Whether you’re about to head off to your first year at college or are simply looking for ideas on what you need in your new dorm, this College Dorm Essentials for Guys and Girls is a must-read! This article covers the basic necessities that any student going into a college or university should think about before they move in and some items to think about purchasing.
Dorm life can be challenging for anyone, but it is a lot easier if you’ve got everything planned out from the outset. There are many things to consider when moving into a dorm; from whether there will be communal spaces like kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms and also which roommate you will have and what their likes and dislikes might be. These details can all make or break your time in the dorms so it’s important to go in prepared!
Ultimate College Dorm Essentials List
Not every item applies to every student’s situation; however, these tips will help you prepare for college life. This college dorm essentials list was put together with the help of my daughter and includes items that she feels are essentials for any dorm-bound college student. Note: Every dorm is unique, so not all of these items will apply to everyone. Make sure to check the college dorm rules and living arrangements BEFORE purchasing any of these items. Remember, you can always purchase items after spending a bit of time at the dorms.
Basic Cleaning Supplies
Before going crazy and buying a bunch of cleaning supplies, it’s a good idea to check with the dorm or school to see if any cleaning items are provided. For example, my daughter’s school provided vacuums and paper towels for the kitchen area. Her dorm fees also included a daily cleaning service, which cleaned any common areas, such as the shared showers/bathrooms, kitchen, study rooms, and tv/game rooms.
- Swifter – There were laminate floors in my daughter’s dorm room, so this was a great way to help keep the floors clean. It quickly picks up dust, dirt, and hair from floors. It’s lightweight and can be used with Swifter wet and dry pads. This is a must-have for girls with long hair to manage hair fall out.
- Cleaning Wipes – A good disinfecting cleaning wipe is a must-have. It’s an easy way to make sure the surface areas in the dorm room stay clean. My daughter and her roommate used cleaning wipes to wipe down her desk, light switches, door knobs, fridge, outside of the microwave, and so much more!
- Stick Vacuum – This is optional as many dorms will provide a vacuum. That being said, my daughter lived on the top floor, would have to check out the vacuum on the first floor, take it up the elevator, and then back down to return it. Also, since the dorm vacuums are shared, the vacuums may not be kept in the best working order. If the dorm is older and the rooms have carpets, it might be a good idea to invest in a stick vacuum.
- Paper Towels or Washable Cleaning Rags – Sometimes paper towels or cleaning rags are needed for spills (think drinks and food) or when cleaning wipes can’t or shouldn’t be used (like the inside of the microwave). Note: most dorms that have a shared kitchen area will provide paper towels, but sometimes these items won’t be replenished promptly or when it’s needed.
- Dish Liquid & Reusable Dish Sponge– While most dorms with shared kitchens will provide these items, it’s probably best to purchase your own. The dish liquid can be used with a warm rag and some water to keep the insides of personal microwaves clean. Besides, do you want to share a cleaning sponge with tons of other people?
Dorm Shower and Bathroom Items
Before getting ready to head off to the dorms, do a test run at home and place everything that’s you use in the bathroom in one spot. For example, everything that is used in a daily routine should be placed in a designated spot. This will give you a good idea of the bathroom supplies that you’ll need to bring to college and what size shower caddy you will need.
- Shower Slippers – Unless you want to risk a foot fungus, it’s highly recommended to have and use shower slippers for shared showers.
- Shower Caddy – There are all types of shower caddies to help carry items to the showers. My daughter used a soft mesh shower caddy, but there are plastic shower caddies and tote shower caddies too. Look for ones that are large enough to fit shampoo/conditioner bottles, a body scrubber, a blow dryer (if used in the bathroom), hair brushes, other bathroom items, and possibly a change of clothes.
- Body Scrubber – Not everyone uses a body scrubber, but it’s a great way to clean off dead skin and dirt. Look for ones that will dry quickly, like nylon scrubbing towels or bath gloves.
- Towel Set – Depending on how often laundry will be done, it’s a good idea to bring at least 2-3 bath towels, face towels, and possibly hand towels. This way, clean towels will always be available. Most students only bring bath towels, but if you want to wash your face or just brush your teeth, it’s easier to bring a small hand or face towel to the bathroom.
- Shampoo/Conditioner – This will vary by individual, so bring shampoo and conditioner that you like to use.
- Basic Bathroom Essentials – Bathroom essentials will vary, but the basics are toothpaste, toothbrush, blow dryer, curling iron/hair straightener, hair styling products, lotion, skincare, scalp massager, sunscreen, and any other bathroom items that are used daily.
- Robe – My daughter bought a robe at the suggestion of others, but she didn’t use it, so this is optional. Most people will change in the bathrooms, so there isn’t a need to walk back to the room with a robe.
