The things you buy for a college dorm fall under curious criteria that is not often relevant later in life: They must be high-quality enough to survive the wear, tear, and general erosion that occurs within the four years (give or take) of university, but not so nice, sentimental, or valuable that losing or damaging them is a disaster. Fortunately for you, we’ve found those essentials, from noise-blocking headphones to mattress pads that can improve even the lumpiest of dorm beds. Make sure to check them out now as Prime Day approaches on July 15 and 16, so you have a list of things you want to pounce on if they end up going on deep sale.
1. Super-soft sheets that fit your bed
We tested 11 different kinds of bed sheets this year to find the best ones for pretty much any bed or any sleep preference. As the odd-sized extra-long twin bed seems to only exist in a college dorm, there’s no sense in buying anything other than our “best value” pick, the brushed-microfiber Mellanni sheet set, which also earns a near-perfect five stars from 55,000 customer reviews on Amazon. These sheets have everything you could want in a set of dorm sheets: a cozy and expensive-feeling softness without a hefty price tag, a wide range of colors and patterns (38 variations, to be exact), and, most importantly, they hold up well to repeated washing.
2. A pillow that supports every kind of sleeper
A big part of finding a pillow that helps you snooze through the night depends on knowing how you sleep. But if you want a good all-purpose pillow, we recommend the Sleep Restoration Gel Filled Pillow. In our tests, we found it offers a mid-range level of support that works well for back and side sleepers and comes at a cheaper price than other pillows of the same quality.
3. A comforter that’ll keep you cozy throughout the night
Things a college comforter must be: inexpensive, durable, warm (but not smothering), easy to clean, and just as attractive with a duvet cover as without. This down-alternative comforter, the recipient of our “best value” title in our most recent comforter test, checks off each of those boxes. It’s light enough that you won’t sweat through your post-move nights in August and September but plenty cozy for cool winter nights, and can be thrown in a washing machine. Also, though you could use a duvet cover, it comes in six reversible color options and looks like a finished product without the extra protection. And, yes, it comes in extra-long twin size, so you don’t have to worry about it being too short or flopping off the sides of your dorm bed.
4. Plush, absorbent towels
The Fieldcrest Spa towel from Target was the unparalleled champion of our towel test this year, both in function and price. They are plush but not so soft they feel strange on wet skin, resist stains and discoloration, and mop up floor spills as well as they dry off human bodies (not that we recommend you use them for that in the communal dorm bathroom). In fact, these towels are great enough that you may find yourself taking them with you after graduation, but cheap enough that you won’t mind springing for a new set, either. They also come in more than a dozen colors.
5. A mattress pad to transform even the lumpiest of mattresses
A good night’s sleep starts with a comfortable sleep surface. The bestselling Linenspa gel-infused memory foam mattress topper can make any bed feel like “sleeping on a cloud” (according to one Amazon reviewer), even on those dorm mattresses that feel like they haven't been replaced since last century.
6. A mattress protector for peace of mind
One unfortunate, unavoidable side effect of living in a dorm: It’s unlikely, unless you have an in with the registrar’s office, you’ll know who lived in your room before you. Because of this, you can’t know who was on your mattress, what they did there, and—yeah. We won’t get into the dirty details, but you need a mattress protector. (They’re a good idea even outside a college dorm—bed bugs can invade anyone’s home.)
One great option is the SafeRest Premium Zippered Mattress Encasement, which wraps around the mattress and topper to keep out bed bugs, allergens, and dust mites without the crunchy, plastic-y feel some mattress protectors can have. One Amazon reviewer wrote it protected his mattress from his son’s frequent nosebleeds and night sweats, and he “never plans on buying anything else.”
7. Accessories to help you reduce noise
Blocking out the din of a college dorm is far from easy. But you can make a valiant effort with some good quality sound-proofing products, such as earplugs and noise-canceling headphones. Our favorite earplugs are Hearos Xtreme, which have superior sound-blocking abilities and great, cushiony comfort. The best not-too-expensive noise-canceling headphones we’ve tested so far are the Anker Soundcore Space set, which have their own build-in volume control that allows you to adjust the sound without fiddling with your phone.
8. A white noise machine for nights when you need extra sound protection
If your roommate is OK with it, you can get yourself an extra sound cocoon with a white noise machine. In that case, your best bet the Sound + Sleep by Adaptive Sound. In tests, it blocked out noise with a clean, high-quality tone. It also has 10 sound categories (such as ocean and rain) and an “adaptive” setting that monitors noise levels in the room and adjusts the sound it puts out accordingly. With it, you’ll sleep like a baby every night, even if the Spring Fling party is raging on outside.
