desk lamp for a first-year student should be compact, adjustable in height, and sufficiently bright for late-night cram sessions. If you study in the very early morning or late at night—as students are known to do—the Anker Lumos LED Desk Lamp can add the right light mixture to your space. If you prefer a warm and inviting space to a bright and focused one, the IKEA Forså is your best desk-lamp option. This stylish, adjustable lamp throws a warm light on documents or around your desk.
The Anker Lumos LED Desk Lamp is the best value among look-alike LED lamps. The Lumos has four color modes (Reading, Studying, Relax, and Bedtime) and five brightness levels. Its base rotates 180 degrees, pivots at three points, and has a decent-looking control panel with a sleep timer. Most lamps with all of those modes and options cost $10 to $30 more than the Lumos. Anker’s lamp includes a 2-amp USB charging port—not a necessity on most desks, but the speedy charging is a nice convenience. The base of the Lumos is 7 inches square, and it stays in place with foam padding. Most important, the Anker lamp beams its light from an even panel, not a strip with visible tiny bulbs. As a result, the light casts a wide, even glow, leaving no white spots on your desk. However, it does look a little techy, and though it’s a great value, its price could be a turnoff to those on a tighter budget.
If you want something cheaper and more stylish and are willing to sacrifice some adjustability, the IKEA Forså (available in store only) is your best bet. It looks better than any multiple-setting LED lamp we saw at a reasonable price, and it has a 6-foot-long cord and a small weighted base that frees up surface space. The drawback: IKEA sells bulbs for the Forså only with a 2,700-kelvin “warm daylight” temperature, and LED candelabra bulbs with a cooler temperature are uncommon and somewhat pricey. That limitation is fine if you use the Forså exclusively for calm reading or for nighttime work. If you use it as your main desk light, your other office lighting must be warm, or the conflicting temperatures (colors) may cause discomfort.
The Forså’s three-point adjustable twin-pivoting arm and swiveling shade head provide a wide distribution of lighting when positioned at full height or a narrow spotlight when folded down. Its weighted 5.9-inch-diameter base takes up little space on a desk yet keeps the lamp firmly planted, and it rotates so you can shine the light over your bed for late-night reading.
Most big-box retailers source lighting from the same overseas manufacturers’ catalogs, which offer pre-existing designs to meet the demand for low prices. IKEA designs everything in-house to its own specifications, but because the company operates on such a large scale, it’s able to keep costs low. As a result, you’re basically getting a $30 to $60 lamp for half the price. —Gregory Han and Kevin Purdy
You could get better, louder sound from a set of desktop computer speakers, but for most dorm needs, a portable bluetooth speaker will sound good enough and be a lot more versatile. We’ve tested over 80 of them over the past several years and the UE Roll 2 is our favorite. Despite being the size and shape of a bagel that’s been sat on, it sounds great, has plenty of battery life, and gets loud enough to annoy your neighbors—let alone your roommate. And it’s waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about it being in the way of a spilled drink. —MZ
As much as you’ll want to work at your actual desk setup, chances are, the chair the college gives you won’t be as comfortable as your bed. Because you’ll probably end up doing most of your work from bed, it helps to have a decent lap desk. After spending a dozen hours testing six of the best-reviewed lap desks, we think the LapGear XL Executive Mahogany Lap Desk is the best choice for most people. Its large wood top offers a sturdy and stable surface for 15-inch (or smaller) laptops. The comfortable cushion and smart design allow air to circulate, keeping you and your laptop cooler during use. The LapGear is pretty affordable, but if you want to go cheaper, the Honey-Can-Do Portable Desk is just as sturdy and stable, but its cushion traps more heat against your legs. You can read more about lap desks in our full review. —MZ
Typically, a dorm room only comes furnished with a bed, desk, chair, and set of drawers for each inhabitant. That means if you have a buddy or two over, someone’s sitting on the floor or on your bed. If you’d like to have more options, consider getting a stool, which can double as a nightstand when not in use. After researching 10 hours and hosting a dinner party with three top contenders for our small-apartment gear guide, we like the IKEA Sinnerlig. It’s a handsome and modestly priced 13¾-inch-diameter cork-top stool that sits within the sweet spot between stool and side table, offering sufficient surface area for guests to rest their drinks or their backsides. At just a smidge over nine pounds, the Sinnerlig can be single-handedly moved around with ease, yet its four powder-coated steel legs feel stable and supportive once assembled. Even while supporting a fully grown adult (it’s rated to support up to 220 pounds), the stool displayed none of the worrisome wiggle some cheaper models exhibit while shifting body weight, like the IKEA Frosta or the Target’s tipsy three-legged Chase End Table Small Stool. Though the latter two are more what you’d expect to pay on a college student’s budget, they didn’t feel sturdy enough to earn recommendation as a seat—especially if you’re talking about inebriated college students. —Gregory Han
Food and drink
A mini fridge can make a spartan dorm room feel a bit more like home just by providing a space to chill drinks, store a few fresh snacks, and keep your leftovers from turning into a science experiment. After spending 10 hours scoping out the category and considering about 20 models, we found that almost any mini fridge will get the job done, so long as it meets some minimum criteria.
