Everyone needs a paper shredder in the office. With identity theft being a persistent problem these days, it behooves you to have a way to destroy documents you no longer need, which might have your personal information, Social Security number, or financial information or account numbers on them.
There are different types of paper shredders to choose from. There are strip cut, crosscut, and confetti cut/micro-cut shredders. All of these shred paper, but differently. A strip-cut shredder uses rotating knives to shred a piece of paper into ¼-inch or smaller strips that will be as long as the sheet of paper being fed into the shredder. Strip-cut shredders are considered the least-secure type of shredder. This is because there is less randomness in the shreds, which theoretically might be reassembled and examined by a determined identity thief. Generally, cheaper, light-duty shredders will be strip-cut machines.
Crosscut and micro-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelogram, or diamond-shaped shreds. These shredders make more randomness in the shreds, making it more difficult to reassemble the shredded documents. Micro-cut or cross-cut shredders are therefore considered a more secure means of shredding documents than strip-cut shredders are.
There are seven security levels for paper shredders. Levels 1 and 2 are for general or mildly sensitive internal documents, and these security levels are limited to strip-cut shredders and cross-cut machines that make larger cross-cut shreds. Security Level 3 shredders are for confidential documents, and this security level is provided by cross-cut shredders cutting shreds 1/8” to 5/32” wide and 1 13/16” to 2” long. Level 4 shredders are for secret documents, and micro-cut shredders usually provide this level of security. Security Levels 5, 6, and 7 are for Top Secret documents. Security Level 1-3 shredders can provide most home and office shredding needs.
All paper shredders are not created equal. All too often, people will invest in a cheaper, light-duty shredder and then either stuff too much paper in the shredder at once, jamming it, or they will run the shredder so hard that it overheats and burns out. When considering your shredder needs, you need to invest in a shredder that can handle the heaviest shredding task that you might be confronted with. Today’s shredders come with an array of features, including the ability to handle small paperclips and staples, old CDs/DVDs, as well as the ability to shred expired credit/debit cards. Some have features that prevent jamming and provide overheat protection. It will be important to check the manufacturer’s specifications for the shredder you consider to see if it can handle these extra things besides shredding paper.
Productivity is an important issue when considering a shredder. How much will you need to shred at one time? This goes beyond mere sheet capacity or shredder speed. We are talking about throughput or the efficiency at which a shredder can get the job done. Throughput combines the three most critical features that contribute to a shredder’s performance: Sheet Capacity X Speed (feet per minute) X Duty Cycle = Throughput. A shredder with greater sheet capacity may not have the throughput of a smaller capacity machine if the latter has a longer duty cycle (how long shredder can run it before needing a cool-down period).
Though it may look impressive that a shredder can shred 15 pieces of paper in a single pass, you need to look at other considerations as well. The 15 sheets refer to 20 lb. paper only. The owner’s manual may tell you that a particular shredder cannot shred thicker paper, such as cardboard or file folders, newsprint, or plastic other than credit cards or CDs/DVDs. The manual may say that laminates, transparencies, paper with adhesives on it, or continuous forms are not meant for your shredder. The manual may also say that a shredder can handle small paper clips, but shredding may shorten the cutters’ lives. So, depending on how you will use a shredder, you’ll want to consider more than just how many sheets of paper it can handle at one time.
Once you have found and purchased a shredder that works for you, it is best to keep it in a convenient spot in your home or office so you can shred pertinent documents and protect your identity and personal information from falling into the hands of identity thieves.
Paper Shredder FAQ
I understand there are 7 different security levels for paper shredders. Which of these are important to me?
Consumers who want protection against identity theft should consider paper shredders that provide Level P-3 (medium security) to Level P-5 (medium to high security) protection. Level P-1 or P-2 shredders should not be used to shred documents containing confidential information. Levels P-6 or P-7 are only used for highly confidential documents with the fine print to classified/top-secret documents.
I’ve seen $30 shredder models and $200 models. How can I be assured of getting the most value for the money I spend?
Well, for starters, you want to consider at least a cross-cut shredder if protection of your identity is the reason you are considering a shredder purchase. That will eliminate the cheapest models, which are more likely to be strip-cut shredders (providing only Level 1 or 2 security). Then, consider how heavy you might use your shredder. If you have already burned out one or two cheaper models, you might want to consider buying a better shredder. You should get one that can at least handle the heaviest use you will ever throw at it. If you buy enough quality with your next shredder, you should never have to worry about overusing it and burning it out. Cheap shredders are cheap for a reason, and you need to buy a shredder that shreds to your required security level without frequently requiring maintenance or jamming/breaking down.
I don’t understand the differences between cross-cut, micro-cut, and confetti cut shredders. Can you help me?
