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Paper Shredder Guide

What is a paper shredder? | How does a shredder work? | Types of paper shredders Questions to ask prior to purchasing a paper shredder: | Paper Shredder Security Levels: Popular Paper Shredder Brands

What is a paper shredder?

A paper shredder is anything that is used to shred paper into tiny particles. This could be something as simple as scissors or as complex as a semi loaded with high-end blades designed to shred hundreds of sheets of paper at a time. Most people, however, when they talk about a paper shredder are speaking of a machine that sits next to a desk or in a centralized office location for destroying sensitive material. Paper shredders are the most popular tool used to destroy patient records, client information and sensitive data. These machines also play a critical role in HIPAA and FACTA compliance.

How does a shredder work?

A shredder usually consists of a shredder head that sits on some sort of basket or bin. The shredder head holds a couple of steel rollers that are configured to cut paper in a particular type of pattern. As the paper is placed in a slot on the top of the machine, these steel cutting blades pull the paper in and chop it into pieces. These pieces of paper are then deposited into a bin or basket. Regardless of the size of the shredder, they almost always operate in a similar way.

Types of paper shredders

  • Strip Cut Shredders - Strip cut shredders used to be the most common and affordable type of shredder available. They have decreased in popularity with the rise of the cross cut shredders. These shredders typically cut paper into tiny 1/8" or " strips. Strip cut shredders typically have a higher cutting capacity than cross cut shredders because there is less surface area being cut.

  • Cross Cut Shredders - Cross cut shredders cut paper into pieces using a crossing pattern. The term cross cut applies to all shredders that use this type of cutting pattern, but is often used specifically to describe a Level 3 cutting pattern. A cross cut shredder provides a lot more security than a strip cut shredder and is best used for shredding personal information.

  • Micro Cut Shredders - The term micro cut shredder is used to describe any Level 4 paper shredder. While a micro cut is technically a type of cross cut pattern, it is usually applied to Level 4 due to the smaller "micro" cutting pattern. This is usually reserved for businesses that want a little more security than your typical cross cut shredder can provide.

  • High Security Shredders - High security shredders are used by government, military and other entities that need extreme security precautions when shredding paper. This cutting pattern usually falls within a Level 5 or Level 6 cutting pattern. Paper cut using a high security shredder cannot be deciphered or pieced back together. The Level 6 pattern is what the DOD and NSA use for high security shredding.

  • Disintegrators - While technically not a shredder, disintegrators are used to destroy paper. Rather than using a cutting head to chop up paper into pieces, they use a special blade to finely grind paper down into dust.

  • CD / DVD Shredders - While paper can contain a lot of information, optical discs such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays can contain far more data. It is important to properly dispose of optical discs when they are no longer needed. Optical disc shredders come in stand alone designs or in a combination design with a paper shredder. Many paper shredders now come equipped with the ability to shred CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays.

  • Auto Feed Shredders - Auto feed shredders use a special tray where you can place a stack of paper. The shredder will then pull a sheet off the stack and shred it until the entire stack of paper is done. This type of shredding technology can be found in strip and cross cut shredders. This is especially nice when you need to shred a lot of paper, but don't have a lot of time to stand in front of a shredder.

Questions to ask prior to purchasing a paper shredder:

  • How many people will be using your shredder? In order to keep up with shredding demand, you need to make sure your shredder can keep up with the volume thrown at it. If you are at home or have a home office, you probably will be fine with a deskside shredder. If you are in an office and multiple people need to use the shredder, you are going to be much better off with a departmental shredder. Whatever you do, don't buy a shredder that is too small for the job at hand or the shredder may end up wearing out prematurely. Feel free to call us at 1-800-543-5454 to speak with one of our Paper Shredder Experts. They can help you determine the correct shredder for the job.

  • How much paper do you need to shred at a time? Shredders are capable of shredding different amounts of paper at a time. If you need to shred a lot of paper, you will need to use a shredder with a higher shredding capacity. Typically the higher the security level, the lower the sheet capacity. This is because higher security levels have to cut through more surface area at a time, resulting in decreased capacities.

  • How much security do you need? We recommend using at least a security level 3 if you are shredding sensitive information. Keep the security level in mind when shopping for a shredder and be sure to get a machine that cuts paper the right way for the job at hand.

  • How often will you use the shredder? Some shredders require a cooldown period after a long period of use. This helps prevent damage to the motor. If you need to use a shredder for extended periods throughout the day, you may want to consider buying a continuous duty shredder. These shredders have thermally protected motors that allow them to run for hours at a time without incurring premature wear or tear.

  • Where will you be using the shredder? Shredders can make a lot of noise, especially cross cut shredders. Many modern shredder brands, such as Intimus and Dahle, implement baffles, noise absorbing mounts and more to keep shredders as quiet as possible. If you will be using the shredder a lot and around many people, you may want to look for a shredder with a lower decibel rating.

Paper Shredder Security Levels:

There are six security levels that are labeled by DIN32757 certification. Level 6 is technically not DIN 32757 certified, but is accepted by the NSA / DOD for top secret shredding. These are the security levels and their corresponding cutting pattern ranges.

Security Level 1:
Strip Cut: 10.5-11.8mm
Cross Cut: 10.5mm x 40-80mm

Security Level 2:
Strip Cut: 3.9-5.8mm
Cross Cut: 7.5mm x 40-80mm

Security Level 3:
Strip Cut: 1.9mm
Cross Cut: 3.9mm x 30-50mm

Security Level 4:
Cross Cut: 1.9mm x 15mm

Security Level 5:
Cross Cut: 0.78mm x 11mm

Security Level 6:
Cross Cut: 1mm x 4-5mm

Popular Paper Shredder Brands

Many people ask us which paper shredder brands are best. This is a tough question to answer, as there are many good brands. We have, however, found in our decades of experience that shredders made by Destroyit, HSM, Formax, Dahle and Intelli-Zone are exceptional. If you have a question about a paper shredder brand, or simply need to find a good shredder for your office, please don't hesitate to call and speak with one of our Paper Shredder Experts at 1-800-543-54543

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