By Miriam Arond, for the Good Housekeeping Research Institute
It's that time of year again! Housewares stores are filled with kids and their parents scouring the aisles, trying to make the best product purchases for college dorm rooms without spending a small fortune beyond the cost of tuition. I asked the experts at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute for some of their top recommendations. Here's the shopping list they prepared:
"These reasonably priced lines are very absorbent and in our tests have stood up to a year's worth of washings without fraying," says Kathleen Huddy, director of our Textile, Paper & Plastics Lab.
Before you hit the stores, ask about the mattress size in your child's dorm. There's a good chance you'll need sheets marked "for extra long twin beds." Buying a bed-in-the-bag set is your best bet, says Kathleen, because you'll get the whole shebang (comforter, sheets, pillow cases, and dust ruffle) for a much less than purchasing each item separately. Kathleen suggests buying a mattress encasement, like Protect-a-Bed. Just think, how many students have slept on the dorm room mattress before your prince or princess?
Bath Mat: Royal Velvet
Available at Bed, Bath & Beyond, this is one of Kathleen's top picks because it's made of fast-drying nylon.
MicroFridge 2.9MF-7TPFridge/Microwave: MicroFridge
These combos have been available to rent or purchase for years. But the new offering is really something special, according to Sharon Franke, director of our Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab. It has a separate freezer compartment so it can safely store a stash of those all-nighter essentials: Frozen pizzas and Rocky Road ice cream. On the bottom of the microwave are two outlets that can be used to charge low-wattage items like cell phones, iPods, or laptops. The unit comes in black, white, and stainless steel (which will look pretty snazzy in a dorm room). If the price breaks your budget, consider asking roommates to chip in. ($425-$455 depending on color, MicroFridge)
Keurig Mini Brewing System
Coffeemaker: Keurig Mini Brewing System
Does anyone get through college without being fueled by caffeine? Dosing up on a decent cup means many trips to the café, but this compact coffeemaker, which brews 8 ounces right into a mug in just 3 minutes, will be your student's BFF. No need to measure out grinds. It uses sealed capsules called K-cups that are available in a variety of coffee blends from Green Mountain, Gloria Jean, Caribou, and other brands or from a selection of teas and hot cocoas. At about $0.50 each, the K-cups are pricey (still less than take-out cups), so parents might want to order a supply for your undergrad along with the machine. ($90, Keurig)
Desk Lamp/iPod Docking Station: iHome iPod Speaker With Lamp
Test Engineer Rachel Rothman recommends this multipurpose product for reducing dorm room clutter. It provides desktop light for reading and plays and charges an iPod. Technical specs: 4 speakers and 5 watts of output. A halogen bulb, remote control, and universal dock are included. ($70, Bed, Bath and Beyond)
Sonic Alert's Sonic Boom SB200SS
Alarm Clock: Sonic Alert's Sonic Boom Alarm Clock SB200SS
Now that you've spent all that money on college tuition, you want to make sure your student doesn't miss classes. Senior Test Engineer Todd Kent notes that this wake-up tool comes with a "bed shaker" vibrating disk to put under the pillow or mattress, making it perfect for students who need an earthquake to get them out of bed. ($39, Sonic Alert)
iHome iH9The iHome iH9 is another pick from Todd. It features an ascending alarm clock that wakens the sleeper gradually by getting increasingly louder. It has two alarms that can be programmed individually--one for weekdays and the other for weekends, for instance--and 8 brightness settings for the display. Another multitasker, it has an AM/FM radio and an iPod docking station. And because your student probably would be lost without his iPod, it has a backup beep alarm to remind him to dock it before he goes to sleep. ($100, iHome)
Asus Eee PC
Laptop: Asus Eee PC 1000HA
Todd reports that this was the best performer in our recent road test of the new inexpensive netbooks and the fastest at transferring files and initializing a program. It's perfect for students who take notes in class or primarily use their computers for word processing or web surfing. What you should know: It comes configured with Microsoft Windows XP, 1 GB DDR2 of memory, 160 GB for the hard drive, and features the Intel Atom 270 Processor. ($349, Asus)
Microsoft Cooling BaseMicrosoft Laptop Cooling Pad College students spend hours using laptops, so this purchase may be very worthwhile, according to the pros in our Consumer Electronics & Engineering Lab. It directs heat away from a laptop computer, whether used on a desk or lap, and because it's USB-powered, compact, and lightweight, it's easy to carry around campus. ($30, Microsoft)
Moving-Day Supplies: Sears Craftsman's 32-piece General Purpose Tool Set
If your college allows students to hang posters and other doodads on the wall, Rachel says this set has everything you need to do the job well. ($60, Sears)
Eureka's Easy Clean Vac
Cleaning Up: Swiffer Mop and Duster
You love it at home, she'll love it in the dorm. Carolyn Forte, director of our Home Appliances & Cleaning Products Lab, says Swiffer just can't be beat for quickly cleaning bare floors and dusting off electronics. For more thorough cleaning, she recommends the rechargeable Easy Clean 2-in-1 from Eureka, and the Cordless Stick and Hand Vac. It's great on bare floors and low carpets, has a removable hand vac that piggybacks on the vacuum, and telescopes down for easy storage. ($40, Target)
Carolyn considers this a must-have for students who won't pick up an iron--it sprays wrinkles out of fabrics! Don't let kids leave home without Febreze for eliminating odors from the dorm room and clothes.
More Budget-Friendly Back-to-School Tips from Good HousekeepingBest Sneakers for Kids--for $60 or Less