Micro-cut and confetti cut shredders are different names for the same type of shredder. The differences between cross-cut and micro/confetti cut shredders are in the size of the paper shreds created by these machines. The shreds from cross-cut shredders average 4mm X 30mm (0.15” X 1.18”), where a standard 8.5” X 11” sheet of paper is cut into about 399 particles. Micro-cut shredders cut 2mm X 15mm (0.08” X 0.59”) shreds, cutting a standard paper sheet into about 3,000 particles. Crosscut shredders are considered medium security (Level P-3 security) shredders, and micro-cut shredders are considered medium to high security (Level P-4/P-5 security) shredders. Both types are considered adequate for protection against identity theft.
Note: Most shredders that shred credit cards and/or CDs/DVDs only strip-cut these into narrow pieces. Some users have aired concern that a determined identity thief could reassemble the credit card strips. Bear this in mind for the shredder you are considering using.
Can you explain the differences between some of the brands?
Fellowes is nearly a household name when it comes to paper shredders. Fellowes started distributing European shredders in the U.S. in 1982 and then introduced their own in-house designs in 1990. The company offers various price ranges and features, with its premium shredders possessing fairly advanced qualities. Comet, Aurora, Swingline, and SimplyShred are two other popular brands.
I understand that you should only shred documents printed on 20 lb. paper. Is this true?
You should always consult your shredder manual to see what your shredder will actually shred. Being able to shred 12 sheets of paper per pass does not mean just any kind of paper. Most shredder manuals will tell you not to shred newsprint, continuous forms, or cardboard. Most documents will also tell you not to shred any paper with adhesives, including both labels and envelopes. They will tell you not to shred business envelopes with plastic windows in them. Most manuals will tell you not to shred plastic other than credit cards or CDs/DVDs (no laminates or transparencies) and only use the designated slots for cards and media.
The reason for not shedding envelopes/business envelopes is the adhesive on the flaps, and the plastic windows of business envelopes can gum up the cutters. This means when you get those credit card offerings in the mail, do not automatically shred the unopened piece of mail. Instead, open the offering and shred the piece of paper containing your name and personal information on it. Throw away or recycle the rest as junk mail. Look at it this way: why fill your shredder basket up with a paper that does not need to be shredded? Most of those mail offerings contain lots of loose paper that won’t give away your identity.
What about shredders that claim to shred through paperclips and staples?
Many shredders can indeed shred staples and small (but not large) paper clips. Realize, however, that the cutters on your shredder will stay sharper longer if you stick to just shredding paper according to your shredder’s manual. For the occasional paper clip or staple that slips through, if your shredder is rated for these, it should be okay.
How often should my shredder be oiled?
Paper shredders require regular lubrication, and the frequency of oiling should be based on the amount of usage. Shredders that are used more will need more lubrication. A shredder under hefty usage will need oil about once every four hours. Normal usage may only require oiling about once a month. Most manufacturers recommend oiling the cutters for every 30 minutes of accumulative shredding. However, the easiest way to stick to a lubricating schedule is to oil your shredder every time you empty the waste bin.
You can lubricate your shredder by shredding specially impregnated shredder lubrication sheets purchased at your office supply store or squirting some shredder oil across the width of a piece of paper and running this sheet through the cutters. Feed the lubrication sheet through the shredder and then operate the machine in reverse mode for a few seconds to disperse the oil throughout the cutting cylinders. Finally, shred a few sheets of paper to remove any excess oil. You may have to repeat his procedure a couple of times to be assured of thorough oiling.
I have a huge box of papers saved up, so I will immediately put my shredder to the test. Will that be a good assessment of its capabilities?
Perhaps it is highly recommended that you read your shredder manual before you even plug your shredder in. The manual should list your new shredder’s duty cycle, which is its recommended frequency of use. It will tell you that your shredder can be run continuously for only 5 or 10 minutes before needing a 20 to 40-minute cooldown. It will also tell you the recommended daily use, i.e., the number of paper passes and the number of credit cards or CDs/DVDs that shredder can shred in one day of use. If you have a backlog of shredding to do, you should bear this in mind when you first use your new shredder.
The main reason for using a recommended duty cycle is to keep your shredder from overheating. Some shredders have an overheat sensor and will shut down automatically if this sensor is tripped.
Are there any regulations governing paper shredding?
Indirectly so. Two federal regulations cover protecting consumers from identity theft. These are the 2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and 2009 refinements to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). FACTA requires that all businesses, regardless of size or industry, protect and dispose of sensitive and personal data they collect about their customers. The law doesn’t specify shredding documents as a requirement, but most businesses recognize shredding as the most cost-effective and practical option to comply with the law.
The 2009 changes to HIPPA involved the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH rule stiffens civil and criminal penalties associated with failure to protect personal medical information required by HIPPA. Again, the law doesn’t specify shredding papers as a requirement. Still, most doctor’s offices and medical billing agencies understand that shredding personal medical information is the most cost-effective and practical option to comply with the law.
Businesses and medical offices that do their own document destruction need to ensure that they purchase the shredders they purchase will keep them FACTA and HIPPA compliant.
DIN Standard 66399 is the European standard for paper shredder security. As of September 1, 2012, this new standard supersedes the previous standard related to media destruction (DIN 327251-1). The previous standard denoted six security levels ranging from DIN 1 to DIN 6 to increase security.