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What Is the Best Paper Shredder?


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This article originally appeared on BestReviews.

Shopping Guide for Paper Shredders

We are not a paperless society. The threat of identity theft is real. Paper shredders allow people to obliterate sensitive information that's written down the old-fashioned way, thereby reducing the chance of identity theft from those documents.

Each paper shredder on our shortlist is capable of converting paper into illegible confetti. Some can also turn CDs and credit cards into unreadable, pointy shards. So whether you're looking to destroy the occasional piece of junk mail or a year's worth of tax records, there's a shredder on our list to meet your needs.

The market offers three basic types of paper shredders, each with its own level of security. Strip shredders slice paper into long ribbons which could theoretically be reconstructed by an identity thief. None of the machines we tested are strip shredders. Cross-cut shredders, the kind most often used by individuals and small businesses, convert paper into small pieces of confetti.

Information could still be recovered by highly motivated parties, but generally speaking, the information is effectively destroyed. The highest grade of consumer shredder is the micro-cut shredder. These cross-cut models render even smaller bits of confetti, offering the utmost in security.

How We Tested
Security Level

Our lab testers shredded three sensitive documents containing information such as account numbers, names, addresses, and phone numbers. They then attempted to glean as much information as they could from those shreds.

While most shredders did present a challenge to our testers, there were some surprises. Paper orientation, for instance, was a very important factor. Pages with a vertical or "portrait" orientation (as most documents are) were less likely to retain traces of sensitive information than pages with a horizontal or "landscape" orientation (spreadsheets, some types of financial statements). This is because the shreds from the cross-cut machines were taller than they were wide.

From the cross-cut shredders, our assistants did find larger bits of paper containing legible numbers and letters. However, we concluded that it would take a lot of time and motivation to reassemble an entire document.

Shredders are rated from P-2 to P-7 for their security level, with P-7 being the highest (specified to create over 15,000 particles per sheet and suitable for shredding classified government documents). All the shredders we tested were rated either P-4 (cross-cut) or P-5 (micro-cut).

A "cross-cut" shredder offers plenty of security for personal documents. Get a "micro-cut" model for even more security.

BestReviews Paper Shredder in detail
Capacity

Shredders have limits, and most are advertised based on capacity: the number of sheets of paper they can shred at once. In addition to that capacity limit, shredders also have a duty cycle or what's sometimes called the "shred cycle." That's how long they can keep running, generally measured in minutes of continuous running. After that, they they have to stop and cool down.

BestReviews lab techs used the manufacturers' claims for each shredder's capacity as a starting point. We then shredded packets with incrementally more pages until the device either refused to accept the packet or jammed. (If a shredder couldn't work at its advertised capacity, we reduced the number of pages per packet until it could.) We used 20-pound office paper from the same paper manufacturer's batch for all our tests.

We also checked how much shredded paper each device bin could hold and if the shredder alerted the user when the bin got full. (Shredded paper takes up a lot of volume!)

Virtually every consumer-grade paper shredder will overheat if used continuously. Dry paper leeches lubricating oil from cutting blades. Friction within the blades generates heat, causing them to expand and stick. Our testers measured each product by continuously feeding standard 20-pound bond paper until the unit overheated. After a cool-down period, the test was repeated.

We compared our lab's real-time shred cycle results to the manufacturer's estimated shred cycles. We also tested how quickly each shredder could process 100 sheets of paper.

Our results allow potential buyers to determine how much time a bulk paper shredding assignment would take to complete using each of our shortlist products.

Noise and Ease of Use

Some paper shredders are very loud. Others are promoted as being exceptionally quiet during operation. We measured the decibel level of each contender from a distance of three feet, comparing real-world decibel readings to manufacturer claims. We also evaluated each shredder's other features, including how easy it is to move the device and empty the bin.

Value

Paper shredders intended for personal use start at about $20. An entry-level paper shredder allows the casual user to destroy junk mail, bills, and other sensitive information, but it isn't designed to be the centerpiece at an all-day shred party. Higher-capacity machines can cost $400 or more. Models at higher price points generally offer longer duty cycles, noise suppression technology, larger sheet capacities, and higher security ratings. For the most part, these types of machines are better suited for office work.

We assessed the value of each product in our top five by looking at what you get for your initial investment. It is possible for a consumer to purchase "too much shredder" for their needs, but worse yet is the scenario in which a consumer buys a shredder that can't handle his or her demands.

