Everything about paper shredders
Shred and dispose confidential documents
Paper Shredder Guide
Which paper shredder should you buy?
How do you choose and pick the best document shredder for home and which one is recommended for office use? This guide helps you through your buying process.
It is essential to understand a paper shredder’s performance, features, and specifications before buying it. By understanding your shredder, you avoid later disappointments.
You don’t want to end up with a shredder that needs to cool down after 2 minutes of shredding and can’t handle more than three sheets of paper per feed when you need to shred regularly at your office.
Buying a document shredder sounds like an easy task, but there are quite some things to look out for. So it can become quite confusing to choose the best shredder for your needs.
That’s why we recommend reading our paper shredder guide thoroughly, so you know what features and specifications you need to take into consideration when selecting a paper shredder.
- What is a paper shredder?
- Strip-cut, cross-cut or micro-cut
- The right capacity of your shredder
- Sheet capacity
- Capacity of the wastebasket
- Speed of the shredder
- What do you want to shred?
- Manual feed or automatic shredder
- Important safety features
- Prevent paper jams
- Noise level
- Energy saving
What is a paper shredder?
A paper shredder is an electronic device to shred (mostly confidential or sensitive) paper documents into (unreadable) particles. The shredder shreds documents with a set of rotating cutting blades driven by an electric motor.
It depends on the type of paper shredder how small the paper particles will get. Shredders get categorized into strip-cut, cross-cut and micro-cut shredders.
A shredder can turn your documents into long strips or tiny paper shreds that are as small as confetti. The output of the paper shredding machine is covered in the official security levels of DIN 66399.
This German standard for paper destruction covers the security levels DIN P-1 to DIN P-7. A higher DIN-norm resembles a smaller particle. Read more about the DIN 66399 security levels.
A brief history about the paper shredder
The very first paper shredder was invented by prolific inventor Abbot Augustus Low from Brooklyn, New York. His invention, ‘the waste-paper receptacle,’ was patented on August 31, 1909. But the design of the ‘first paper shredder’ has never been manufactured.
Adolf Ehinger made the first manufactured shredder in 1935 in Germany. At the time, paper shredders were mostly used by government entities. In the late eighties also consumers and businesses started using paper shredders to avoid identity theft.
Strip-cut, cross-cut or micro-cut
Not all paper shredders produce the same cut. In other words, not every shredder is the same size of the particle. That’s why paper shredders are categorized into three types to differentiate them from each other:
- Strip-cut or Ribbon-cut or Spaghetti-cut or Straight-cut
- Cross-cut or Confetti-cut or Diamond-cut
- Micro-cut or Particle-cut or Security-cut
We recommend a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder to shred confidential documents. That is security level DIN P-3 or higher.
A strip-cut shredder is a basic paper shredder for shredding non-confidential documents. It shreds paper vertically in long narrow strips that are fairly readable.
- Low level of security
- For shredding non-sensitive documents
- Long narrow vertical paper strips, like spaghetti
- Cuts only vertically
- Approximately 39 strips per shredded document (size: A4)
- Security level: DIN P-1, DIN P-2
A cross-cut shredder is a paper shredder for shredding confidential documents. It shreds paper diagonally from both corners in short particles that are barely readable.
- Medium level of security
- For shredding sensitive documents
- Short and narrow paper shreds
- Cuts diagonally from both corners
- Approximately 400 particles per shredded document (size: A4)
- Security level: DIN P-3, DIN P-4*
*Sometimes P-4 is also classified as a micro-cut shredder.
A micro-cut shredder is an advanced paper shredder for shredding highly confidential documents. It shreds paper diagonally from both corners in square-shaped particles that are almost unreadable.
- High level of security
- For shredding highly sensitive documents
- Tiny square shaped paper shreds
- Cuts diagonally from both corners
- Approximately 3,700 particles per shredded document (size: A4)
- Security level: DIN P-5* or higher
*In the USA ‘P-4’ is also classified as a micro-cut shredder.
Best type of paper shredder: Cross-cut or Micro-cut?
So, which type of shredder is better, a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder? It all depends on how much security you need, the type of documents you want to shred, and how important the information is to you or your business.
For most situations, a DIN P-3, DIN P-4, or DIN P-5 shredder is an excellent option to dispose of papers and documents safely. So both cross-cut and micro-cut shredders are secure.