For those that have a private bathroom, you’ll want to have your own cleaning supplies and bathroom toiletries.
- Toilet bowl scrubber/plunger set – Since you’ll have to clean your bathroom, a toilet scrubber set is a must-have item.
- Toilet Paper – If you have a personal bathroom, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to purchase toilet paper.
- Hand soap – Soap is something that you’ll have to purchase if you have a personal dorm bathroom.
Dorm Laundry Essentials
Here’s a list of laundry items any college dorm student will need. But do you know how to do laundry? If you don’t, practice washing laundry BEFORE heading to the dorm and find out how you will have to pay for doing laundry. At my daughter’s school, there was an app that they download that is used to pay for laundry. There may be colleges that use coin machines or it may be included in the dorm fees, so make sure to check.
- Laundry Detergent – Laundry pods are the easiest and most convenient way to carry detergent. It doesn’t spill and comes in smaller lightweight bags. Of course, regular liquid detergent is fine too.
- Laundry Basket – A fabric laundry basket that’s easy to carry to the laundry room is essential. The one I linked is a backpack style and has a drawstring top so you can place the detergent and dryer sheets on top without them falling out.
- Dryer Sheets – Skip the liquid fabric softener for dryer sheets. Dryer sheets are lighter to carry and will help keep static at bay, make clothes softer, and makes clothes smell nice.
- Handheld Steamer or Wrinkle Remover Spray – There may be times when clothes get a bit too wrinkled. A compact iron and mini iron board might take up too much room, so another option would be a handheld steamer or wrinkle remover spray. These will come in handy for students who need to have wrinkle-free work clothes.
- Lint Roller – If lint or dust on your clothes bothers you, a lint roller is a dorm essential. This is espeically true for those that like wearing dark color clothes.
Dorm Room Essetials
Always check with the college for dorm room rules. Many items can’t be brought or used in a room and most dorms will have some type of quick room check from the ‘dorm parents’ or RA. For example, most dorms won’t allow candles, extension plugs without a surge protector, any type of cooking device (hot plate or rice cooker), or wall tapestry/fabric (fire hazard). Note: Not all of these items are needed, so use your judgement on the items you’ll need and want to bring.
- Command Hooks – Most dorms won’t allow any type of holes in the walls, so removable Command Hooks are a must-have item if you want to hang decorative items. Use small clear hooks to hang face masks, decorative string lights, organizer desk cords, and more! A strong double-sided tape can be used to hang posters or art too.
- Extension Cord with USB Ports – With various electronics that will need to be charged and plugged in, it’s a good idea to bring an extension cord with USB ports that have surge protection (many schools won’t allow regular extension cords). In areas where an extension cord may not be needed, there are also multi-outlet plugs too.
- Portable Mini Fan – This one is optional, but my daughter enjoyed her handheld portable fan. Even though her dorm had air conditioning, she still used it when she worked at her desk or when walking to class during the summer.
- Desk Organizer – Whether you want to use desk organizers in the desk drawer or on the shelves, it will help corral all the small desk items to help keep things neat and easy to find.
- Hangers – Closet space is minimal in most dorms, so opt for thin hangers. Another option for those that plan on bringing lots of clothes is to get hanger space savers.
- Bed Sheets – Check the size of the bed before buying any bed items. To keep things simple and inexpensive, there are many bed-in-a-bag sets that can be purchased in solid colors.
- Mattress Pad or Topper – A good night sleep is a must, but most dorm mattresses are thin and hard. So, it’s a good idea to invest in a mattress pad or topper (try to get a 3-4″ pad) to make things more comfortable.
- Pillow – Bring your pillow from home or buy sleeping pillows for the dorm.
- Hanging Organizers – This is an optional storage item. Since space is always an issue in small dorm rooms, think about using hanging storage organizers. There are tons of organizers that can help add storage space to a dorm room. Think bed caddies, short closet door organizer (use for jewelry, undies, hair accessories, and more), long closet door organizers, and refrigerator caddies.
- Storage Containers and Bins – Before purchasing any storage items, make sure there is space for it and you know the measurements of the space. It may be a good idea to go storage shopping AFTER setting up your dorm room to see what you actually need. For example, my daugher used collapsible organizers in her closet for storage and one container bin. Hard Underbed (seasonal clothes or misc. items), soft underbed, or plastic drawers (use for clothes or food) are other options to add more storage space in a dorm. Just make sure there is space for these items under the bed or in another area of the room. My daughter’s roommate used a rolling cart next to her bed for extra storage.
- Washi Tape or Wall Poster Putty – If you want to decorate the walls, washi tape or wall poster putty will help adhere posters, post cards, paper art, and more to dorm walls. Using these items will help turn bland dorm walls into something interesting and fun without damaging them! If you’re feeling ambitious, try using washi tape to create fun geometric patterns on a wall (make sure to wipe the walls down before applying washi tape for the best results).
