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NEW YORK (Consumer Reports) - Colleges are pretty consistent about what you should bring to campus -- linens, laptops, and a yearn to learn -- but they vary on what’s allowed in the dorms. Some prohibit any high-heat appliance such as toasters, coffeemakers, and popcorn makers; other campuses permit them.
Colleges usually allow dorm residents to buy or rent a refrigerator, but students who like to make their own Pop-Tarts and coffee should check the college website. Of course, the rules are different for students who live off campus. Here are some of Consumer Reports’ top-rated small appliances for small spaces.
For safety’s sake look for a coffeemaker with a thermal carafe and an auto shut-off feature. That way there’s no risk of it being left on when a student rushes off to class. Other options include single-serve brew-and-dispense units, mug-to-go models, and pod coffeemakers. With the Mr. Coffee BVMC-ZH1B, $50 and a CR Best Buy, you can dispense coffee directly into a cup and there’s no carafe to clean. Its brewing performance was excellent, and it’s easy to handle. None of the mug-to-go models made our recommended list, but models from Brookstone and Black & Decker had very good brew performance without the easy handling.
At $120 and $150, the two pod coffeemakers that made our recommended list may be too pricey for a college kid. The Smart Cafe My Invento edged out the Krups Nescafe Dolce Gusto Circolo in brewing range, but with the Krups you get a speedier first cup and better temperature consistency. Using pods eliminates messy cleanup and allows roommates to each select their favorite blend or varietal.
Toasters and toaster ovens
Toasters are usually forbidden in dorm rooms but often allowed in campus apartments with fully equipped kitchens. And a toaster oven can be an off-campus student’s go-to cooking appliance. The toaster ovens on our recommended list range in price from the $80 Oster TSSTTVMNDG to the $250 Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, which both scored very good on our baking and broiling tasks. Another recommended model, the Kenmore Elite 126401, $95, actually made better toast, but the Oster can accommodate a four-pound chicken.
Twelve two-slice toasters made our list of winners, including the $15 Proctor-Silex Cool-Touch 22203, which is a CR Best Buy and produced evenly toasted bread. Spending a little more will get you bagel and other settings. Our top-rated Cuisinart CPT-170, $77, also has defrost, and warm/reheat settings plus a nifty countdown timer telling you how long until your toast is done.
A vacuum probably isn’t on any student’s top 10 list of things to take to college. Until they get a messy roommate or spill the Cheerios. They may not thank you, but they’ll be grateful nonetheless. Five hand vacuums ranging in price from $25 to $60 made our list of winners. All were excellent at cleaning carpet and getting even edges clean, and all were very good or better at cleaning bare floors.
For kids who don’t want to be labeled neat freaks, two models from Dirt Devil—the Kone M0213 and the Kurv M0216—are housed in sleek recharging stands and barely look like vacuums. The Kurv had a longer runtime, and the Kone was better at removing pet hair, although dorms are pet-free zones anyway.
Microwave options in dorms usually include a college-owned unit in a shared kitchen or one that comes as part of a combination micro-fridge that students can rent for their room or suite. If you’re buying a countertop microwave for an off-campus apartment, look for one that scored well on cooking evenness in our tests. Undercooking food in a microwave can lead to food poisoning. Our top-scoring midsized model, the Kenmore 6633, $140, had very good performance in that test and was also excellent at defrosting.
For a little more, you can choose one of two large microwaves that earned a CR Best Buy, the Whirlpool MT4155SP[B] or the Panasonic Inverter NN-T945[S]F, for less than $200. Both cooked evenly and have a variety of quick keys. The Panasonic had the most usable capacity but was also a bit noisier.
Students who are making the move off-campus will need some pots and pans. They can make do with hand-me-downs, although if a nonstick pan has lost its coating, it will be difficult to clean. Cookware is usually sold in sets or as open stock, where you can choose your own pieces. And by piece, the cookware folks count everything, including lids and removable handles, so make sure to check how many pans you are actually getting. The EarthPan Hard Anodized nonstick set, $170, did well in our tests and is a CR Best Buy. The set includes six pans and four lids, which might be too many for the typical student.
Unless your student is attending a culinary school and knows his or her way around a kitchen, stick to nonstick pans, which are easier to clean than uncoated pots and pans. Most of the nonstick pans in our tests cooked evenly.
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