First, it needs to have a real compressor (as opposed to a less-effective thermoelectric cooling element that will struggle to keep food cold enough). Second, it should have only one door, as those models tend to maintain consistent temperatures more effectively than two-doored counterparts. That’s why our main advice for most mini fridge shoppers is to get whatever is cheap and available—which probably means buying used from whoever is moving out. It’s easier on your wallet and better for the planet. But if you must have a new fridge, we can suggest a couple of standouts. We’re working on a full review, but for now, here’s a preview of our work so far.
If you’re comfortable with an extra-compact, cube-style fridge, our favorite is the Midea WHS-65LB1. Its temperature is adjustable. The door is reversible. The company offers a two-year warranty on the compressor. It holds at least 30 cans, which is plenty of space for dorm-room eating habits, and it even has a tiny freezer shelf for a small ice cube tray. Best of all, it has an adjustable leg to keep it level, crucial for ensuring that it operates quietly. That’s a big deal because you might end up sleeping with this thing next to your head. Amazon users currently rate it at 4.2 stars (out of five) across 769 reviews, noting its consistent temps and quiet operation. And if you don’t want to buy it through Amazon, you’re in luck: Midea manufactures the model, but you can find it at various retailers sold under several other brand names, including Haier, Insignia, and we think Igloo, too.
Got a few roommates and need a little more storage? The Danby DCR044A2BDD has nearly triple the capacity of the Midea cube fridge, but still takes up only about 3.5 square feet of precious floor space. We like this model for most of the same reasons as we do the tiny Midea, and we prefer it over other tall fridges because it has wide availability, a fair price, and a stronger user rating than similar models. One differentiating factor for the Danby over most mini fridges of this size is that the can holders in the door are individuated, so you don’t just have to grab whatever drink is at the bottom of the dispenser. The freezer shelf is nice and roomy, too, so you can keep a few frozen meals on hand to heat up in a compact microwave.
We’d also like to give a shout-out to the Igloo FR326, which has a door that doubles as a dry-erase board. This model is about 30 percent smaller than the Danby, and we like the Danby’s can holders better than the Igloo’s dispenser. But if you don’t mind the can dispenser and you plan on getting a dry-erase board anyway, it’s a good buy. —Liam McCabe
After testing 10 top-rated travel mugs over the past two years, we’ve determined that the Zojirushi Stainless Mug is the best mug for your backpack. In addition to offering stellar insulating performance—in our tests, coffee was still hot after sitting in it for 8 hours—it has a more intuitive and secure lid-locking mechanism than any other mug we’ve encountered. You never have to worry about it popping open and spilling in your bag, yet you can easily operate it with just one hand. At its current price of about $25 for the 16-ounce version, it’s a bit on the pricey side, but it’s the only mug we trust enough to put in the same pocket as a laptop or tablet. We like the 16-ounce version for most people’s needs, but you can go with the cheaper 12-ounce version or the slightly pricier 20-ounce version instead. —MZ
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
We conducted close to 70 hours of research over three years, filling, inverting, and abusing 54 different bottles made from various materials to find the best water bottles. For students, we recommend the 27-ounce Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Bottle with Loop Cap. (The bottle is also available in a 40-ounce size.) Unlike the fatter 1-liter Nalgene bottles, the Klean Kanteen has a 2¾-inch-diameter base, so it will fit into most water-bottle pockets on your backpack. Yet, the Klean Kanteen’s 1¾-inch mouth is wide enough for all but the largest ice cubes to fit through, and the bottle’s stainless-steel design means it can take more of a beating without shattering (like glass) or denting as readily as softer aluminum bottles.
We also like that Klean Kanteens come in several sizes, including 12-ounce and 18-ounce variants that work well for children. All sizes are compatible with a number of different caps, including a silicone sports spout (that is prone to a bit of leaking in our experience), as well as an all-steel option, one with bamboo trim, and even a sippy-cup-style cap.
