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 today can shred credit cards as well as paper, and won't skip a beat if you leave behind some staples or small paper clips. Some can even shred CDs and DVDs, which is useful for destroying backup discs with private information. But why should you buy a paper shredder? What are the chances someone will go through your trash, anyway?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 16.6 million people -- 7 percent of the U.S. population --were victims of some form of identity theft in 2012, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that identity theft topped the list of complaints it has received in 2014, marking the 15th straight year that crime has earned that dubious honor. Some of the thieves hacked into their victims' accounts online, but others lifted their personal information off paper documents. To protect yourself from that latter type of theft, the FTC recommends shredding all documents with account numbers on them-- including "receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents" -- as soon as you no longer need them.
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. They're also pretty rare these days; even the cheapest paper shredder covered in this report is a crosscut model.
- Crosscut shredders (also called confetti-cut shredders) cut paper lengthwise and crosswise, which makes it more difficult to piece together documents that are still legible. We found recommendations for crosscut paper shredders ranging from $25 to $250.
- Micro-cut shredders are the most secure; they chew paper into tiny, diamond-shaped scraps. They're also the most expensive; we didn't find recommendations for any cheaper than $350.
Paper shredders often are rated on a six-point security scale, with 6 being the most secure. For private personal or business documents, 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, have bins that you can simply pull out to empty. Console shredders tend to be more expensive than wastebasket-style shredders, but they're much more convenient for heavy users.
In addition to the style of your shredder, you need to consider its run time and feed capacity. Run time is the maximum number of minutes a shredder can work without needing a cool-down period; exceeding this limit can overheat and possibly damage the shredder. Sheet capacity is the number of pages a shredder can claw through at once, and it's a figure that manufacturers tend to exaggerate. If your paper shredder says it can accept 8 sheets, 6 is a safer bet; if it says it can handle 24 sheets, it probably can't exceed 20.
Paper shredder safety
Because paper shredders are powerful enough to chew through flesh as well as paper, safety features are key. 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 automatically if a finger gets too close to the insertion slot. If you have an older paper shredder that doesn't include these safety features, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers a list of safety guidelines for using it.
Finding the best paper shredder
The paper shredders covered in our report were selected for performance, security, and ease of use. We looked at their specs for shredding speed, feed capacity, run time, and safety features. Professional reviews from computer publications such as PC World and Wired, as well as consumer magazines like ConsumerReports.org and Good Housekeeping, helped us evaluate how fast and quiet the machines are and how easily they jam. Finally, user reviews from retail sites such as Amazon.com, Staples.com, and OfficeDepot.com showed us how well the shredders hold up during real-world use.