Dorm Kitchen and Food Essentials
If the dorm has a shared kitchen, it might be worth investing in a few kitchen items. But before investing in cooking items, think about how often you plan to cook meals. Many schools require the purchase of a meal plan, so you may not use the kitchen at all. For these items, my daughter suggests waiting on purchasing until living at the dorm for a few weeks to see if you need cooking items.
- Multi-purpose non-stick pan – A 10″ cooking pan with a lid is good to have to make eggs, stir fry dishes, grilled cheese, and more.
- Biodegradable Plates & Utensils – If cooking in a shared kitchen, it’s kind of a hassle to lug dishes back and forth to the kitchen. Instead, think about biodegradable plates and utensils to make clean-up easier. Although, I think one set of reusable plates, bowls, and utensils set is best.
- Ramen Dorm Set – If you prefer regular dishes, think about multi-purpose ones that can be used in the microwave too. A ramen cooker bowl set is a compact nesting design that’s perfect for saving space. The set comes with two bowls, a strainer which can be used for washing fruits and vegetables too, chopsticks, a spoon, and a fork.
- Kitchen Utensils – If you plan on cooking a lot, invest in an inexpensive kitchen utensil set.
- Reusable Food Storage Containers – These will be needed to store leftover food or groceries for those that plan on cooking. There are plastic containers or collapsible containers.
- Filtered Water Pitcher – Instead of constantly buying bottled water, it’s easier to fill up a filtered water pitcher to have fresh drinking water in the room. Both my daughter and her roommate used their filtered water pitchers daily. And don’t forget to change out the filter every 2 months, so have a few extra filters handy.
- Electric Water Kettle – Optional and might not be allowed in the dorm, so check with the school. These come in handy to heat water for instant coffee, tea, ramen, or powdered soup packets.
- Drinking Cup – An insulated mug is great for taking hot/cold drinks to class or for drinking in the dorm.
- Dorm Food – Dorm food essentials will vary for each person, so only bring things that you eat or drink. For example, instant coffee or coffee packets with cream and sugar (will save you $$ from buying coffee), tea bags, cup ramen, snack food (think small chip/cookie bags, popcorn, or bars), freeze-dried miso soup or noodle soup mix, premade rice, etc… And if you’re planning on cooking, you’ll probably need a few basic spices (salt/pepper).
Miscellaneous Personal Items
These items are optional personal items, but are nice to have handy when needed. It’s better to be prepared and have these handy!
- Mini First Aid Kit – Hopefully you will never need this, but it’s good to have for those ‘just in case’ moments.
- Medication – If you take or use any type of medication, make sure to bring that to the dorm. It’s always a good idea to take aspirin or some type of pain killer for headaches.
- Shopping Tote – You’ll inevitably need to do some shopping. In California, you’ll have to bring shopping bags or purchase bags, so having a reuseable shopping tote is a good idea. For groceries, use insulated bags or regular canvas bags for everyday shopping.
- Clothes/Sneakers – Since space is limited, only bring clothes that you use daily for the season. For example, there isn’t a need to bring your entire wardrobe, especially items that haven’t been worn for months. If you wear jeans, shorts, shirts, hoodies, an occasional jacket, and sneakers to school, that’s what you should bring. For example, if it’s the fall season, bring cold weather items and leave the majority of summer items at home. You can always bring it home and switch out clothes during school breaks.
- Feminine Hygiene Products – This is a given for girls, but it’s a good idea to have these on hand at all times.
- Backpack/Bag for School – A backpack or bag is a college essential to carry books and a laptop around campus.
- Febreeze or air freshener – Since most dorms do not allow candles, spray air freshener is a good alternative to chase away any dorm odors. Just make sure the scent is ok with your roommate(s).
- Desk Items – This is a personal choice, but it’s good to at least have a mini stapler. Other desk items such as tape and clips are optional.
- Makeup & Skincare – It’s unlikely that you’ll be doing a full face of makeup for school, so keep makeup and skincare to a minimum. There’s no need to bring your entire vanity.
- Lanyard or Wristlet – Your school ID will be used a lot in college, so it’s a good idea to have your ID in quick reach. Using a lanyard, wristlet, or stick-on phone pocket is a convenient way to have your school ID easily accesible.
- Laptop/Computer – Depending on your needs, bring a laptop (best option) or computer. Also, think about a laptop cover to protector your laptop from damage.
Whether you’re currently living in a dorm or preparing for your first year at school, knowing about common items that you’ll need can help ease your transition. If there are items that I forgot to list, please leave them in the comments below!