But you have to decide which degree of security you are looking for.
Micro-cut shredders offer the highest data security
When you want to be fully secure, then we recommend using a micro-cut paper shredder. Officially micro-cut starts at DIN P-5, but also DIN P-4 shredders are known as micro-cut shredders.
These high-security shredders produce much smaller particles than cross-cut (P-3) or strip-cut shredders. The purpose of paper shredding is to make confidential information unreadable, and for the highest degree of data security, we advise shredding paper as small as possible. You can only achieve this with a high-security micro-cut shredder.
The right capacity of your shredder
You can buy small shredders, shredders for home, office shredders and large industrial shredders. So it is important to know beforehand what you are expecting of your paper shredder machine. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself to get a better understanding of your needs.
- How many users are going to operate the paper shredder?
- Do you want to shred occasionally or regularly? (Are you a light or heavy user?)
- How much space and budget do you have for a paper shredder?
In the following chapters we will explain more about the capacity of the shredder.
Personal / Home use
Home office / Small office
Commercial / Large office
30 minutes or more
20 sheets or more
10 gallon or more
The sheet capacity tells you the maximum amount of sheets you can shred per pass with the shredder. A basic, cheap shredder can shred up to 1 to 3 documents per pass. But more expensive shredders with a more potent motor can shred through 20 sheets per pass or more.
A higher sheet capacity results in faster shredding and less work. But you have to ask yourself if you need a high sheet capacity. A high sheet shredding capacity is only recommended when you shred regularly and when the shredder needs to shred documents daily for multiple users at work.
On average, a manual feed paper shredder that is suitable for small (home) offices can shred between 10-20 sheets of A4 paper per pass. Are you looking for a shredder with a high sheet capacity? Then consider an auto-feed shredder that can shred a large pile of documents in one session.
Be aware that the manufacturer always tells you the maximum amount of documents you can shred at once. Based on our experience, you have to lower this amount by around 10 to 20 percent.
Tip: Paper shredding services for high volumes
When you want to shred high volumes of confidential documents, it is time-consuming to shred the documents yourself with an office shredder. For shredding high volumes, it is recommended to use a heavy-duty paper shredder, which can shred large quantities at a relatively high pace.
When you don’t want to invest in an expensive industrial shredder, it is advised to hire a paper shredding company to do the paper shredding for you. Read more about this on our paper shredding services page.
Capacity of the wastebasket
Most paper shredders come with a wastebasket to collect the shredded paper particles. Wastebaskets can be a pull-out bin or a lift-off head shredder. Some cheaper shredders only contain the shredding part and don’t include a wastebasket. Read more about the different types of paper shredders.
The bottom bin with a lift-off head is a basic variant where the shredder is placed on top of the bin. When you want to empty the bin, you need to remove the shredder part, the head.
Most household shredders or cheaper shredders are manufactured in this way. It is workable but not the most convenient. When you want to shred a larger pile of documents, it gets annoying to remove the top every time. It also can make a mess when you accidentally tip over your shredder when it is full of shredded paper.
The more advanced and larger shredders are equipped with a pull-out bin or removable bucket. The container collects all the paper particles, and once the bin is full, you open the door or pull-out the compartment to empty it.
This is a more professional, clean, and convenient way than the variant with the shredder on top of the bin.
What bin capacity suits you best?
- 1 – 10 gallon – Home use
- 10 – 30 gallon – Small office
- 30 gallon or more – Large office
Does the capacity matter much?
Yes, because a large capacity means that you won’t need to empty the bin less often. A larger-sized bin is recommended when you want to shred daily, or you use the shredder with multiple users, for instance, in your office department.
Please note that the DIN security level has a significant impact on how quickly the waste bin fills up. A DIN P-2 shredder that shreds documents into long strips will fill up the container much faster than a DIN P-5 shredder that generates tiny particles that take up less volume in the bin.
The maximum run-time of a shredder is very important when selecting paper shredders. What does the run-time of a document shredder tell you?
The run-time is also known as the ‘duty-cycle.’ It tells you how many minutes you can operate the shredder before the motor needs to cool down.
Most shredders for home use can only shred for a couple of minutes. But office shredders can shred for 30 minutes straight, and the heavy-duty shredders can even shred continuously without the need of cooling down the motor.