9. A coffee maker for smooth, hassle-free coffee every morning
Many college dorms ban coffee makers entirely, and, even in ones that allow them, your room will be way too small to accommodate a full-size Keurig or Moccamaster. The solution for collegiate java fiends who doesn’t want to spend all their food dollars at the campus Starbucks? An electricity-free, easy-to-store pourover. We like this OXO model, which is made of durable plastic instead of pretty-but-easy-to-break ceramic or glass like other pourovers. It also has a built-in water tank with measurement notches, so you can brew a smooth, grounds-free cup of coffee on the spot, even before you've downed some caffeine. Best of all, you don’t need a kettle to boil the water—because it’s a single-serve system, all you need to do is heat up a mug of water in the microwave.
10. Under-bed storage bins to keep essentials tucked away
Few things are more useful in a small shared dorm room than plastic under-bed storage containers. They’re a necessity, whether you use them to store out-of-season clothes, midnight snacks, last semester’s textbooks, or whatever else you have that would otherwise clutter your limited space. Our favorite under-bed container is the Sterilite Ultra Storage Box. It’s more than spacious, measuring 39.5 inches long by 20.2 inches wide by 7 inches deep, and has a long, thin design and wheels that allow it to glide in and out from under a bed.
11. Laundry detergent to wash away your day
Whether you’ve been doing your own laundry for years or will be attempting it solo for the first time, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it the right way. You’ll also want to use good quality detergent. We’ve tested a lot of them, and found that classic Tide is one of the best options out there. You can bring a full jug of liquid detergent but, because your space will be limited and you’ll need to lug all your stuff to and from the laundry room, Tide Pods may be your best bet, transport-wise.
12. A laundry hamper that allows you to skip a few washes
You’ll also need a good place to put your laundry in between washes—one that’s big enough to keep all your dirty clothes in check, but not so big it’s impossible to carry. This DOKEHOM hamper is roomy, with the ability to hold several loads of laundry at once, and has handles that allow for easy, spill-free transport. It’s sturdy enough to stand on its own, which means you can hang things on it to air dry if you don’t want to put them in the dryer.
One reviewer declared it the “best” laundry bag he'd ever used, writing that it made his laundry experience “so much better. The handles are comfortable to use, it doesn't stink, and it isn't an eyesore.”
13. A vacuum to clear out the dust from the semester
A vacuum is a vital addition to a college dorm because it’s much quicker and more effective than a simple broom and dustpan—and if you’re the only one on your floor who brought one, an unexpected way to make new friends. We recommend the Bissell Cleanview, our favorite affordable upright vacuum cleaner. At around $90, it’s not cheap cheap, but it’s a great generalist vacuum that cleans well on every floor type and picks up debris easily. It’s also one of the quietest affordable vacuums we’ve tested, meaning you won’t alarm everyone in your dorm if the only time you can find to clean your room is midnight before a major paper is due.
14. A mini trash can that keeps your garbage contained
Keep your trash tucked away with this mini Simplehuman stainless steel step can (the brand that makes one of our all-time favorite kitchen trash cans). It fits perfectly in small spaces, has a removable inner bucket for easy trash takeout, and comes in a wide range of chic colors, like rose gold, black, and gold.
15. A surge protector to keep portable electronics safely charged
Keep your laptop and phone well-charged (safely) with this six-outlet GE surge protector. It has keyholes for mounting and an eight-foot cord, which allows you to put it anywhere in your room—say, the foot of the bed or beneath a desk—to bring the outlets closer to where you need them. Plus, thanks to its outlet covers, it should be dorm-safe (but check with the RA first).
16. A clothes steamer to help you look professional in minutes
You may not want to stow an iron (let alone an ironing board) in your tiny closet, but you probably don’t want rumpled clothes on occasions when you need to look presentable.
The solution? A compact, easy-to-use clothes steamer. We like the SALAV TS-01 Handheld Steamer. It’s technically a travel steamer, so it can fit in the back of a dorm shelf, but it does a good job of relaxing wrinkled fabric. It can also be used with voltages all over the world, so if you decide to study abroad, you can bring your steamer with you.
17. Gear to make showering more pleasant
Communal bathrooms and showers are not always the most functional or cleanest, but in college dorms, they’re status quo. Thankfully, a few items can elevate your experience, such as a shower caddy to keep your shampoo, soap, and other stuff together, and shower shoes (which should be self-explanatory).
For the caddy, you want one that’s sturdy, dries quickly, and has drainage holes—one great choice is the mDesign container, which has clearly marked spots for shampoo, conditioner, soap, and razors, and comes in eight different colors. Any kind of flip-flops will work as shower shoes, but ones with traction and drainage holes on the soles, like Showaflops or ShowerShoez, will help upgrade your shower experience.
18. An air purifier to keep your room smelling fresh
Whether you get assigned to a lower-level triple room or a top floor double, you’ll come to realize one undeniable truth about dorm living: No matter how well you take care of your own room, that dank dorm smell can seep through the walls. The solution? An air purifier.
We tested 12 different air purifiers this year and found a clear winner: the Winix 5500-2. In tests it minimized airborne allergens and diminished odors like cigarette smoke, cinnamon, and even a musty basement smell. It has easy-to-use, intuitive functions and lights that indicate air quality and when it’s time to change the filter. Finally, it’s affordable compared to other air purifiers.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.