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21 dorm kitchen buys: Microwaves, mini fridges and more

Experts weigh in on which cooking appliances are typically allowed in dorm rooms and explain how to safely use them.
Most college dorms allow mini fridges, microwaves, blenders and electric kettles, though policies may vary across campuses.
Most college dorms allow mini fridges, microwaves, blenders and electric kettles, though policies may vary across campuses.

If you’re one of the many students across the country preparing to move into a dorm room this fall, you’re likely on the hunt for items to utilize the most of your new space while making it feel homey. In addition to the decor, bath supplies and organization tools, cooking appliances can also be top of mind: While most college dormitories have a shared kitchen space — either in the building or on the general campus — small appliances and cooking tools can help you prepare quick meals from the comfort of your room and avoid ordering takeout as much as possible (especially when the meal plan food simply isn’t living up to expectations).

SKIP AHEAD Mini fridges | Microwaves | Coffee makers | Electric kettles | Blenders | Other kitchen essentials

But colleges and universities usually have strict rules when it comes to cooking appliances in dorm rooms due to fire and safety concerns, and for good reason. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire departments responded to an estimated 3,840 structure fires in dormitories, Greek housing and other related properties annually from 2015 to 2019. These fires caused an average of 29 civilian injuries and $11 million in direct property damage annually. About 87% of the reported dormitory fires during this time period were due to cooking equipment, and peak months were at the beginning of the school semester in September and October, according to the NFPA.

We spoke to university housing and campus fire experts about which appliances are too dangerous to store in dorm rooms and got their tips for staying safe if you do decide to bring any appliances with you. Always double-check the guidelines listed on your university’s website and housing policy forms to ensure all items you’re packing are allowed in your room. And while you’re shopping, make sure to keep in mind all the stores that offer special student discounts.

Top-rated kitchen appliances for dorm rooms in 2022

Once you’ve figured out what cooking appliances you’re allowed to take with you to your dorm, here are some top-rated mini fridges, microwaves, coffee makers, blenders and more to consider, all of which meet the expert-recommended criteria. As per expert guidance, all of the microwaves on this list have less than 1,000 watts of power, and each of the coffee makers are UL-listed.

Top-rated mini fridges for dorms

RCA Mini Refrigerator

This mini fridge, which earned a 4.4-star average rating from more than 16,000 reviews on Amazon, has a 3.2-cubic-foot capacity and is our top overall pick for mini fridges. It has a built-in freezer, an adjustable thermostat and a reversible door that can open from either the left or right, depending on your room layout. It comes in eight colors, including purple, blue and green.

Insignia Mini Fridge

If an affordable mini fridge is at the top of your back-to-school list, this sleek option from Insignia has a 2.6-cubic-foot capacity and a 4.5-star average rating from more than 7,600 reviews at Best Buy. It contains three adjustable shelves and additional storage for cans and bottles on the door, along with an adjustable temperature between 32 and 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand.

AstroAI Mini Fridge

If your space is exceptionally limited, this compact AstroAI is one of our favorite mini fridges thanks to its removable shelf and 4-liter capacity that can hold up to six cans, according to the brand. The fridge, which has a 4.3-star average rating from over 36,600 reviews on Amazon, can keep beverages, small food items and cosmetics cool between 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below ambient temperature, the brand says.

COSTWAY Compact Refrigerator

This 3.2-cubic-foot mini fridge equips a two-door design with a separate freezer compartment, allowing you to store larger frozen items like ice cream and leftovers without disrupting the storage in the main fridge compartment. It also has three removable glass shelves and a crisper drawer designed to keep fruits and vegetables fresh, the brand says. It has a 4.5-star average rating from over 700 reviews on Amazon.

Top-rated microwaves for dorms

BLACK+DECKER EM720CB7 Digital Microwave Oven

This 700-watt BLACK+DECKER microwave, which boasts a 4.5-star average rating from over 8,500 reviews on Amazon, is an affordable and compact option for your small space. It features a 0.7-cubic-foot capacity and six preset settings to heat up everything from popcorn to frozen vegetables, according to the brand. And if you need to quickly heat up your coffee or a snack before class, the Express Cook setting also allows you to heat up items for 30 seconds at a time.

