Don't short sheet the bed and other tips for college living

College students will be off to campus in the coming weeks and are shopping in earnest to furnish the rooms where they'll be spending the next nine months. Towels? Check. Pillows? Check. Sheets. Not so fast. Before investing in a good set of bed linens, check the size of the dorm bed. Most college dorms have beds that are five inches longer than the standard twin so regular twin sheets won't cover them. The extra-long twin sheets aren't sold everywhere so you may want to shop online in advance. Here's how to find sheets that'll last until graduation.

The longer sheets, known as XL twin or dorm sheets, are often sold in university bookstores but may cost more there. Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Macy's don't offer a huge variety in their stores, but they do have back-to-school collections on their websites as does Look for fitted sheets that are 80-inches long (the XL flat sheets are longer). And remember that most twin sets come with one standard pillowcase, which means you'll need to buy an extra pillowcase if you use two pillows.

Look for sales when you shop as the XL twin sheets are often discounted at this time of year. Or use coupons. Some stores, like Bed Bath & Beyond, send coupons via traditional mail as well as e-mail. And you may also find bargains on standard-sized bedding for students who are living off-campus. No matter what size sheets you buy, consider the fabric. According to Pat Slaven, Consumer Reports' textile expert, some sheet fabrics last longer and are more comfortable than others. Here's what you'll find.

  • Microfiber. "Skip it," says Slaven. Microfiber is not as breathable as other fabrics and may cause the sleeper to become hot and sweaty.
  • Jersey. It's not the most durable fabric. The sheets can stretch out of shape after only a few washings and definitely won't least for four years of college, says Slaven.
  • Cotton-poly blend. An Internet search showed that most dorm sheets are made of 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. "Cotton-polyester blends work well, but 100 percent cotton is going to be much more comfortable," says Slaven.
  • 100 percent cotton. It's the best choice. "If you look around you'll find 100 percent cotton sheets for a reasonable price," Slaven says, adding that a twin set of cotton sheets should cost between $20 and $30.

Pack pods for the laundry
Slaven advises parents to do at least one load of laundry with their first-time college student before sending him or her off to campus. She also suggests buying laundry detergents in pods, which are quick and convenient and pre-measured. Pods are also easier to carry to the laundry room or laundromat. In our tests of laundry detergent, Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Pacs sold at Costco and Tide Pods were the best pod performers and are recommended by our experts. For more standout choices check our laundry detergent ratings.

Best Buy mattresses
Students who are moving off-campus may need a lot more than a set of sheets. In our mattress tests, we named two Best Buys but mattresses often go on sale so if you're patient you can find one at a good price. The Serta Perfect Sleeper Elite, $835, is a firm innerspring mattress that offers excellent support for those who prefer sleeping on their backs. Another good choice is the Novaform Foam Collection Serafina, $900, memory foam mattress sold at Costco. The medium-firm mattress is infused with gel beads and is also good for back sleepers. And because it comes folded six ways in a box, it's easy to transport. The Sultan Holmsta sold at Ikea didn't make our list of top mattress picks but at $550 is still a good choice. Our other top picks range in price from $1,100 to $1,765 when not on sale.

—Izabela Rutkowski

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