Which paper shredder should I buy?

Person using a paper shredder

Cross-cut versus strip-cut. How many litres should the waste bin be? And what does DIN level mean anyway? If you’ve ever puzzled over a selection of paper shredders in a shop, these questions should all ring a bell.

We’re not kidding ourselves – we know you don’t have to have the investigative powers of Sherlock to buy a shredder. When compared to laptops, printers and wearables, picking your perfect paper shredder should be sheer elementary.

But when it comes to keeping your personal identity secure, you can’t be too careful. So we’ve answered the key questions you should consider when shopping for a shredder.

Shredder reviews – browse more than 40 expert shredder reviews

Cross-cut, strip-cut or micro-cut shredder?

This is the first decision you’ll face when buying your new paper shredder.

Strip-cut shredders are the most basic machines you can buy and probably the ones that spring immediately to mind when you think about paper shredders. They slice your documents into A4-length strips roughly 6mm wide. And the price reflects the basic mechanism, usually around £15 to £20.

They might be cheap, but we don’t think they’re very cheerful. If you’re the least bit worried about conmen trying to reassemble your private documents, we think you should go for something more secure. And don’t be fooled if you see a shredder branded as ribbon-cut – they’re the same as strip-cut, just with a slightly prettified name.

Waste from a strip-cut paper shredder

Cross-cut shredders (sometimes known as diamond-cut) are the most common on the market. Ranging anywhere from between £20 and £120, they reduce your documents down to miniature oblong-shaped confetti. The size of the waste can vary from machine to machine, but they don’t tend to be any bigger than a couple of squared centimeters each. That might be big enough to make out the odd word or number combination, but they’re a real job to reassemble.

If you’ve got more sensitive material to dispose of, it may be worth paying extra for a micro-cut shredder. The teeth on these machines chew up your documents into tiny pieces – the smallest we’ve witnessed are a powder-like 7x2mm each. But of course this top-secret security comes at a cost. The cheapest micro-cut shredder on test – the Q-Connect Q8MICRO – is £80, and they can climb above the £200 mark.

The best shredder on test chops an A4 page into 2,598 bits of confetti

What does DIN level mean?

This is nothing to do with how noisy paper shredders are (we’ll come to that later). DIN stands for Deutsches Institut für Normung, which translates to German Institute for Standardization. It’s the international standard of shredding security – with one being the lowest and seven the highest. The level depends on the size of the confetti.

If we were you, we’d avoid shredders with a DIN level of one or two. These are exclusively strip-cut shredders. You can get strip-cutters with a DIN of three, but they’re few and far between – we haven’t tested any, as no major retailers sell them.

Most of our reviewed cross-cut models – including a handful of Best Buy shredders – also have a DIN level of three.

If you spot a machine you like with a DIN level of four or above, you can be really confident that your private details will be protected. That level of security is limited to micro-cut machines and only the most secure cross-cutters.

We’ve shredded 42,000 A4 sheets to test the durability of the 42 shredders on test

What size shredder do I need?

In one way, this is like asking how long a piece of string is. Naturally, it will depend on how much space you have and whether or not you intend to put your shredder away in a cupboard after you use it. We include the dimensions of every model we review, so you can make sure you get one that fits your home like a glove. Just click the ‘technical specifications’ tab to see them.

Your other consideration should be how often you shred. Waste bins vary between five and 25 litres in capacity. And, generally speaking, the bigger the waste bin, the more documents you can shred before it needs emptying or squeezing down.

But it doesn’t always follow. We tested a mighty 21-litre shredder that took a measly 30 sheets before it cut out. However, one Best Buy 10-litre model punches way above its weight – downing around 70 pages before hitting capacity.

Which?’s unique paper-shredder testing

You can use the above criteria to narrow down which paper shredder to buy. But it’s Which?’s in-depth testing that can tell you things about each model that mere specifications can’t:

Noise

Some models have their supposed decibel levels daubed on the box. And a few, like the Rexel Whisper, use it as their main selling point.

But it isn’t as simple as which models are quietest. Our expert testers listen out for whether the shredder makes a particularly grating racket when in use. Those that make harsh, high-pitched wailing will score badly.

38,970 bits
of confetti are produced every minute by our top scorer. That’s 2.5 million over the 1,000-page durability test

Durability

To simulate how each shredder will last over time, we feed them 1,000 pages in batches of 50 at a time. If they still look as fresh as a daisy after the gruelling marathon, they score five stars.

Throat size

Pretty much every shredder has claims about how many sheets of paper you can fit in at once. We put those claims to the test and find that several fall short, getting jammed a few pages shy.

Others, on the contrary, work just fine even if you add a couple more pages than instructed into your stack.

Speed

If you’ve got piles of paper to pulverise, you don’t want to waste your day with a snail-like shredder. We time how long it takes to feed in 25 consecutive leaves of A4. The fastest we’ve timed was a quickfire 51 seconds, while one slowcoach took more than four minutes.

Ease of use

If a waste bin is fiddly to remove and clean or on the heavy side, we’ll tell you. We’ll also warn you against units that spray dust everywhere when you empty the bin and the models that require feeding with annoying accuracy before they’ll accept your paper.

Shredability

This might be a made up word (OK, so it’s definitely a made up word), but we check to see whether the manufacturer makes any claims about what its machine can and can’t shred.

If a machine is said to be able to munch through credit cards and CDs, and handle documents clasped by paper clips or staples, we’ll feed those things into the jaws and report back.

More on this

Best Buy paper shredders – see the latest and greatest shredders we’ve tested
Best cheap shredders under £60 – stay secure at home for less
How to choose the best antivirus software – protect your online identity, too

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