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After a year of coronavirus shutdowns and online learning, many college students across the country are preparing to move into dorm rooms this fall. Before they can move in, though, students must first gather all the things they’ll need to make their dorm both homey and practical, from general bath and kitchen supplies to decor and style solutions. For some students, cooking appliances are also top of mind: While most college dormitories have a shared kitchen space — either in the building or on the general campus — these small appliances allow students to cook meals from the comfort of their room.
Small kitchen appliances can help students prepare food when the meal plan isn’t an option or simply avoid ordering takeout as much as possible. However, colleges and universities typically 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 average of 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 percent 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.
Top-rated kitchen appliances for dorm rooms in 2021
To help you decide on what cooking appliances to take with you to your dorm — as long as they’re allowed — we’ve compiled some top-rated options that meet the expert-recommended criteria.
Top-rated microwaves for dorms
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-feet capacity and 10 power settings, including time defrost and weight defrost to thaw frozen meats, vegetables or casseroles. And if you need to quickly heat up your coffee or a snack before class, the Express Cook setting allows you to heat up items for 30 seconds at a time.
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 also 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, White, Red and Yellow.
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. It also features five pre-programmed sensor settings to get customized heating 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. Keep in mind, however, that this microwave is 900 watts and may not be allowed in certain dorms.
Top-rated mini fridges for dorms
This mini refrigerator, which earned a 4.4-star average rating from more than 12,000 reviews on Amazon, was the overall pick in our guide to top-rated mini fridges. It equips a built-in freezer, an adjustable thermostat and a reversible door, allowing it to fit in any spot in your room. It also features a sleek design and comes in eight colors, including Purple, Blue and Stainless.
If an affordable yet high-performing fridge is at the top of your back-to-school list, this option from Insignia is compact and received a 4.5-star average rating from more than 6,500 reviews at Best Buy. It has three adjustable shelves and additional storage for cans and bottles in the door, along with an adjustable temperature between 32 and 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
This 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 has three removable glass shelves and a crisper drawer designed to keep fruits and vegetables fresh.
Top-rated coffee makers for dorms
All of the coffee makers we included are UL-certified, as per expert guidance.
The Keurig K-Mini Plus is just 5 inches wide, making it compact enough to fit on limited counter space while being capable of brewing 6 to 12 ounces of coffee at a time. The coffee maker, which boasts a 4.5-star average rating from over 21,000 Amazon reviewers, works with travel mugs up to 7 inches tall and features a pod storage compartment that can hold up to 9 K-Cup pods.
This affordable model sports a 4.4-star average rating from more than 27,000 reviews on Amazon. It 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. To avoid overflows when refilling your water, the Dual Water Window lets you see the water level as you fill it.
While this option from Cuisinart is on the pricier side, it can be good for students looking to have a cup of coffee ready to go in the morning due to its fully programmable 24-hour advance brew start. It also has auto shutoff, a self-clean feature and a removable water reservoir. It includes a lever to release the brewed coffee, which 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 earned a 4.6-star average rating from nearly 8,000 Amazon reviewers.
Top-rated electric kettles for dorms
For a basic electric kettle that can quickly boil water for tea, ramen noodles and more, this affordable option from Mueller can hold up to 1.8 liters of water and automatically shuts off when it reaches boiling temperature, according to the brand. It also has several safety features, including a built-in LED light that indicates when the kettle is on, a boil-dry feature that turns the kettle off when it detects there’s no water inside and a heat-resistant, anti-slip grip handle. The kettle earned a 4.7-star average rating from over 38,500 reviews on Amazon.
If you prefer controlling the temperature of your water, the Cuisinart PerfecTemp electric kettle, which sports a 4.7-star average rating from over 10,500 Amazon reviewers, has 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.
This gooseneck kettle from COSORI can be fully controlled using the VeSync app, which 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. And if you’re looking to make your tea or coffee at a certain time, the Delay Start feature can bring your kettle to a boil exactly when you need it. This kettle currently boasts a 4.7-star average rating from more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon.
Top-rated blenders for dorms
A great option for smoothies, this 600-watt personal blender comes with a 24-ounce cup and a lip ring for easy drinking directly after blending as well as a shorter, 18-ounce cup with a built-in handle so you can freely carry it around your dorm or to class. According to the brand, you can blend fruits like strawberries and veggies like spinach in just 60 seconds, and you can wash it by simply twisting off the blades and rinsing them with soap and water. If you’re constantly on the move, you can also purchase a separate to-go lid for peace of mind. The Nutribullet has a 4.4-star average rating from over 9,500 reviews on the Nutribullet site.
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 and with a 12-ounce capacity, this blender is compact enough to store in most totes and backpacks, and its cup can fit inside standard cup holders. It also boasts a 4.9-star average rating from over 4,000 reviews at Walmart.
For a more powerful blender that’s still compact in size, this 1000-watt option from Ninja lets you manually blend using the pulse button or utilize two preset programs: Blend for softer fruits and leafy greens and Ultra Blend for harder ingredients like ice and frozen fruit. Included with the blender is one 18-ounce cup and one 24-ounce cup plus to-go lids that let you take your smoothie with you. This highly rated blender has a 4.8-star average rating from over 14,000 Amazon reviewers.
Other kitchen essentials to shop
Dishwasher- and microwave-safe, these reusable bags — which let you easily store leftovers and other items — are an eco-friendly alternative to typical plastic bags. They can also be stored in the freezer section of your mini fridge or used in an oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Shopping writer (and current college senior) Zoe Malin previously noted that she relies on these bags to bring food on the go. You can choose from a variety of colors and sizes, including half-gallon bags, 28-ounce sandwich bags and 104-ounce mega bags.
With a 4.7-star average rating from more than 47,500 Amazon reviews, this bestselling water filter lets you easily refill your reusable water bottle before a class or study session without having to repurchase plastic water bottles, which aren’t eco-friendly and can become a pricey investment over time. Slim and space-efficient, this BPA-free pitcher holds up to 5 cups of water and informs you when the filter needs to be replaced using an electronic indicator. If you have more space in your fridge, you can also opt for the larger 10-cup option.
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.
Kitchen appliances for college dorms: What to bring
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. While most institutions have a dining hall that acts as a large cafeteria for students to eat and socialize, some newer or 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 allowed kitchen appliances.
For the most part, experts told us that most dorms allow small kitchen appliances that don’t use an open flame, heating plates or coils, like 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 — Justin Daniels, president of the Center for Campus Fire Safety and the fire marshal at the University of Oklahoma, said you should always keep an eye on microwaves since they’re typically the biggest culprits for accidental fires in dorm rooms. “I’ve seen multiple fires in microwaves over the last few years — burned popcorn is the number one accidental activation for a fire alarm on almost any campus,” he 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 1000 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 the third party certification company UL to ensure the products work safely and are up to standards. “Having a UL listing is an absolute must for any appliance,” said Daniels.
Kitchen appliances for college dorms: What to avoid
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 universally 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 — however, 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 are also dangerous because “they do have a tendency to explode sometimes. 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,” he noted.
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.
Prohibited cooking appliances in dorms: What are the risks?
The CCFS reported that between 2000 and 2018, there were 92 fatal fires documented on a college campus, in Greek housing or in off-campus housing within 3 miles of the campus, claiming a total of 132 victims. Of those fatal fires, seven occured in on-campus buildings or residence halls and claimed the lives of nine victims. More than 40 percent of those fires were accidental due to cooking mishaps, candles, smoking or electrical issues — cooking equipment was involved in the vast majority of the accidental fires on these properties.
“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,” he said.