The reality is this. Freshmen in college won’t eat every meal in the dining hall. Period. They get busy, it rains, they don’t feel well, they’re not a fan of the Thursday offerings, their friends want to go out to eat. There will be many reasons to pass on a dining hall meal. And it will probably happen more frequently than you expect. Dorm room appliances to the rescue.
After my son’s first semester, we adjusted his meal plan down to a couple fewer meals per week. He almost never goes for breakfast. And he’s always hungry at night after the dining hall closes. I’ve tried to convince him to go to bed earlier and get up for breakfast, but he’s not having it. In an effort to cut down on the fast food, Door Dash and late-night trips to Waffle House, we came up with some ideas for him to have options right in his dorm room.
Before you continue, know that less is more in a dorm room. There are lots of options on this list, but only a few will be relevant to your student, their tastes, their interests and the estimated level of effort to cook something themselves.
We’ve used a combination of personal experience, existing college student feedback and product ratings to provide you with our recommendations below.
We are watching these items for sales EVERY day, so please join our Dorm Shopping Recommendations And Deal Alerts Facebook group to learn so much more about all the dorm essentials – what to look for in dorm items, when specific items are on sale and when to buy before there are inventory issues. Many of the most popular items start to sell out or become more expensive in late spring and summer.
You can see our full list of dorm recommendations in our Complete Dorm Room Essentials Guide.
CHECK WITH YOUR SCHOOL AND ROOMMATE BEFORE YOU SHOP FOR DORM APPLIANCES
Before you go any further, PLEASE get your school or dorm’s provided, allowed and restricted list. Some dorms provide a mini-fridge and prohibit you from bringing your own. Other dorms only allow certain appliances and include restrictions related to size, wattage, amps, energy certifications, exposed heating elements and more.
There are dorms that are extremely specific in their requirements and some just have a short-list of restrictions, there is no blanket list of what appliances are allowed in a dorm. You should be able to find information for your school in the housing section of their website or in your accepted student portal.
Once you know what is allowed, you’ll want to make a plan with your roommate. Dorm room space is at a premium and you should be able to share most of what’s suggested below. Rather than buy everything and split the cost, agree to a list of what’s needed and decide who will buy what. This will make the end of year dorm room cleanout easier as you can take home what you purchased.
Refrigerators for dorms
As mentioned above, please check with your specific dorm for what is provided, allowed or restricted. Some dorms may allow one dorm fridge per person or one per room. They may also offer options to rent a mini-fridge or a Microfridge (combo microwave & fridge) for the school year.
Once you know your allowed specifications, if you decide to buy one, you have a few features to consider when shopping for a mini-fridge for a dorm room.
- Freezer included and how large
- Single door or double door models
Typical Dorm Refrigerator Sizes
The smallest size, a cube really, is in the 1.6-1.8 cubic feet range. Many of these have tiny freezer compartments as well.
Moving up a size to 2.5 or 3.1 cubic feet, you’ll find a larger freezer all the way across the top along with more fridge space.
The larger 3.2 cubic feet and larger sometimes come in a double door model with a fully separate freezer compartment. These are pricier, but if a legit freezer is on your list, it is a lot easier to keep the temperatures steady in both compartments when they are fully separated.
We went with the fridge with a separate freezer, but this was primarily because my son is a student athlete, and he needs to keep ice packs on hand. However, it has actually come in handy to store food that I send with him. His favorite breakfast on the go are these sausage pancake muffins, and I often send him a couple dozen that he keeps in his freezer. When he needs something quick, he takes one out and pops it into the microwave.
My son has a 3.1 cubic foot double-door Whirlpool, and it has served him very well this year. Unfortunately, that model seems to be discontinued. In reviewing Consumer Reports, Black and Decker and Frigidaire both have decent reviews. Midea is a newer brand introduced in the past 10 years, but it gets very good reviews, some of the best on Amazon.
Shopping for a Dorm Fridge
If you can do some in-store shopping, this is a good item to check out in your local warehouse club or at Home Depot or Lowe’s for sales or open-box models. Don’t forget to take your school’s required specs with you before you head out shopping.