We put the shredders through a series of tests to measure their capacity and performance. And yes, the fire extinguisher was necessary!

Products in Depth
Royal 18-Sheet Cross-Cut Paper Shredder

Chances are that most days you need a shredder, it’s only for obliterating sensitive information on the odd bank statement or utility bill. But then there are those days when a year’s worth of tax records or a pile of old bills must be destroyed. For mountainous tasks like these, consumers should consider investing in a monster shredder like the Royal 1840MX 18-Sheet Cross Cut Paper Shredder.

In terms of security, the Royal 1840MX reduces paper to the P-4 standard with shreds measuring 5/32 x 1 1/8 inches. This isn't the smallest shred size possible, and our testers felt that a motivated identity thief could potentially glean some sensitive information — especially if the paper were fed through the chute in a horizontal or landscape orientation. Generally speaking, however, the chances of a thief finding precisely the right shreds in a bag filled with thousands of pieces of confetti are remote.

The Royal 1840MX's horsepower impressed us. One sheet of paper will be completely shredded in under five seconds. At a rate of 18 sheets per pass, an entire ream of bond paper could be destroyed in less than five minutes. And while many shredders have dedicated slots for electronic media (like CDs and credit cards), some just slice those materials into ribbons. Not so with the Royal. Everything it sinks its teeth into is pulverized to bits by its cross-cut shredder blades.

The Royal's generous 8 1/2-gallon storage bin means fewer trips to the garbage can. Thanks to its pull-out basket, owners needn't lift the entire shredder unit just to empty it. A "bin alarm" activates when the basket reaches maximum capacity, but you can also eyeball your progress by peeking through the clear window as you work.

Many personal and small-office paper shredders boast cycles of as little as two minutes, with five to ten minutes being typical. The Royal 1840MX manufacturer claims a shred cycle of 40 minutes. We tested this in the lab by feeding 16-sheet stacks of bond paper into the Royal's front-loading feed chute for nearly 40 minutes. During this time, the machine's overheat light did not activate. Our assistants were impressed with the amount of air circulation and venting inside and outside the shredder assembly; these factors undoubtedly contributed to the length of the Royal's shred cycle. Indeed, most users will likely run out of shredding materials long before the Royal 1840MX runs out of power to shred them.

Some people may be concerned about bringing such a powerful shredder into their home or office. While the Royal 1840MX is physically large, it's not loud. At a distance of three feet, the Royal only generated 66 decibels of noise in our lab. In terms of noise, this places the 1840MX squarely in the middle of our pack of players.

For individuals and small business owners, having this much shredding power at your fingertips offers a distinct advantage over contracting with professional file management or destruction services. After all, most civilians and small business owners simply don't generate enough sensitive material to warrant such a contract. We believe the Royal 1840MX's current retail price of $166 is a bargain when you consider the cost of high-end commercial paper shredders used by medium and large companies. The powerful Royal 1840MX earns its stripes through its sheer capacity and long shred cycle alone.

Fellowes Jam Proof Heavy Duty Paper Shredder (16 sheet capacity)

The Fellowes 79Ci 100% Jam Proof Heavy Duty 16-Sheet Cross Cut Shredder provides a P-4 level of security that protects information from average identity thieves and other criminals. Our lab determined that the average size of a paper shred processed by the Fellowes 79Ci is approximately 3/16 by 1 1/2 inch – much better than a strip shredder.

Lab assistants assigned to the challenging task of reassembling these pieces into recognizable text reported that they could only find a few shreds containing recognizable letters and numbers. Indeed, it would take a dedicated team of experts to reconstruct the test documents into something legible. While the Fellowes 79Ci is not a micro-cutting shredder, it does a great job of obliterating sensitive paper information and rendering electronic information harmless.

The Fellowes 79Ci cross-cut shredder has the versatility to handle both light- and heavy-duty assignments. A single sheet of paper flies through the feed chute into a generous, six-gallon storage bin. A clear window allows users to gauge the volume of shredded material as they create it.