Do all shredders overheat?
Every shredder contains a motor, and after intensive shredding, this motor can overheat. Overheating could take place within minutes or after a few hours of shredding. The ‘run-time’ indicates the time a shredder’s engine can run depends on the shredder itself.
How long can you shred your documents uninterruptedly with your shredder? It depends on the type of shredder, the quality of the shredder, and the security level.
Most household shredders can shred between 5-10 minutes continuously before a cool-down period is needed. Professional shredders for offices can run for up to 30 minutes. But there are also commercial shredders available that can run continuously without stopping to cool down. These are the real heavy-duty ones.
It is important to know that the cooling down-time is much longer than the run-time for most shredders. A basic paper shredder with a 3 minute operating time needs to cool down for 30 minutes before the shredder is ready for the next shredding session.
A higher DIN security level tends to have a negative impact on the maximum run-time. For instance, a DIN P-5 or P-6 shredder needs to cool down more often than a DIN P-2 shredder in the same class because a DIN P-5 shredder produces smaller particles than DIN P-2.
Shredding into smaller particles requires more energy and power from the motor, which causes it to overheat more quickly.
Speed of the shredder
How quick or productive is the shredder? To calculate the speed of a paper shredder you need to know these specifications (formula by Fellowes):
- Sheet Capacity – amount of paper a shredder can shred at one time
- Feet per Minute (FPM) – how quickly the shredder can shred paper
- Run Time – the time the shredder can continuously run before cooling down
Multiply the numbers from each specification and you get a shredder performance rating.
Sheet Capacity x Speed (FPM) x Run Time = Shredder Score
What do you want to shred?
Of course, you want to shred confidential paper documents. But some shredders also shred other items, such as:
- Loyalty cards
- ID cards
- Credit cards
A basic shredder can shred documents with here and there a small staple. But if you want to shred CDs and credit cards, you need to look for shredders that can do this. You can’t just shred a credit card with every shredder because this might damage the cutting blades.
More advanced shredders can shred CDs, paperclips, and plastic cards, such as credit cards or loyalty cards. These shredders can have a dedicated slot to shred these cards with. But other types of shredders just let you shred the cards in the same space you feed your confidential papers in.
It is crucial for recycling to find out if the shredder comes with a separate container to hold the plastic parts. Otherwise, the plastic particles are getting mixed up with the paper shreds, which contaminates the paper.
Shredders with a CD functionality can also shred CDs and DVDs into tiny particles. The shredder can have a dedicated CD slot to shred the optical media. Or the paper shredder lets you shred it in the main paper shredding feed.
Same as with the cards, it is important for recycling that the plastic particles are collected separately so it won’t pollute your shredded paper.
Paper shredder for cardboard
Do you want to shred cardboard waste? Be careful because not every paper shredder machine can handle this rigid material. Only heavy-duty or industrial paper shredders are powerful enough to slice through sheets of corrugated cardboard. But keep in mind that a document shredder is made for shredding paper and not for shredding high volumes of cardboard.
When you have high quantities of cardboard waste, such as boxes and other packaging material, we recommend investing in a dedicated cardboard shredder. These types of shredders are manufactured for shredding or perforating corrugated cardboard and paperboard.
A cardboard shredding machine isn’t necessarily meant for security reasons, like a paper shredder. These cardboard shredders are used for recycling your cardboard waste. The shredded cardboard can be used as packaging material, or you can bale the material, which you can sell to a recycling facility.
Manual feed or automatic shredder
Paper shredders can be divided into two variants, manual feed and auto feed paper shredders.
Manual feed paper shredder
Just like the name implies, a manual feed shredder needs to be fed by hand. Depending on the sheet capacity, you grab a few sheets of paper and shred them.
You grab another pile of paper and shred it, and so on. Manual shredding is fine for shredding a small pile of documents, but if you need to shred thousands of documents, this might not be convenient and efficient.
Auto feed shredder
To save time and speed up the paper shredding process, then we recommend an automatic paper shredder. This shredder has an auto-feed functionality, which means it shreds a large pile of paper all on its own.
So, how does it work? An auto-feed paper shredder has an input tray similar to that of an office printer or copier. You fill up the tray with your documents and press start.