If you are shopping online, these are the most highly rated for each of the sizes.
|Brand||Capacity (cu ft)||Freezer||Watts (kWh/year)||Energy Star Certified||UL Approved|
|Midea||1.6||very small interior compartment||207||YES||YES|
|Black & Decker||1.7||Interior small compartment||201||YES||YES|
|Black & Decker||2.5||Larger freezer but single door||212||YES||YES|
|Black & Decker||3.2||Larger freezer but single door||219||YES||YES|
|Midea||3.2||Double door (one freezer, one fridge)||270||YES||YES|
If you’re going with a Boho dorm theme or want a pop of color from your fridge, check out this retro cutie!
In the back of your mind, are you thinking “maybe a mini fridge really isn’t necessary especially if my child will only be in a dorm for the first year and then move into more apartment-style housing”? Yes, good thought. But consider this. After freshman year, you move into apartment-style housing and are now sharing the provided kitchen fridge with your roommates. And despite roommate agreements, things disappear. Visitors come and go and so do your bottles of water or specialty hydration drinks. Unless it is against the housing rules, you can certainly consider keeping your own mini-fridge in your room. If you have carpeting, I would recommend a mini-fridge stand or a rubber pan or mat to place underneath the fridge.
Microwaves For Dorm Rooms
This is another appliance that just may not be allowed in your dorm, so please check the rules! If you can’t bring your own, you may be able to rent a MicroFridge from your school.
Are you going to be in a suite-style or apartment-style dorm? If so, there may be a microwave provided. If a microwave is not provided, please check if outside microwaves are allowed and if there are restrictions or specific requirements.
Much like the dorm mini-fridges, if you can bring your own microwave, please check for limitations in wattage or amps. We’ve put together some of the best dorm microwaves for you below and indicated the wattage and amps of each.
Dorm Room Microwaves
|Comfee||.7||700||Sound On/Off Mode|
|Toshiba||.9||900||Sound On/Off Mode|
|Comfee||.9||900||Sound On/Off Mode, Available In Cute Retro Colors|
|Toshiba Multifunction||1||1000||Can also be used in air fry or convection cooking modes, Sound On/Off Mode|
|Toshiba||1.2||1100||Sound On/Off Mode|
Accessories for Dorm Microwaves
These helpful tools make a new college student’s in-room dining a little easier. And neater!
Splatter Cover – we use this at home, and it saves all the hassle of cleaning out the microwave regularly. And if you think it can be messy at home, imagine a microwave in a college dorm room. I can attest to the ease of use by my husband and teens. It collapses down to almost flat which is great for storage in a crowded dorm. It is also dishwasher safe.
Easy Microwave Pasta Cooker – help your student make some of their favorite meals without leaving their room. My son loves my homemade mac and cheese, but while he’s at school, he can cook the pasta in this handy little cooker, then he puts it in a bowl with some shredded cheese. Microwave for 10-15 seconds, and voila, mac and cheese (that really can’t compare to my homemade version)!
Microwave Soup Mug – well, my son had never had ramen before college. But they learn about it fast, and this handy mug makes it super easy to make ramen in your dorm room. He was using disposable bowls and making a mess (because they’re not very big) before we found this little gem. Made in New Zealand and lots of other microwave accessories available from this brand.
Microwave Popcorn Popper – just pour in the kernels and pop without oil or added fat right in the microwave. Other models have many reviews about burning and shattering glass, this one has glowing reviews and is made of silicone. And this microwave popper is collapsable for easy storage.
Making TEA OR Coffee In A Dorm Room
Of all of the possible dorm room appliances, hopefully your school allows coffee makers – we all know how important caffeine can be to the college experience!
Please check with your dorm or apartment’s rules to understand which, if any, coffee makers are allowed and any specific requirements. For each model recommended below, you can find their associated wattage following the description.