Nostalgia Retro Microwave

This 800-watt retro-style Nostalgia microwave can be a stylish addition to your dorm. It’s equipped with basic features like an easy-to-read LED display and a rotating glass turntable. You can use the program dial to set the cooking time and food weight or choose from the 12 pre-programmed cooking settings for foods like pizza, rice and frozen entrees. It’s highly rated, boasting a 4.7-star average rating from over 3,500 reviews on Amazon, and comes in a variety of colors, including aqua, pink, red and yellow.

Toshiba EM925A5A-SS Microwave Oven

If you’re sharing your dorm room with a roommate this semester and are hoping to be considerate of noise levels (especially if you wake up earlier for class), this microwave from Toshiba has an option to turn the sound off at the touch of a button and avoid disruptive beeping, according to the brand. This 900-watt microwave also features five pre-programmed settings for six popular foods — including pizza, popcorn, potatoes and frozen veggies — and has a 4.6-star average rating from over 18,500 reviews on Amazon.

Top-rated coffee makers for dorms

Keurig K-Mini Plus Coffee Maker

The Keurig K-Mini Plus is just 5 inches wide, making it compact enough to fit on limited counter space. It can brew 6- or 12-ounce cups of coffee, according to the brand, and it works with travel mugs up to 7 inches tall. The coffee maker, which boasts a 4.5-star average rating from over 31,500 Amazon reviewers, has a pod storage compartment that can hold up to 9 K-Cup pods, Keurig says.

Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Coffee Maker

This coffee maker has an auto-pause feature that will stop the brew cycle if you need a cup quickly and the included dishwasher-safe glass carafe can hold up to 12 cups, according to the brand. To avoid overflows when refilling your water, Cuisinart says the Dual Water Window lets you see the water level as you fill it. This affordable model sports a 4.4-star average rating from more than 35,500 reviews on Amazon.

Cuisinart Coffee-on-Demand Coffee Maker

The Cuisinart Coffee-On-Demand Coffee Maker can be good for students looking to have a cup of coffee ready to go in the morning thanks to its fully programmable 24-hour advance brew start. It also equips an auto shutoff function, a self-clean feature and a removable water reservoir. It includes a lever to release the brewed coffee, which Cuisinart says lets you control how much goes into your cup, and you can also keep track of how many cups of coffee are left to serve using the coffee gauge at the top of the machine. This coffee maker has earned a 4.6-star average rating from over 10,200 Amazon reviewers.

Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine

For those who are looking to splurge, the Nespresso Essenza Mini can brew espresso-based drinks in less than 30 seconds for students who are in a rush, and it’s compact enough to fit into small spaces, according to the brand. The machine offers a 20-ounce water tank, a container that can hold up to six used capsules and two programmable cup sizes for either espresso or coffee drinks, Nespresso says. You can choose to purchase the machine with the brand’s Aero Milk Frother or on its own.

Top-rated electric kettles for dorms

Cuisinart PerfecTemp Stainless Steel Electric Kettle

One of our favorite electric kettles, the Cuisinart PerfecTemp sports six preset heat settings that can guide water temperature for multiple uses, from brewing green tea (175 degrees Fahrenheit) to using a French Press (200 degrees Fahrenheit). It also equips a 30-minute “Keep Warm” button, a removable and washable scale filter and a concealed heating element to prevent mineral buildup and keep it dorm-safe, according to the brand. The electric kettle has a 4.7-star average rating from over 14,000 Amazon reviewers.

Hamilton Beach Electric Tea Kettle

Another expert-recommended electric kettle, this option from Hamilton Beach is on the more affordable side and boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 14,700 reviews on Amazon. Though it doesn’t have a temperature control feature like the Cuisinart, it does equip an auto shut-off feature that prevents water from evaporating, as well as a drip-free spout, according to the brand. It also has a water level window that lets you measure exactly how much water you’re putting inside. You can also purchase an even more affordable version with a glass carafe.

