How we picked and tested
The basic goal of a paper shredder is to reduce a document, data disc, credit card, or whatever else you run through it into tiny bits, confounding any attempts to reassemble the physical data into something that a snoop can read and take advantage of.
To find the best tools for this job, we started by consulting editorial reviews, which helped us form a list of things to look for in a paper shredder:
- It should be a cross-cut shredder, which cuts documents into smaller, hard-to-recover pieces.
- Large storage bin — at least 4 gallons for home use or 8 gallons for small-business use.
- Shreds paper, credit cards, and CDs, and should be able to deal with paper clips or staples.
- Jams should be easy to correct—a reverse gear is very helpful, and automatic jam-clearing functions are excellent.
- Quieter is better, but it shouldn't come at the expense of shredding power.
- Shuts down as soon as it encounters any objects other than what it was designed to shred.
- Comes with a warranty.
Once we had a basic list of features to look for, we called in all the hardware that met the requirements. Then, we turned the reins over to a frequent partner in crime, Jim Shapiro. Jim has a physics degree from MIT, as well as a Master of Science and a PhD in mathematical physics from UCLA. With his help, we tested how easily each shredder overheated, the maximum number of sheets of paper each model could shred without jamming, the noise level, and if it could destroy a CD or a credit card. We also measured the wastebasket size and how large the individual shreddings were, and we estimated how easy machine each was to maintain. To learn more about our testing procedure, please see our full guide to paper shredders.
An effective shredder for small jobs: AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder
If you occasionally use a shredder to safely dispose of bills, tax papers, checkbooks, credit cards, data discs, or other sensitive personal materials, we found that the AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder is your best bet. It's impossible to jam if you use it as advised, and it usually costs around $35.
This AmazonBasics shredder is a medium-duty cross-cut shredder that slices paper into numerous rectangles measuring about 1.8 by 0.22 inches. Its 4.1-gallon bin filled up about three-quarters of the way after we shredded 80 sheets of paper—10 sets of eight pages, one after another. It managed to shred them all in under two minutes.
Though it's only rated to handle up to eight sheets of paper at once, we were able to successfully feed a stack of 10 sheets of standard letter-size printer paper at one time, but it was clearly a difficult task for the machine to handle. When we tested 12 sheets of paper at once, the shredder jammed and wouldn't clear without our constantly running it in reverse mode for about a minute and enlisting the help of a small pair of tweezers. If you're using this machine, be sure not to push it past its suggested capacity limit while also running it for minutes at a time. We've long recommended the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder, which can handle up to 19 pages. But it's been in and out of stock for over a year and is unavailable as of this writing, so the 8-Sheet model is the best option of those we've tested.
An upgrade for heavy shredder users: Fellowes Powershred 73Ci
If your shredding needs go beyond the typical and you're willing to pay more for features that our AmazonBasics pick don't offer, look to the Fellowes Powershred 73Ci. The extra cash you fork over for this model nets you quieter operation, a larger waste-storage bin, a longer run time before overheating, a superior warranty, and a number of features that all but guarantee a jam-free shredding experience.
In our tests, we were able to speed 120 sheets of paper through the Powershred 73Ci with no problems to speak of. This shredder also made short work of CDs and paper clips. It'll do staples too, but as with all of the models we tested, the manufacturer recommends against attempting to do so if you can avoid it.
For a higher level of security: AmazonBasics 12-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Shredder
A cross-cut shredder makes it very difficult for an identity thief to steal your information, but you can opt for an even higher level of security: a micro-cut shredder like the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet High-Security Micro-Cut Shredder. This model can turn paper into 0.47-by-0.16-inch bits of confetti, 12 sheets at a time. The particles are roughly one-sixth the size of those from a cross-cut shredder, making it basically impossible for a thief to reassemble a readable document. This model also produced the least amount of operating noise of any machine we tested.
This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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