Single-Serve Tea and Coffee Options
Keurig Mini – this one comes in cute colors for a dorm or college apartment and is less than 5 inches wide. It has auto shut-off and is compatible with the My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filter which is a great idea both for cost savings and environmental purposes. (1470 watts)
Keurig Mini Plus – same cute colors as the model above. The additional benefits with the Plus are a built-in k-cup pod holder, a strong brew option, and a removable water reservoir which may be a helpful plus for students who have to go down the hall to get to a sink, (1470 watts)
Please note that there are 2 sizes for the reusable filters. The models above use version 1.0 of the My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filters. You can actually get disposable paper liners for the reusable filter. While it doesn’t make it quite as environmentally friendly, it will certainly help with clean-up.
Each of these Keurig options can accommodate a travel mug of up to 7″ tall.
Black & Decker Single-Serve Coffee Brewer – for a less expensive option that brews coffee grounds or the flat coffee pods, this highly-rated model is under $30, has an auto shut-off, and because of the simple to operate power button, it could be used on a smart plug to have it automatically start at the time you specify the plug to turn on. (650 watts)
Coffee Pot/Single-Serve COMBO Coffee Makers
For those who may occasionally want a full pot of coffee for group study sessions, as well as the on-the-run single cup in the morning, there are many affordable combination coffee makers that do both. Here is our recommended model.
Combo Coffee Pot & Keurig – brews 7 single-serve cups from 1 water reservoir instead of filling every day, brews single cup in 90 seconds, programmable timer, auto shut off, brew strength choices, easy to clean, etc! (1400 watts)
BREW YOUR OWN, PAD YOUR WALLET
Brewing your own coffee can save upwards of $100/month as compared to visiting a campus Starbucks or Dunkin’ outlet. And while these coffee places may be ‘included’ in a dining plan, you don’t want that expensive cup of coffee to replace an actual meal in your dining credits.
A cute mat to put under the coffee brewer to protect the surface below.
Travel mug no taller than 7″ (because that’s the max of most of the single-serve machines).
Coffee poster for the true coffee lover.
Cute coffee mug for her.
Dorm Room Cooking Appliances
In terms of what cooking appliances may be allowed in your dorm, colleges are ALL over the place. From pretty much no appliances at all to nothing with an open flame, you absolutely must check with your school and specific dorm assignment to determine which dorm room appliances are permitted and any corresponding specifications such as temperatures, wattage, etc.
If you are in an apartment-style dorm with a kitchen, you probably have more flexibility, but you may still have some restrictions.
You may wonder why to consider any type of cooking in a dorm room given the students are mostly on meal plans, but the truth is, the dining halls are not always open at a convenient time for your schedule that day. Or late-night snacks are required to keep the studying going. Or…the dining hall menus are getting monotonous, and you just need a break.
Here are some small dorm room appliance options that help fill the gaps between dining hall visits.
Electric Hot Water Kettle – probably not necessary if you have a microwave to boil water, but if not, this can be very handy for soups, ramen, tea and other hot drinks. Auto shut off and BPA free. (1500 watts)
Compact Blender/Smoothie Maker – definitely not a necessary dorm appliance unless the student is one who loves to make smoothies. We have a Ninja at home, and this is a great, small version that comes with 2 cups (both with to-go lids). BPA-free, and no, it is not a quiet appliance! (700 watts)
Panini Press – not just for making hot sandwiches, but this is great for reheating leftovers or takeout from the dining hall. Reheat a sandwich, burger, grilled chicken or quesadilla quickly and without using a microwave which tends to make bread and meat items rubbery. (1500 watts)
Rice Cooker – if you don’t have a microwave, a rice cooker is a great way to heat up soups, chilis, pastas, some leftover queso or cook up some oatmeal on a cold morning. This little guy is only a 2-cup model, so it won’t take up much space, and it comes in some very cute colors. (200 watts) If 2 cups is too small, this is a 4-cup model (450 watts).
APPLIANCES TO AVOID IN A DORM ROOM
These appliances are often not allowed, and honestly, you don’t need them.
