Horror stories about identity theft are leading many consumers to buy a paper shredder for the home. While a paper shredder won’t guarantee you immunity from identity theft, it will prevent thieves from stealing personal information from your trash, or from your home during a burglary. Finding the right paper shredder for your home or business is a question of how much you need to shred and how thoroughly you want it destroyed. Pronto’s Paper Shredder Buying Guide will help you find the best tool for disposing of those documents.
Choose strip-cut paper shredders that cut documents into long, thin strips for general home use and cross-cut paper shredders that use multiple sets of blades to cut the paper into tiny diamond shapes resembling confetti if you want extra security. Paper shredders are graded on a scale of one to six for security, and most home users will get good results from a shredder scoring a two or three on the scale.
Sheet capacity ratings are generally inaccurate—count on being able to shred 50%-75% of what the manufacturer claims a paper shredder can handle. To avoid overheating, estimate two to three times the volume you think you’ll need when looking at capacity.
If you want a paper shredder that can handle CDs, DVDs, staples, paper clips and credit cards, look for a machine that advertises those functions. Paper shredders designed for these items feature more powerful motors, damage-resistant blades and guards to protect the user from shards of plastic or metal.
Look for a paper full indicator or paper level window to know when larger paper shredders need emptying. Cross-cut shredders generate more compressed waste, making them the best choice for those who shred large quantities of documents.
Look for an auto-on switch that only powers the motor up when it needs to shred. Reversible motors make it easy to clear paper jams. Larger paper shredders should have built-in casters so you don’t have to lift them when they need to be moved. If you have children in your home, look for narrow openings that keep small fingers away from the blades and a child lock.
A feature that starts a paper shredder when you feed paper into the paper entry and turns it off when shredding is complete. This feature helps to keep the paper shredder motor from overheating.
A paper shredder that uses angled blades to cut documents into small diamond shapes, resembling confetti. Cross-cut paper shredders offer greater security and generate more compressed paper waste.
The number of documents that a paper shredder can destroy at one time before its motor turns off to prevent overheating.
The number of documents that you can feed into a paper shredder at one time. Most manufacturers overrate sheet capacity by anywhere from 50% to 75%.
A paper shredder that uses a single set of blades to cut documents into long, thin strips. Strip-cut paper shredders need to be emptied frequently and strips that are too wide may make it easy for someone to reassemble documents.
If you’re taking the precaution of destroying documents that contain personal information, you want a paper shredder that will do a thorough job. Paper shredders use two types of cuts: strip cut and cross cut. A strip-cut paper shredder cuts the document into long, thin strips. When shopping for a strip-cut paper shredder, look for the smallest possible width of the strip. Documents cut into wide strips are easy to reassemble. A paper shredder that turns a document into numerous thin strips makes it harder to match the pieces and time consuming to reassemble the original, which will deter most identity thieves.
Cross-cut paper shredders use multiple sets of blades to cut the paper more than once into tiny diamond shapes, resembling confetti. Cross-cut machines typically shred a document into anywhere from 400 to 1,000 pieces, compared with the 10-20 pieces of a strip-cut paper shredder. As a result, cross-cut paper shredders provide much more security when it comes to protecting sensitive information. Most home users feel perfectly comfortable with the protection offered by a strip-cut paper shredder. More secure settings, such as law offices, health care providers and financial institutions should use a cross-cut paper shredder for added security.
Paper shredders are graded on their shredding ability on a scale of one to six, with higher numbers offering more security. Better shredding will cost you more, and most home users will get good protection from a paper shredder that scores a two or three on the scale.
Don’t expect your paper shredder to be ready to do its job at a moment’s notice. Different paper shredders have different shredding capacities, varying both by the number of documents a machine can shred in one pass and by the number of uses per day.
When you’re looking at paper shredder capacity, don’t take the manufacturers’ sheet capacity ratings as fact. A paper shredder generally handles 50% to 75% of the documents that a manufacturer claims it can process. If you see a paper shredder that claims to destroy 12 pages in a pass, assume that 6 to 8 pages is a valid rating.
In addition to sheet capacity, examine the daily capacity or machine use ratings. Paper shredders generate heat as the motor is used, and after anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes of continuous use, they overheat. A safety switch then forces the paper shredder to shut down until it cools. If you have a lot of documents to shred each day, you need to consider daily capacity. Because sheet capacity ratings tend to be inaccurate, it’s a good idea to shop for two to three times your expected shredding volume to get the right capacity.
If you’ve got personal data backed up on CDs or need to shred credit cards, you’ll need a heavy-duty paper shredder. Most strip-cut paper shredders don’t have too much difficulty with staples or paperclips accidentally (or intentionally) left in a document, but these little oversights can cause a world of hurt to a cross-cut shredder that wasn’t designed to process them.
Some paper shredders are built to eat paperclips, CDs and those fake credit cards that come in the mail. Paper shredders designed for these extra functions typically incorporate more powerful motors, harder blades that are more resistant to damage and special guards to prevent pieces from flying back out of the machine and posing injury.
You’ll need to periodically remove those destroyed documents from your paper shredder, which will jam and overheat if paper waste accumulates too high. Personal paper shredders fit over a garbage can or wastepaper basket, and you must remove the entire paper shredder to empty the paper waste. These are a good choice in a small home or office where there isn’t much shredding to be done, as it saves the space you’d need for a standalone paper shredder.
Some office cabinet and stand-alone paper shredders have a pull-out drawer that makes it easy to remove paper waste. At a minimum, these paper shredders should have a window or see-through door so you can tell when it’s time to empty paper waste. Better standalone paper shredders have indicator lights that tell you when the shredder is full. For added convenience in paper waste removal, look for a paper shredder that offers a lining or disposable waste bags.
Strip-cut paper shredders accumulate waste more quickly than cross-cut models, as strips of paper don’t compress as well as the confetti created by a cross-cut shredder. If you intend to shred large amounts, choose a cross-cut paper shredders to minimize the amount of time you spend emptying paper waste.
Look for an auto-on function that turns the paper shredder on when you insert paper and off when the job is through. This feature does a better job of keeping a paper shredder’s motor cool than a simple on/off switch. Motor reverse is a worthwhile feature that makes it easier to clear out paper jams.
Large, standalone paper shredders should have built-in casters so that you can move the unit without lifting it. If you have children in your home, look for a child-lock that disables the paper shredder and try to find one with a narrow opening; a paper shredder that keeps adult hands free of the blades may be a hazard for kids’ smaller hands and fingers.