If you prefer a glass, plastic, foldable, or insulated bottle, check out our full guide to the best water bottles for our recommendations. —MZ
Coffee and tea makers
Whether you’re a coffee person or a tea drinker, you’ll probably end up consuming more caffeine in college than you’d ever thought possible. Having an electric kettle in your room means that you can make a cup at any hour. At college, we think you don’t want to spend a lot on anything that you can’t keep an eye on all day. The Chefman RJ11-17-GP Precision Electric Kettle has a speedy boil time, temperature presets, and a three-year warranty. Our testers were impressed with this kettle’s capabilities, including one of the fastest boiling times of all the models we tested (3 minutes, 50 seconds)—perfect if you’re in a hurry before class. It was also one of the only kettles in the $50 range that had variable temperature controls and didn’t seem cheaply made. Impressively, after we set it to a holding temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, it measured just 4 degrees off. —MZ
To prepare your coffee, we recommend the AeroPress, which comes with a full set of accessories and about a year’s supply of filters. It works kind of like a giant syringe, using a combination of pressure and lower brewing temperatures to mitigate the excess bitterness and acidity associated with cheaper coffee (and to get great results with better beans). The traditional brewing method produces a strongly flavored, espresso-strength brew, and the paper filters make your coffee sediment-free. One drawback: The AeroPress has a lot of parts that you can easily misplace at the sink. —MZ
If you want freshly ground coffee on a budget, we recommend pairing your coffee maker with the Hario Coffee Mill Slim. A comfortable grip and a spring-loaded grind-adjustment mechanism prevent it from wiggling while you turn the handle, so it’s easier to use than larger models. A hand mill is also a lot quieter than an electric grinder, a benefit in close quarters. —MZ
If you want something that’s less involved than the Aeropress—especially if you need a whole pot for an all-nighter—the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201) is a great automatic coffee maker for not much money. We tested it against five other top-rated cheap coffee makers and found that the it made the most reliably solid cup of coffee—even if you’re brewing pre-ground stuff from the grocery store. In addition to winning over our tasting panel of pro coffee roasters, it has a host of user-friendly features that testers loved—like a removable water reservoir (perfect for taking to the communal kitchen for easy filling) and a programmable auto-brew timer. Best of all, it was the cheapest model we tested. —MZ
For tea drinkers, we compared a dozen top-rated brewing methods head-to-head and found that the Finum Brewing Basket is the best option because of its extreme simplicity. It’s just a small basket of very fine stainless steel mesh held together by food-safe and heat-safe plastic with a lid that doubles as a saucer. It gives tea leaves ample room to bloom, and it strains out even the tiniest particles when you remove it from your mug or pot. —MZ
You can enjoy late-night leftovers, piping-hot popcorn, and even freshly prepared meals for one in the comfort of your dorm room if you get a small microwave. After 18 hours of research and consideration of eight popular models, we think the Danby Designer Stainless is the best microwave for your dorm room because it has a handle instead of the more common, less durable push-button door-opening mechanism. Handles tend to be more durable in the long run because they involve fewer moving parts. The Danby microwave also has a familiar and intuitive button layout, including a Start button that doubles as an Add 30 Seconds button—we learned that this was a must-have feature for many people when we were researching the best full-size microwaves.
At about 17 by 14 by 10 inches, this 0.7-cubic-foot, 700-watt microwave fits perfectly on top of a mini fridge and uses less power than the more common 1,000-watt models, which means it’s less likely to trip your breaker when it’s sharing a circuit with a kettle, the fridge, and your laptop. The 8½-inch turntable is big enough for frozen entrees and popcorn, but it won’t accommodate larger dishes. However, if the Danby model is sold out, you can get any of the other 0.7-cubic-foot, 700-watt units from Frigidaire, RCA, Sunbeam, or the like for $50 to $80 and expect similar performance. They’re literally the same machine with different branding and slightly different façades—though they typically have button door openers instead of handles.
Note that for a smaller microwave like this one, you’ll want to add a little extra cooking time when making foods with instructions, because these are written for higher-wattage microwaves at 100 percent power. You can consult this conversion chart for exact cooking times. —Brendan Nystedt
After testing five top-rated rice cookers with a panel of Japanese chefs, we recommend the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer for the student on a budget who’s tired of the dining hall. Despite retailing for less than half the price of some of its competitors, the Digital Simplicity earned the top spot in our taste tests for white rice. Its speed was also impressive, as it produced a 3-cup batch of white rice in less than 38 minutes and brown rice in 1 hour, 20 minutes—about 12 and 25 minutes faster, respectively, than the results we got from the higher-end Zojirushi NS-TSC10. You can use a delayed start to let it soak for a while if you’d like your rice to be waiting for you after class. A dedicated steam mode and a boil-then-simmer function add to the Digital Simplicity’s versatility. You could easily cobble together a decent dinner using only your rice cooker, too. —JW
(Top photo by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: July 19, 2016