- Hot Plates
- George Foreman Grills
- Electric Skillets
- Air Fryers
- Crockpots/Slow Cookers
- Toaster Ovens
Even if these are allowed, most of them take up a lot of space. They aren’t easy to clean. And you probably won’t use them much. Toasters are an exception as they are pretty small and don’t require a lot of cleaning, but they are often banned due to having exposed heating elements.
DORM ROOM APPLIANCE SAFETY
Please follow these basic safety precautions for any electrical items in your dorm room.
- First and foremost, with dorm room appliances or not, you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your room. Yes, your dorm should have operable detectors, but you should have your own in your room in case your dorm is not equipped with one, or there are any malfunctions or missed battery changes.
- Do not overload extension cords or power strips. Where possible use surge protector power strips rather than extension cords as they will shut off automatically if they are drawing too much current.
- Do not tack or nail power cords or strips to keep them in place. Tape is ok (if allowed by the dorm).
- Do not tuck power cords or power strip cords under rugs, beds or chairs where they could be damaged or crushed.
- Do not put anything that may get warm near curtains, bedding or other flammable material. This includes cell phones on chargers and lamps.
- Take advantage of auto shut-off where available. If you have a hard time remembering to turn off appliances (including hair styling tools), put them on a smart plug and schedule them to switch off every day right after you leave the dorm.
- Space heaters are prohibited in most dorms.
DORM ROOM FOOD AND DRINK ESSENTIALS AND GADGETS
DORM WATER AND DORM WATER FILTERS
Water is essential, and if your teen is used to walking up to the fridge in your kitchen to dispense ice and water, suddenly that convenience is gone. And regular access to good drinking water is more difficult. Hydration is so important to good performance, and ironically it is hard to hydrate inexpensively as a new college student.
The somewhat easy way out is to stock up on bottled water. But this is expensive, heavy (to lug a big case), requires a car or a way to get to a store, and bottled water is definitely not environment-friendly. So what to do for water in a dorm room then?
The standard answer to this is a Brita Pitcher. The pitcher filters out potentially harmful elements from the tap water and produces fresh clean drinking water. When you shop for Brita pitcher, you may be overwhelmed by the options, so we’ve narrowed it down to the following for you.
|Pitcher Name||Capacity||Filter Type||Dimensions||Colors||Extra Filters|
|Brita Standard Metro||6 cups||Standard (40 gallons) or Longlast (120 gallons)||Height 9.8"; Width 4.45"; Length/Depth 9.37"||White, Turquoise, Red||2-Pack Standard Filters|
|Brita Standard Everyday||10 cups||Standard Only (40 gallons)||Height 10.7"; Width 5.4"; Length/Depth 10.1"||White, Black||2-Pack Standard Filters|
|Brita Longlast Everyday||10 cups||Longlast (120 gallons)||Height 10.47"; Width 5.59"; Length/Depth 10.94"||White, Black, Turquoise||1 Longlast Filter|
|Brita Longlast Dispenser (for regular-sized fridges)||18 cups||Longlast (120 gallons)||Height 10.47"; Width 5.67"; Length/Depth 14.37"||Black||1 Longlast Filter|
My son goes to a small school and lives in an older dorm. He tells me there is no easy place to fill up a pitcher of water as there is not enough room under the bathroom sink faucets, and the closest water fountain is FAR (his words). So while this is a struggle for him, I believe that most colleges these days make water dispensing easier for students. Just something worth checking out while you’re shopping.
Refillable Water Bottles
So what will they drink this water out of and how will they keep that clean?
My suggestion is to get them a couple of sturdy stainless steel or BPA-free plastic water bottles and a bottle brush to keep them clean. Avoid the narrow neck and go for the wide-mouth openings for ease of cleaning. Slim profile bottles are also better for toting in backpack side pockets.
Nalgene water bottles are all BPA-free plastic and Made In The USA.
- 32-ounce slim profile bottle (3.5″ diameter)
- 48-ounce slim profile bottle (3.5″ diameter).
If you prefer stainless steel bottles, just about all of the world’s stainless manufacturing occurs in China. While there may be some brand names in the US, the manufacturing is done in China. Some highly rated brands of stainless water bottles include:
- Iron Flask – good for hot or cold beverages and comes with 3 different lid styles.