COSORI Electric Gooseneck Smart Kettle

This smart gooseneck kettle from Cosori can be fully controlled using the VeSync app, which the brand says lets you adjust the water temperature, change the Hold Temp time to keep your water at the same temperature for up to 60 minutes and schedule when you want your water to boil. You can also choose between four presets — Green, Oolong, Coffee and Boil/Black — or utilize the MyBrew preset, which lets you customize your own temperature, Cosori says. This kettle currently boasts a 4.7-star average rating from more than 15,000 reviews on Amazon.

Top-rated blenders for dorms

NutriBullet Blender

This 600-watt personal blender from Nutribullet — which makes some of our favorite blenders for smoothies — comes with a 24-ounce cup and a shorter 18-ounce cup with a built-in handle so you can freely carry it around your dorm or with you to class. The brand says you can blend fruits and veggies in just 60 seconds. If you’re constantly on the move, you can also purchase a separate to-go lid for peace of mind. The blender has a 4.4-star average rating from over 9,800 reviews on the Nutribullet site.

BlendJet 2 Portable Blender

This portable blender is rechargeable using a USB-C cable, making it a great option for blending in your dorm without having to worry about cords. According to the brand, you can utilize this blender over 10 times for every one-hour charge. At just 9 inches tall, this blender is compact enough to store in most totes and backpacks, and the brand says its 12-ounce cup can fit inside standard cup holders. It currently boasts a 4.9-star average rating from over 7,000 reviews at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Hamilton Beach Personal Blender

This personal blender from Hamilton Beach — which makes some of our favorite food processors and stand mixers — comes with a 14-ounce jar and accompanying to-go lid. I had this blender in my dorm room and I used it to make my favorite banana smoothies minutes before leaving for class. It equips an easy, one-touch blending feature, and it’s compact enough to fit inside most car holders, according to the brand. The blender has a 4.3-star average rating from more than 85,600 reviews on Amazon.

Other kitchen essentials to shop

Stasher Reusable Storage Bag

These dishwasher- and microwave-safe reusable bags — which have a 4.7-star average rating from more than 28,700 reviews on Amazon — let you easily store leftovers and other items. They can be an eco-friendly alternative to typical plastic bags, and Select writer Zoe Malin said that she relies on these bags to take food on the go. They can also be stored in the freezer section of your mini fridge or used in an oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. You can choose from a variety of colors and sizes, including half-gallon bags, 28-ounce sandwich bags and 104-ounce mega bags.

Brita Water Filter 5-Cup Pitcher

This Brita water filter lets you easily refill your reusable water bottle before a class or study session with cold, filtered water. Slim and space-efficient, this BPA-free pitcher holds up to 6 cups of water and informs you when the filter needs to be replaced using an electronic indicator, according to the brand. The pitcher has a 4.4-star average rating from more than 2,400 reviews at Walmart. And if you have more space in your fridge, you can also opt for the larger 10-cup option.

Simply Essential 6-Piece Dinnerware Set

Malin said she used this handy dishwasher- and microwave-safe dinnerware set from Simply Essential while living in her dorm, noting that she purchased a utensils set from the brand separately. The set includes two dinner plates, two cereal bowls and two fruit bowls, and it’s made from a durable wheat fiber and plastic material, according to the brand.

Home Hero 25pc Kitchen Utensil Set

If you're planning on cooking and heating up food in your dorm room using the appliances listed above, you’ll likely need to invest in some kitchen utensils that go beyond a basic fork and knife. You probably won’t need every item in this 25-piece utensils set while living in a residence hall, but it’s relatively affordable and may become useful if you move into an off-campus space during your college years. The durable nylon material can also prevent damage to your non-stick pots and pans. This set has a 4.5-star average rating from over 12,000 reviews on Amazon.

Which kitchen appliances are allowed in college dorms?

