Paper shredders let you destroy documents securely
Paper shredders can help protect your privacy by shredding documents into bits so small that the information they contain is illegible. Most paper shredders can shred credit cards as well as paper, and many can handle staples or small paper clips. Some can even shred CDs and DVDs -- which is useful for destroying backup discs with private information. But why buy a paper shredder? What are the chances someone will go through your trash, anyway?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, cases of identity theft affected an estimated 8.6 million households in 2010 (the most current year for which data is available), compared to 6.4 million in 2005. Although most of the increase is due to unauthorized credit card use, paper documents remain a target of thieves trolling for personal data. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends shredding documents with personal information as one way to minimize the risk of identity theft.
Shredders and security
Paper shredders offer different degrees of information security:
Strip-cut shredders, which cut paper into long, noodle-like strips, can handle higher volumes, but they're also the least secure type.
Crosscut shredders (also called confetti-cut shredders) cut paper lengthwise and widthwise, which makes it more difficult to piece together documents that are still legible.
Micro-cut shredders are the most secure; they chew paper into tiny, diamond-shaped scraps.
Paper shredders often are rated on a six-point security rating (6 being the most secure), based on industry and government standards. For home or small offices, experts recommend crosscut shredders with a security level of 3 or higher. Office Depot posts a handy chart describing paper-shredder security ratings on its website and showing examples of how finely the different kinds of shredders destroy documents.
Paper shredder styles
Wastebasket paper shredders, which are the size of a small trashcan, are usually adequate for personal use -- that is, light-volume needs like shredding tax forms or monthly bills with private information. The downside to these is that they typically have smaller bin capacities than other shredder types, and you have to lift the motor and cutters off the bin to empty it.
Console-style paper shredders, on the other hand, offer pull-out bins; these eliminate the need to lift the shredder off the bin to empty it. Console shredders tend to be more expensive than wastebasket-style shredders, however.
Paper shredders can be damaged if overworked. That's why those who need to shred a lot of documents, such as in a small office setting, may want to consider a model with a high duty cycle. This is the maximum number of minutes a shredder can work without needing a cool-down period. Exceeding this can harm the shredder or sometimes void your warranty. It's worth noting that crosscut and micro-cut shredders generally require more maintenance and are more expensive than strip-cut shredders, says Jacci Howard Bear, About.com's guide to desktop publishing.
Paper shredders with high sheet capacities can chew through several documents at once -- but keep in mind a shredder's maximum specified passes per day. Not all manufacturers publish this number, however. Experts recommend buying paper shredders with paper-insertion slots of 9 inches or wider to make it easier to insert paper.
Paper shredder safety
Look for a paper shredder with ample safety features, particularly if you need a shredder that can handle larger media like credit cards or data discs. Slots should be slim to minimize the chance that a finger will be inserted; separate thicker slots for credit cards and data discs should have safety covers. If you have children or pets, it's wise to consider a shredder with lock-out capabilities or one that will shut off if a finger gets too close to the insertion slot.
In 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) published a brief safety alert with guidelines for minimizing risks when using a paper shredder. The CPSC also recommends that control switches and buttons be raised or printed with high-contrast labels to minimize the risk of hitting the wrong button by accident.
Paper shredder reviews
Expert reviews are helpful when determining which paper shredders are best -- but many reports are growing quite dated, and professionals evaluate shredders infrequently. User review sites such as Amazon.com, on the other hand, are particularly useful considering that recent owner feedback is readily available.
To help you figure out which paper shredders are right for your needs (and which ones are junk), ConsumerSearch digs through hundreds of expert and user reviews to find top choices. We break down shredders by performance, features and safety, and value. We name the best overall paper shredders; top budget-priced choices as well as those for home use are also identified.