- Thermoflask – good for hot or cold beverages and come with 2 different lid styles.
- Hydro Cell – I particularly like the ombre designs they offer.
- Yeti 26oz – I personally have this one and find the lids really easy to clean thanks to no moving parts.
Where to store food in a dorm room?
Once you’re ready to make some food and drink in your dorm room, now where and how do you store food in your relatively small space?
Dorm Rolling Carts
If you have floor space, even a small space, these narrow rolling carts are great for maximizing storage and holding food and snacks. Often these slide right in next to the mini-fridge. Mini fridges are about 18-20″ deep. These carts are 15-17″ deep.
- Super narrow 4-shelf rolling cart – 5.1″W x 15.75″D x 34″ H
- Narrow 4-shelf rolling cart – 8.66″W x 15.75″D x 33.5″H
- Wide 3-shelf rolling cart – 11.5″W x 16.7″D x 30.1″H
Don’t forget some chip clips for those open bags of snacks.
Dorm Storage Drawers
If you have under bed storage available, these large, sturdy stacking drawers would be great for food storage. These would also work well for off-season clothes and shoe storage, extra school supplies and other items like medicines and first aid that can be kept out of sight.
Dorm Over The Door Storage
If you have a closet with a door and are not already taking up the coveted over-the-door storage area with a shoe holder, this is a great place to keep food and snacks. My son prefers this method as anything visible in the room tends to be open season for visiting hungry guys.
This is a good over-the-door organizer that is deep enough to hold a number of snacks, mac and cheese cups and ramen noodles. I probably wouldn’t load this up with heavy cans of soup, but those probably won’t be the snack of choice for visitors.
Fresh Food Storage
Even if you aren’t cooking food in your dorm room, there will be leftovers that need a way to be stored. These collapsible food storage containers are perfect for a dorm room as they collapse when not in use. They are also microwave, freezer and dishwasher safe.
Dorm Cooking ACCESSORIES
Cooking spoon – if you’re going to be making oatmeal, pasta or soups, a small cooking spoon would be a huge help. This one is good for scooping, scraping or mixing.
Combination manual can opener and bottle opener. This is definitely for cans of soup, not any sort of glass bottles that may need opening.
Multipurpose hot pad, trivet, table protector. Use these to remove hot items from the microwave, and put them on a table or desk to protect the tabletop.
DORM COOKING CLEANUP
I have heard of a few dorms that provide a trash can in each room, but it seems many do not. Your best bet is a decent-sized trash can with a lid for the dorm room. In a small space with a couple of busy teenagers probably not taking out the trash all that frequently, a lid is strongly suggested.
This slim profile trash can is perfect for a dorm room. It is hands-free with a step-on lift mechanism on the short-end making it easy to tuck into a narrow space in the dorm room. With an 11-gallon capacity, it will take regular kitchen trash bags which fit up to 13-gallon trash cans. Figure 1 trash bag per week for roughly 36 weeks of the school year.
Crumbs, coffee grounds and cookie dust abound? I can’t recommend this combo stick vacuum/handheld vacuum more. With only a couple of weeks left of their freshman year, my son and his roommate actually use this, and it does a very nice job. I used it myself on move-in day before we started bringing in all the stuff.
Don’t forget the inside of the microwave. Despite the microwave splatter cover suggested above, there are going to be messes, possibly disasters. Some Clorox wipes could be a lifesaver for a burst of marinara sauce.
Add in a sponge or dishcloth, some dish soap and a dish towel, and that should cover the cleanup.
Want To Get Your Dorm Room Positively Squared Away?
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We recommend getting a head start on bedding as the Twin XL sizes get tougher to find as move-in dates draw closer. Our article “How To Layer A Perfectly Comfortable Dorm Bed” explains each of the layers with easy-to-understand graphics and helpful links to top-rated products.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll share this article with your dorm-bound friends! You can copy this link into text, email, your social media page or a Facebook group. Thank you!