What to look for when choosing a paper shredder

posted this on May 30, 2016

Paper shredders are very popular these days due to the rise of identity theft and the appearance of federal privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Not using a shredder can lead to financial ruin, a tarnished image, and/or even legal problems if your company doesn’t comply with certain laws. Choosing the right shredder is essential, but there are some things you should know about this type of device before you purchase one. Here’s everything you need to know.

Strip-cut or cross-cut? There are two types of paper shredders: strip-cut and cross-cut. Here’s what distinguishes them.

  • Strip-cut shredders are very common and you’ll find them just about everywhere: at home, in school, and so on. They’re so popular you can buy them at a variety of retailers so tracking one down isn’t hard. A strip-cut machine will turn paper into dozens of strips that resemble spaghetti. Thus, it’s possible that your documents could be re-assembled if they fell into the wrong hands. These devices are good for shredding junk mail and such, but they should be avoided if you really need to keep your information private.
  • That brings us to cross-cut shredders. These machines offer higher levels of security than their strip-cut counterparts because they turn paper into countless pieces. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to reassemble a document that’s been run through one of these machines so they’re perfect for bank statements, old tax returns, business documents, health records, papers containing personal information, and other items that need to be kept under wraps.

Security level. As you’ve learned from reading the above section, security is an important consideration when choosing your paper shredder. There are six levels of shredder security. They are as follows:

  • Level 1. This is the lowest security level. A Level 1 machine will produce strips or particles that are 3/8” wide. Devices with this security are good for destroying junk mail and documents that don’t contain a lot of sensitive information.
  • Level 2 and 3. The shreds produced by a Level 2 or 3 device tend to be 1/8” or 1/3” across as opposed to 3/8”. Machines with these security ratings are good for documents that are slightly more sensitive, such as items containing birth dates and Social Security numbers.
  • Level 4. A Level 4 shredder is a great choice if you need a high-security shredder with which to dispose of financial records and so on. The shreds produced by a cross-cut device tend to measure 1/16” x 5/8”, so they’re pretty tiny.
  • Level 5 and 6. If you want the ultimate in document protection, get a device with either a Level 5 or 6 rating. These machines provide the most document security and many of them are compliant with federal privacy laws such as HIPPA and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). There are even some devices that have received approval from the National Security Agency/Central Security Service so they can be used by the military and governmental officials for the shredding of top secret documents.

Capacity. Once you’ve decided on whether your device will be strip- or cross-cut and what security level you need, you should think about your machine’s shredding capacity. This refers to how many sheets per pass the machine can shred. Shredders come in all sorts of sizes, from personal-sized ones to heavy-duty devices meant for departmental use. Here’s a rundown of what’s available:

  • Personal and deskside shredders. These are the smallest shredders on the market and they’re perfect for use at home. They can also be use at work by 1 or 2 people. These machines can typically shred up to 10 sheets at a time.
  • Office shredders. Office shredders are good for use in shared workspaces, especially smaller officers. This type of shredder can usually shred as many as 20 to 30 sheets in one pass.
  • Heavy-duty and departmental shredders. These are the big guns of the document shredding world. Departmental machines are good for continuous use in busy workplaces such as banks, professional offices, and so on. These shredders can often shred more than 40 sheets at a time, so they’re perfect for heavy-duty use. Plus, they usually come with high security ratings, making them ideal for the disposal of documents containing sensitive information.
  • Industrial shredders. Finally, there are industrial shredders that can process well over 100 sheets at a time. Machines like this are probably overkill for most of today’s offices, but they’re good for mailrooms and print shops. Some industrial devices will even bale your shreds which can be convenient.

Multimedia and cardboard shredding. There are lots of available shredders that can destroy non-paper items. For example, a lot of personal and deskside shredders can destroy any staples or paper clips you leave in your documents. There are even some that can take card of credit and debit cards which will give you much more security than if you cut up the cards with scissors and then tossed the scraps. There are even a class of machines known as multimedia shredders that can destroy CD’s, DVD’s, floppy diskettes, and more. If you’re interested in having a shredder that can destroy a variety of items, do your research on the device before buying it so you can be sure you’re getting a machine with the capabilities you need. Finally, if your workplace deals with a lot of cardboard, you probably know that storing and disposing of this type of material is bothersome and expensive. However, you can invest in a cardboard shredder to make disposal a lot easier. You can even use the shreds as packing material which will save you money as well as help out the environment.

Safety features. There’s not doubt about it: paper shredders can be extremely dangerous. Thus, you’ll want to choose a machine that’s safety to use. Some of the safety features you might come across when you shop include the following:

  • Safety interlock. This prevents unauthorized use of the machine. It’s ideal for personal machines used in homes in which kids or pets may be present.
  • Safety sensor. A safety sensor is able to detect when there are inappropriate things need the device’s feed opening (i.e. hands, tails, etc.). When this happen, the sensor will shut the machine down to prevent an injury from occurring.

Make sure to choose a shredder with the safety features that put you most at ease.

Miscellaneous considerations. There are a few other things to keep in mind when shopping for your shredders. Here they are:

  • Continuous-duty motors. If you’re going to be sharing your shredder with a bunch of your colleagues, you should consider getting a machine with a continuous-duty motor. It will be able to run non-stop so you can shred as much as possible. Some shredders need to cool down after a period of use, which can be very inconvenient. Basically, the more you shred, the more you need a continuous-duty device, so keep that in mind. Also, choosing a device that starts automatically can be handy and save you some time.
  • Noise level. Paper shredders can be noisy, so if you’ll be using yours in a shared work environment, going with a quiet device is always a good idea. Check out the machine’s decibel rating to determine how loud it will be.
  • Automatic oilers. One of the best ways to keep your shredder in shape is by oiling it regularly. How often you oil the device depends on how often you use it. Thus, if you have a deskside device, you’ll only need to oil it occasionally and can do so manually. If you use a larger machine regularly, you might want use an automatic oiler. It will cross one more thing off of your “to do” list.
  • Casters. Casters can make it easier to move your shredder around and they’re especially handy if your machine is large and heavy. Not all shredders come with them, so keep your eyes peeled if you think they’ll make using the machine easier for you.
  • Warranty. Of course the warranty is going to be an important thing to consider. Shredder warranties generally last for at least a year, even for the least expensive personal devices. If the machine’s warranty doesn’t last for at least a year, keep shopping because a longer warranty typically means the machine is of a higher quality.

Manufacturers. With so many paper shredders on the market, it’s safe to say that are are many brand names to choose from. Knowing which brands to look for is essential because you want to get a high-quality machine with a great warranty. Here are some brand names to be on the lookout for (in alphabetical order): Dahle, DestroyIt, Fellowes, Formax, GBC, Intimus, Martin Yale, MBM, and Standard.

As long as you keep in mind the other things listed in this article (shredder type, security rating, etc.) and you choose a device from one of the above-mentioned companies, you really can’t go wrong. Whatever you do, don’t spend your money on a product from a no-name company. Odds are, you’ll wind up replacing it sooner rather than later.

There’s a lot to keep in mind when selecting your paper shredder, especially since it’s such an important purchase. The right shredder can protect your identity, keep you in compliance with federal privacy laws, and maintain your professional image. Pick out the shredder that’s right for you today so you can keep your private information out of the public eye. 

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