Choosing a Paper Shredder
Identity theft and other forms of data theft make shredding essential for individuals as well as organizations. Unless you want to painstakingly cut up old tax returns, bank statements, credit cards, and more by hand, a paper shredder is a must-have item. The market is awash in paper shredders at prices ranging from about $15, for what's essentially a motor head that can be set atop a wastebasket, to more than $2,000, for a professional-grade model designed for a busy office that goes through lots of paper. Cheapism.com carefully scrutinized the available options and paper shredder reviews to find the best paper shredders under $75.
Paper Shredder Brands.The most popular names in this product category include Fellowes, Aurora, Royal, and store brands such as Staples. Amazon stocks all these brands and more, including Swingline, Bonsaii, GeoEcoLife, and Omnitech. The ecommerce giant also sells its own line of top-selling shredders under the AmazonBasics brand.
Types of Shredders.There are three types of paper shredders: strip cut, cross cut, and micro cut. A strip-cut shredder produces narrow strips and can accommodate more paper. Strip-cut shredders are useful for demolishing junk mail but aren't recommended for sensitive material, as a dedicated identity thief can reassemble these crude cuts fairly easily. Interestingly, a lot of commercial-grade shredders use this cutting technique, but there aren't many strip-cut options in the budget realm. Most of our picks are cross-cut shredders, which are available at all price points. A cross-cut shredder slices and dices paper and other media both vertically and horizontally, creating short strips that assure greater security.
Moving up the security ladder gets to shredders with a micro, or diamond, cut, which turns documents into confetti-like bits. Micro-cut shredders are slower than cross-cutters, but micro-cut shreds take up less space, so the bin doesn't have to be emptied as often. Once sold only at prices above the Cheapism ceiling, this style is now available at budget prices; several of our favorite shredders are micro-cutters.
Pricey vs. Cheap Paper Shredders.Whatever the cut style, high-end shredders can decimate more sheets of paper at one pass than cheaper models, shred at a faster rate, and run continuously for longer periods. They come with larger waste receptacles, are more likely to have convenience features like rolling casters, and come with longer warranties. They also may feature hands-free, or auto-feed, shredding. They typically can ingest credit cards, CDs/DVDs, paper clips, and staples, while cheap shredders often lack one or more of those functions, or tend to choke on fasteners.
Shredding Services.The secret of cost-efficient shredding is staying on top of things; that is, shredding private documents frequently, before they pile up. For a major project, like shredding 20 years' worth of financial records or old college journals, a one-time bulk shredding service may be a smarter way to go. Shred Nations and Shred-it, for example, make home or office calls for on- or off-site shredding, with prices starting at about $60 for 300 pounds. Office Depot/OfficeMax and Staples also offer shredding services, with prices starting at $20 for a bin that holds up to 25 pounds.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Paper Shredder Reviews: What We Considered
Each model highlighted in this buying guide earns at least 4 stars from hundreds or thousands of users in reviews on Amazon, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, and Staples.com. Some also earn recommendations from review sites such as BestReviews and TechGearLab, which do comparative product testing. According to the expert and consumer reviews we read, getting the job done efficiently, and without incident, is the primary goal. Other features, such as run time and durability, occasionally come under scrutiny as well. We ignored complaints about noise, because cheap shredders are just plain noisy; the decibel differences among them are tiny.
All the paper shredders we researched are subject to a fair number of complaints about paper jams and assorted malfunctions, like overheating and never starting up again or giving out just after the warranty expires. Still, reviews indicate that users of the better budget models are satisfied with their ability to chew up paper and, where relevant, credit cards and other media.
Capacity.The amount of paper a shredder can handle at one time, or in one "pass," is a crucial consideration for most buyers and the basis for many review ratings. Pricey professional shredders with heavy-duty capabilities can shred upward of 20 or even 40 sheets with each pass. The cheapest models might take only three, or one sheet folded in thirds. Our top picks accept at least eight sheets at a time and are wide enough that users don't have to fold an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper (8.7 inches is fairly standard, although a few models feature a wider slot).
Reviews indicate that not all shredders live up to their advertised capacity, however. While some users grumble about their disappointment, others argue that inserting fewer sheets than the maximum puts less strain on the machine and increases its longevity.
Even the best paper shredders sometimes jam up and stop in their tracks. Relieving the blockage typically requires a reverse action. On most cheap models, users must manually switch to reverse; some more expensive machines reverse on their own to clear the jam and then go about their business.
Many entry-level paper shredders can also cut up credit cards and/or CDs/DVDs (one at a time, please). For some users this function is irrelevant, but for others, especially those who back up personal files and information on physical media, it's critical. With the looming disappearance of CD/DVD drives on new computers, some consumers need a way to securely destroy confidential data on those outdated disks.
Run Time.Shredders shut down automatically when the stated run time has elapsed, or soon after, to avoid overheating. Budget paper shredders have fairly short run times -- generally on the order of 2 to 5 minutes, far shorter than those designed for heavy-duty office use. They also need long cool-down periods between bouts of shredding; some stipulate 40 minutes. Although a few reviews report a longer run time than the specified maximum, many reviewers express exasperation with these limitations, as they impede efficiency.
Bin Size/Style.The shredders we researched have one of two bin styles: pull-out console or wastepaper basket. With the former, users pull out a drawer-like bin that collects the scraps. With the latter, the shredder mechanism is lifted off a receptacle that comes with the unit. Reviewers write that both can make a mess when dumping the waste into a larger container. Lining the basket with a bag may mitigate the problem.
As with any waste receptacle, the larger it is, the less frequently it must be emptied. Bin sizes for cheap paper shredders range from about 1.5 gallons to more than 5 gallons. Remember, micro-cut shreds take up less room than cross-cut, so a bin of equivalent size doesn't need to be emptied as often. (Tip: Shredded paper can be recycled as garden mulch and packing filler.)
Safety Features.Most paper shredders can be set to turn on automatically when paper is fed into the shredder throat (the slot where material is inserted). These models stop automatically when the material has completely run through the blades, and they typically also have a manual "off" switch that ensures the unit is completely shut down.
Some brands have proprietary safety mechanisms that prevent fingers from triggering the auto-on function and getting tangled in the blades. Effectively, this means that when a foreign object -- human or otherwise -- gets too close to the slot, the shredder automatically shuts down. Several Fellowes shredders boast a patented safety lock that disables the cutter, ensuring the motor won't start no matter what the position of the control switch. These advanced safety features generally appear on pricier shredders, but as some reviewers point out, the most effective safety measure is to simply unplug the machine after every use (manufacturers recommend this even for models with their patented safety technology).
Durability.This is an issue that crops up with some regularity in reviews. Although our preferred models seem to provide ongoing and reliable service -- at least for a few years -- we found reviews bemoaning the short lifespan of each. Some users report that a shredder failed from the get-go; others relate total breakdowns within a matter of days or months. Problems cluster around jams that can't be cleaned out and unexplained motor failure. We also read comments about models with automatic shut-off that continue running even though no paper is being fed through.
The typical warranty in the budget price range runs for one year, and many units last far longer without any hiccups. Regular oiling of the shredding mechanism with special lubricant oil or paper helps keep things running smoothly; check the manufacturer's instructions.