Some shredders on our test list struggled to handle their manufacturer's recommended maximum capacity, but the Fellowes 79Ci easily processed a stack of 16 standard pages. We could not jam this shredder by over-feeding it because a sensor installed near the feed chute will not let it run a stack that's too thick for processing. In terms of total shredding capacity per duty cycle, our test lab determined that the Fellowes 79Ci can shred an impressive 490 sheets of 20-pound bond paper (nearly a ream) in eight-and-a-half minutes. In addition, we note that the Fellowes 79Ci surpassed its stated duty cycle time of ten minutes.

This shredder is a monster for a home user. It's perfectly capable of handling an all-day shredding party with minimal cool-down periods. Paper clips, staples, and other foreign objects present very few problems. The Fellowes 79Ci could serve honorably as a communal shredder for an entire office. The manufacturer promotes the Fellowes 79Ci as being extra quiet during operation, but our test lab measured its sound output from a distance of three feet at 64 decibels. Notably, the sound level dropped to a steady 60 decibels once the continuous feed process began.

Commercial-grade cross-cut shredders like the $199 Fellowes 79Ci may represent a significant investment, but this model provides a bounty of durability and power that you wouldn't get from a $30 strip shredder in an office supply store. It's true that few home offices require the shredding power packed into the Fellowes, but offices that process a lot of sensitive information definitely appreciate the fact that this commercial-grade shredder is available at a price that won't break the bank.

We also looked at another model in the Fellowes line of paper shredders: the Fellowes 73Ci. It's a 12-sheet model that sells for just a little less than the the larger 79Ci. While we found it to have an appealing power-saving feature, it fell short when compared to its big brother. The collection bin is essentially the support framework for the shredder assembly, and it felt a little flimsy for the job. The device has touch-panel controls (instead of standard buttons) that can be a bit difficult to understand for first-time users. On the plus side, the 73Ci, like the 79Ci, has an input bin sensor that refuses to activate if you try to feed it more than it can handle. This greatly reduces the likelihood of jams.

BestReviews Paper Shredder
AmazonBasics 12-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper Shredder with Pullout Basket

The AmazonBasics 12-Sheet Micro-Cut Paper, CD, and Credit Card Shredder is a micro-cut shredder, meaning it renders paper into indecipherable bits smaller than confetti (3/16 x 7/16 inch). Even if an identity thief recovered every last shredded piece of a document, he would find little to no legible sequences of numbers and letters.

In the course of our research, we found that a using pullout storage basket – especially one with a clear window for quick peeks – is much easier than dealing with what is essentially an office trash can sitting under a heavy shredding unit. (Many low-end shredders make use of the latter.) The AmazonBasics High-Security shredder has a 6.7-gallon pullout basket for easy emptying. Like the Royal and Fellowes, this pullout basket glides easily on caster wheels. Our lab testers ran 11-sheet stacks of bond paper continuously into the unit, all the while watching for signs of jamming and overheating. The unit performed surprisingly well, micro-shredding 23 stacks in just over four-and-a-half minutes. Lesser models tend to jam and/or overheat under such strain, but the AmazonBasics showed no signs of struggle – even while slicing pages into much smaller pieces than its cross-cutting competitors.

This security comes at a cost, however. The manufacturer's estimated shred cycle is eight minutes; its cool-down period is purported to be 45 minutes. Our in-house tests added a minute or two to the shredding portion of the duty cycle, but the machine struggled with larger stacks of paper as the blades overheated. We urge potential users to keep the AmazonBasics' blades lubricated between sessions.

Our noise test revealed that the AmazonBasics produced just 60 decibels of sound, one of the lowest levels among our contenders. From an average distance of three feet, neighboring office workers will hear an occasional grinding noise as the paper enters the feed chute. Because the entire unit sits on castors, it can be easily rolled to a remote location for longer shredding sessions. (Notably, however, the eight-minute shred cycle and 45-minute cool down period do not make the AmazonBasics High-Security micro-cut shredder ideal for all-day shredding sessions or for offices that require lots of shredding.)

The AmazonBasics 12-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Paper Shredder's current retail price of $99 is comparable to many mid-range cross-cut shredders on the market, but users get the immediate security benefits of micro-cutting. This unit also passes the torture test (the ability to deal with paper clips and staples) with flying colors. Some micro-shredders designed for personal or small-office use have limited capacities and two-minute shred cycles. The eight-minute AmazonBasics High-Security shredder can handle up to 12 sheets of bond paper per pass and can be easily transported to different locations for different shredding assignments.