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How We Tested Paper Shredders

Friday November 18, 2022

Shredder. If you were born in the '80s or '90s, this term probably conjures images of the intimidating nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For those that grew up riding snow or waves on variously shaped planks, it may bring to mind multiple ambiguously enthusiastic phrases about 'the gnar' emitted from shaggy-haired individuals. If you're afflicted with the responsibility gene, your mind probably went instantly to the office products used to properly dispose of documents containing sensitive information. For this review, we're going to focus on the latter, but if anyone wants to reminisce about the heroes in a half shell, you know where to find us.

To test shredders, we tried to recreate all of the common shredding scenarios the average person would encounter: a stack of papers at tax time, envelopes of junk mail, credit cards, CDs, stacks of paper stapled together, and more. We also got into the mindset of a thief to determine which models yielded some opportunity for recovering information and which negated any risk of identity theft. In the end, we organized our testing into four metrics: shredding quality, speed, ease of use, and noise.

Shredding Quality

The most salient aspect of our shredding quality testing was security. This directly corresponded with the size of the shreds produced. The smaller the shred, the higher the security. This resulted in micro-cut models scoring better than cross-cut models. For more on the relative security of these models and how to make cross-cuts more secure, see our buying advice article. We also tested whether or not each model could handle its claimed maximum sheet capacity. Models that could received a perfect score on this test and models that couldn't got various lower scores depending on how far off they were. We constructed the test this way, rather than trying to push shredders beyond their advertised capacities, because we found pushing limits could compromise security well before a shredder would actually jam. Most models will accept more than their advertised capacity but may not shred these stacks completely, leaving valuable information intact and legible. So we felt it was more important to be able to adequately shred at the advertised capacity than being able to exceed it. We also tested robustness by shredding tougher things like credit cards, CDs (if the model was rated for CDs), and fully stuffed junk mail envelopes. Finally, we ran each model continuously for 15 minutes, putting in a few sheets at a time to see if any would overheat or jam. All the models passed this final test.

Related: Picking the Right Paper Shredder

paper shredders - our shredding quality and speed testing produces a lot of paper...
Our shredding quality and speed testing produces a lot of paper shreds. Don't worry, the vast majority of it was donated material that was destined for the shredder anyway. Here at TachGearLab we try to keep out testing processes as sustainable as possible.
Credit: Steven Tata


To evaluate speed, we timed how long each model took to shred a stack of paper equivalent to its maximum capacity. For models that could not meet their advertised maximum capacity in our shredding test, we used the maximum number of sheets that we found could effectively shred at once. We then took this time and calculated a maximum number of pages per minute figure. We also time how long each model took to shred 20 sheets feeding them in a few sheets at a time, and how long each took to shred a single sheet. However, we felt the maximum sheets per minute figure was much more useful. It better reflects how an average user would complete a large shredding job: feeding close to the maximum sheet count, instinctively adjusting the size of the stack based on whether the shredder sounds like it's struggling or not. We then awarded a score to each model based on their relative speeds.

Ease of Use

Shredders are not complicated to use. Most have a single switch that toggles between on, off, and reverse (to help alleviate jams). So, much of our ease of use scoring was based on how easy our testers felt it was to empty the bin of each model. These opinions were based on emptying each model many, many times throughout our testing. Models did get extra points if they had nice features, like a light to indicate when the bin is full or a sensor that turns the blades off if your finger gets too close. We eventually removed jam clearing from our scoring as every model had a reverse setting that worked well for spitting out material that had jammed the blades.

paper shredders - we emptied the bins of all the models we tested many, many times.
We emptied the bins of all the models we tested many, many times.
Credit: Katherine Elliott


Originally our noise testing involved holding a noise meter a foot above each model as it shredded paper and recording the decibel level. After analyzing the data, we found that all the models produced fairly similar volumes and that the ones that were technically louder didn't match up to the ones that we felt were the most annoying to listen to. Therefore we scrapped our original decibel data and had multiple testers rate the noise of each model subjectively, based on which they felt were more grating and which were more bearable. We then averaged these scores to arrive at our final noise score for each model.

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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