The policies surrounding items and appliances allowed in dorm rooms vary by college and university, so it’s always best to check with your housing department before move-in to understand what you can and can’t bring. You should also check what the university already provides before bringing your own items — some dorms may come equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave, for instance. While most institutions have a dining hall that acts as a large cafeteria for students to eat and socialize, experts told us that some newly renovated residence halls feature a shared kitchen space within the building for students to use. Most dorm rooms don’t include a kitchenette, but some larger rooms (typically called suites) come with enough counter space to store authorized kitchen appliances.

Experts told us that most dorms allow small kitchen appliances that don’t use an open flame, heating plates or coils, such as mini fridges, microwaves, blenders and electric kettles. “The biggest factor is if the appliance has an exposed heating element,” said Alma Sealine, executive director of university housing at the University of Illinois. “If it does, you shouldn’t bring it with you to the residence hall. For some campuses, they give an exception if there is an automatic shut-off function.”

But even approved appliances can be dangerous. You should always keep an eye on microwaves since they’re typically the biggest culprits for accidental fires in dorm rooms, according to Justin Daniels, president of the Center for Campus Fire Safety (CCFS) and the fire marshal at the University of Oklahoma.

“I’ve seen multiple fires in microwaves over the last few years — burnt popcorn is the number one accidental activation for a fire alarm on almost any campus,” Daniels said. He also noted that he’s seen fast food wrappers catch fire “when people try to reheat burritos, burgers, etc.” Due to fire hazards, most universities only accept microwaves with 800 watts or lower, though some may accept microwaves with up to 1,000 watts of power.

Coffee makers are typically allowed in dorm rooms, but some schools require these devices to be UL-listed, meaning they’re approved by a third party certification company that ensures the products work safely and are up to standards. Daniels mentioned that having a UL listing is “an absolute must for any appliance.”

Which kitchen appliances aren't allowed in college dorms?

According to Daniels, the most commonly banned items in dorm rooms include George Foreman grills, hot plates, toasters, toaster ovens, large refrigerators and electric skillets. Anything with an open flame is also commonly prohibited across most residence halls. However, due to varying policies, some institutions may allow certain appliances that are prohibited in others, like hot pots and rice cookers.

Daniels noted that there’s been a lot of interest recently in bringing air fryers and pressure cookers to school — but both are normally prohibited in dorms. “Air fryers not only cause fires, but when things get burned, the smell [also] carries throughout the entire floor of a residence hall. We get a lot of calls to investigate smells and often find prohibited appliances like air fryers,” he said. Pressure cookers also pose a dangerous risk since they can sometimes explode. “I’ve seen situations — not necessarily on my campus — where people have been severely burned when their pressure cooker exploded and the hot contents burned their face,” Daniels explained.

As a general rule, if the appliance “has an open heating element that you can touch or that items like paper and fabric can contact, builds up pressure like an instant pot or pressure cooker or requires hot oil for cooking, do not bring it,” said Herbert Wagner Jr., the fire marshal at the University of Arizona.

Cooking appliances in dorms: What are the risks?

The CCFS reported that between 2000 and 2022, there were 94 fatal fires documented on college campuses, in Greek housing or in off-campus housing within three miles of the campus, claiming a total of 134 victims. Of those fatal fires, eight occured in on-campus buildings or residence halls. More than 40% of those fires were accidental due to cooking mishaps, candles, smoking or electrical issues — and cooking equipment was involved in the vast majority of the accidental fires on these properties, the CCFS said.

“A fire can grow out of control quickly especially given today’s modern furnishings which are made of plastics and synthetic polymers that burn very hot and are very toxic,” said Daniels, noting that a level of concern is added if students are sleeping due to the delay in evacuation. Daniels said that fire sprinklers in residence halls are “the best line of defense against loss of life and property due to fire,” but, unfortunately, “not all residence halls have fire sprinklers.”

To avoid accidental fires, the experts we spoke to recommended never leaving a cooking appliance unattended. “Walking away from any cooking surface or appliance is the main cause of fire not only on a college campus but any residential setting,“ said Daniels, noting that many of the fires the CCFS sees are caused by someone walking away from the stove for a few minutes or leaving something in the microwave for too long.

“Always stay with whatever you are cooking, whether it’s in the kitchen, the breakroom or a dorm room,” Daniels said.

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