The shredder takes care of the rest. The amount of paper you can shred per session depends on the shredder. Some auto-feed shredders can hold 100 sheets of A4 documents, but others can have 500+ sheets.
Important safety features
A paper shredder isn’t a toy because it contains a set of sharp cutting blades. We advise you always to be very careful when operating a paper shredding machine and don’t leave a working shredder unattended, especially when there are kids or pets around.
Always unplug the shredder when not using it and place it out of sight in a secure and safe place. For your safety and others, you might consider a paper shredder that comes with special safety features that prevent possible injuries.
These safety features are recommended for personal home users and professional office users.
- Safety lock – Lock the shredder even when it is plugged in.
- Safety sensor – Electronic touch sensors around the paper entry that detect when hands or fingers touch the opening. The shredder immediately shuts off.
Prevent paper jams
An annoying occurrence of paper shredders is the ‘paper jam.’ The paper shredder stops working because the motor can’t process the amount of paper, so it gets stuck inside the paper shredder.
What to do now? Some shredders let you solve the problem yourself. But more expensive shredders can clear the paper jam for you by reversing the motor automatically.
There are also shredding machines with sensors that detect when you want to shred too much paper the shredder can handle, so the shredder refuses to shred in the first place.
A paper jam can occur because of:
- Exceeding the prescribed maximum sheet capacity.
- Inserting the wrong material, such as cardboard or thick paper.
- Slanted input of a stack of paper which results in a paper folding jam.
- Bad maintenance of the shredder and lack of oil
How do you solve a paper jam? Stop the shredder and press the reverse button, the cutting blades will turn in the opposite direction so the paper gets rolled out of the shredder. Straighten the documents a bit and retry to shred it.
If you want to minimize the chance of a paper jam, you can look for a paper shredder with special ‘anti paper jam’ technology. These shredders are equipped with an extra powerful engine that pulls the paper through during a paper jam. The jam-proof shredders also prevent a paper jam with a sensor that detects when you want to shred too many sheets of paper at once.
On average, paper shredders produce around 65 decibels while shredding. The decibel count is comparable to the sound of a washing machine.
Especially in office environments, a noisy and loud paper shredder (around 75 dB) can be a nuisance for your colleagues. So it is advised to look for a paper shredder that shreds silently and quietly.
Some shredders are specially manufactured to produce as little noise as possible. For instance, Fellowes calls this ‘Silent Shred Performance.’ To reduce the nuisance as much as possible, you can consider placing the shredder in closed areas, such as a storage space or the archive area in your office.
We’ve experienced in our tests that the cheaper and basic shredders produce more noise with a high-pitched frequency. The more professional office shredders can be a bit loud, but they lack the high-pitched noise that we find quite annoying and unpleasant to listen to while shredding documents.
Paper shredder noise levels:
- Silent: less than 60 dB
- Normal: 60 to 70 dB
- Loud: 70 dB or more
Of course, if you want to pick up a personal paper shredder for home use, it is up to you how much noise you can withstand.
We always advise you to turn off your paper shredder when you’re not using it. This is better for your safety and that of others, but it also reduces energy costs. But if you are shredding multiple times a day, it cannot be enjoyable to turn on and off the shredder every time.
So, to solve the ‘problem’ you can look for a paper shredder with energy-saving technology. This technology sets your paper shredder in an energy-saving mode when it is not used, also known as a standby or sleep mode.
In this mode, the energy consumption of the shredder is as low as possible. Again, if you’re done shredding for the day, it is better to completely turn the machine off.
Why should you trust Recycling.com?
Recycling.com has a partnership with a Dutch certified paper shredding company called Brantjes Data-Vernietiging (www.brantjes.com), they’re running one of the biggest sites about paper shredders in The Netherlands (www.papierversnipperaar.nl).
We’ve also interviewed specialists from well-known brands in the field, such as Fellowes and Intimus. Lastly, we’ve reviewed and tested all kinds of paper shredders for personal and commercial use, such as cross-cut and micro-cut shredders.
To be short, we understand why data security is important and we know what to look for when buying a good and reliable paper shredder that suits your needs.
Paper is one of the most recycled natural resources in the world. You can close the paper loop yourself by separating old paper at home or at the office. Before disposing documents with personal or confidential information we recommend to shred it first before recycling it.
By Recycling.com/ 1 February 2024