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Cheap Paper Shredders Buying Guide

Some experts say the best time to buy a shredder is in the fall and on through spring tax season. That's when sales are strongest and retailers often put them on special.

The most popular brands include Fellowes, Aurora, Royal, and several store brands, such as Staples.

According to our research, the best cheap shredders are the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder (starting at $50), which also chews up CDs and credit cards and delivers heavy-duty shredding capacity at an affordable price. The Fellowes Powershred W11C Cross-Cut Shredder (starting at $75), another best pick, provides powerfully reliable performance for personal and home office needs. Our basket of good cheap paper shredders holds the Royal CX80 Paper Shredder (starting at $47), well-liked by buyers for its functionality and easy bin removal. Those who opted for the Aurora AS420C Desktop-Style Cross-Cut Shredder (starting at $29) laud its compact size and portability. One model that doesn't make the grade is the Royal 85MX 10-Sheet Cross Cut (starting at $70) due to reports of performance shortfalls.

Aside from chopping up sheets of paper, many shredders also can do a number on entire envelopes of junk mail, staples and paper clips, credit cards, CDs and DVDs (some of which may contain financial or other personal data). If you expect to need all those capabilities, make sure to choose a cheap paper shredder that can meet them, such as the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet, which boasts a dedicated slot for digital media, or the mid-tier Staples 30-Sheet Strip-Cut Shredder, whose starting price of $120 makes it too rich for our list.

If you have a major project, such as shredding 10 years' worth of medical records or your collection of college journals, think about using a one-time bulk shredding service, such as Shred Nations or Shred-it, which come to your home or office for onsite shredding. Tech Media Network says 30 pounds of paper can be dispensed with for $35 to $40. Shredding at Office Depot costs 99 cents a pound and FedEx charges 79 cents a pound.

What We Looked for in the Specs

Cross-Cut Shredder.

There are essentially two kinds of shredders in the budget range: strip cut and cross cut. The former shreds into narrow strips lengthwise or widthwise, depending how you load the paper. The Aurora AS810SD (starting at $30) is an example of a strip-cut shredder. Although they accommodate more paper and are useful for demolishing junk mail, strip-cut shredders are not recommended for sensitive material, as a dedicated identity thief can reassemble these crude cuts fairly easily.

Cross-cut shredders slice and dice paper and other media both vertically and horizontally, creating a confetti-like shape that assures greater security. All of our cheap paper shredder picks are cross-cutters.

Moving up the security ladder gets to models with a micro, or diamond, cut, which turns documents and such into diamond-shaped bits. Micro cut is reserved for high-end shredders that cost upward of $300, well beyond the Cheapism zone.

High Shredding Capacity.

The amount of paper a cheap shredder can handle at one time, or in one "pass," is a crucial consideration for most buyers and the basis for many ratings. The standard for units designed for home or small office use ranges from five sheets to 15. Specifications for all the models we researched satisfy this requirement but for the Aurora AS420C, which can take a maximum feed of two sheets of paper folded in half, for a four-sheet thickness (it also can take one credit card). Reviews indicate that not all shredders live up to their advertised capacity (see next page).

But don't think just in terms of single sheets. Consider a three-page junk mail letter folded into thirds and inside an envelope. Three pages folded triple is equivalent to a thickness of nine sheets. The two sides of the envelope add two more sheets, for a total of 11. In other words, if you'll be shredding a lot of junk mail, or mailings with multiple sheets, be sure to choose a paper shredder with more stated capacity rather than less. Note, however, that many cheap shredders, like the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet model and the Walmart 6-Sheet Crosscut Shredder (starting at $23), balk at accepting windowed envelopes.

Minimum 8.5-inch Shredding Slot.

Most cheap shredders have a similarly sized "throat" through which you feed the material to be shredded. For letter- and legal-sized documents, a throat narrower than 8.5 inches would be tight and likely an exercise in frustration as you struggle to insert the paper.

The 4.5-inch throat on the Aurora AS420C requires that an 8.5x11-inch sheet be folded at least once, but this model sits in our bucket of good cheap paper shredders anyway because of its extremely low price and desktop or stow-away convenience for light personal use. Still, low-key grumbling about throat width surfaces in online review comments.

Review continues below

Safety Features.

The best paper shredders have some kind of safety feature. The AmazonBasics 12-Sheet Cross-Cut shredder boasts ShredSafe technology. Effectively, this means that when a foreign object -- human or otherwise -- gets too close to the shredder throat, the unit automatically shuts off. Other brands have their own safety mechanisms. Staples shredders, for example, feature Blade Guard, a mechanical feature that covers the shredder's sharp teeth, and the Fellowes Powershred W11C has a patented safety interlock for shutting down the shredder when the head is taken off the basket.

What We Ignored in the Specs

Bin Style and Capacity.

Shredders come in two basic bin styles: pull-out console and wastepaper basket. With the former (found on the Royal CX80), you empty the device by pulling out a basket-size drawer that collects the shreds. With the latter, you lift the shredder mechanism off the basket holding the shreds. The choice is a matter of personal preference, and users note that both can make a mess when dumping into a larger container. (Tip: Line the basket with a bag from the grocery store.)

As with any waste receptacle, the larger it is, the less frequently it must be emptied. Bin sizes for cheap paper shredders generally range from very small, about 1.5 gallons to 8 gallons. Among the models we researched, the Aurora AS420C features the smallest bin (1.3 gallons) and the AmazonBasics 12-Sheet and Fellowes Powershred W11C feature the largest (4.8 and 4.75 gallons, respectively). Several users say the 2.75-gallon bin on the Royal CX80 seems a bit small, but optimal bin capacity really depends on how much shredding you plan to do and how often you want to empty it.

And remember, shredded paper has excellent recycling potential as everything from garden mulch to packing filler.

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