Paper shredders let you destroy documents securely
Paper shredders are designed to protect privacy by shredding sheets of paper into bits so small that the information they contained is illegible. Most paper shredders can shred credit cards as well as paper, and many can handle paper fastened with staples or small paper clips. Some can even shred CDs and DVDs -- useful for backup discs or any other data discs with private information.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends shredding documents with personal information as one way to minimize the risk of identity theft. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, cases of identify theft continue to rise, affecting an estimated 8.6 million households in 2010 (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.
Paper shredders are subject to only voluntary safety standards, and some paper shredders lack features designed to prevent accidental activation or fingers being pulled into the blades. For 2010 (the last year figures are available), the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that there are about 925 emergency room visits due to paper shredder accidents. So if your home includes children or pets, it's a good idea to choose a model with solid safety features. The good news is that most shredders include at least some features to prevent accidents. Fellowes, for example, equips over half of its models with a patented sensor that stops the blades when a hand (or anything else) touches the border around the insertion slot. Other common safety features (not exclusive to Fellowes shredders) include slim insertion slots, switches hidden in the back (to prevent turning it on accidentally), lock-out keys and blade guards.
Among users, noise is a common complaint. And while paper shredders will never be whisper quiet, you can find paper shredders that are fairly muted, with sound levels as low as 58 to 60 decibels. The loudest rating we found, in scrutinizing the specifications of dozens of paper shredders, is 75 decibels. Small differences in decibel rating matter, since experts at the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) note that sound level doubles with every five-decibel increase.
We found the best reviews at ConsumerReports.org, where editors test nine console-style paper shredders (with pull-out bins) along with 10 wastebasket-style models. The review is not without drawbacks -- editors don't identify safety features or specify models' noise levels. Nor can these fairly brief tests evaluate durability over months or years of use. For that, we read hundreds of owner-written reviews at major sites such as Amazon.com, OfficeDepot.com, Staples.com and Fellowes.com. We also studied the specifications of dozens of paper shredder models, and when the manual was available, read the fine print there too.