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How to clean and maintain a paper shredder

The paper shredder is your friend. Whether tasked with a records retention schedule or going digital in the office, having a standard paper shredder available is vital. There are several different types, and this tutorial will cover basic maintenance and cleaning for most models, as well as how to solve paper shredder jams.

Know your shredder

Shredders have different capacities, and it is important to understand what your shredder is designed to do. How the paper is cut affects how fast the bin fills, and a shredder meant to handle multiple pages simultaneously will fill much faster than a single page unit. The ‘cut’ refers to the finished size of the destroyed documents. Cross-cut refers to strips of paper that are cut again every few inches and micro or confetti cut mean the paper is diced into tiny bits. Some units have the ability to handle tougher materials such as credit cards or even CDs.

Basic paper shredder maintenance

Follow these tips to make sure your paper shredder runs smoothly:

  1. Have an office schedule to empty the shredder

    Depending on the volume being shredded the bin should be dumped at least once a month, even if it isn’t full yet.

  2. Occasionally run the shredder in reverse

    Running the shredder in reverse will help keep the area between the blades from wadding up with paper.

  3. Clean the shredder blades

    Once a month, or after a major shredding project (such as at the end of a retention schedule), clear out the blades. After removing the remnant bits of paper, use a can of compressed air to clean out the dust and smallest pieces stuck in the blades.

    paper shredder clean blades

  4. Lubricate the shredder

    Opinions on the use of shredder oil varies, but it is an inexpensive item that can extend the lifespan of a well-used shredder. Fellowes (one of the most common manufacturers of office shredders) recommends the unit be lubricated every time you empty the waste bin, while others suggest oiling only post-jam or once a month.

    Beware of using alternatives to shredder oil, such as WD-40 or canola oil, since they can both gum up and ruin the shredder. In addition, canola oil may become rancid if stored in warm environments. Another similarly priced option is to use lubricant sheets, which are cleaner.

Dealing with paper shredder jams

If there is a jam in the paper shredder follow these steps to correct it:

    1. Check the safety lights. Sometimes these will signal if the bin is full, there is a jam, or if it is just overheated. Unplug the unit and let it cool down for an hour, then plug it back in and test with one sheet.
    2. Shut off and unplug the shredder anytime you open it.
    3. Empty the bin.
    4. Turn the shredder back on and switch it to reverse. Sometimes this will loosen the jam.
    5. If it jams in reverse, slowly switch it back to forward or auto.
      • Rotating directions a few times may free the jam.
      • Still jammed? Unplug again and…
    6. Remove the top of the shredder.
    7. Clean out the blades using tweezers or a pair of pliers. Use your hands ONLY if you are sure the shredder power is off and the unit is unplugged. (Many shredders have a safety feature for the top, but not the bottom where the blades are located.) Use a flashlight if necessary.
      • Use pliers to remove jammed plastic from a credit card or CD.
      • For looped paper jams, cut through the loops and pull out each piece.
      • Always pull steady and firm, not yanking.
    8. Run through a reduced paper load as a test.
      • For 7-page shredders or higher, use a single sheet of heavy cardstock and carefully push it through if the blades are moving slowly.

Paper shredder troubleshooting and best practices

When the shredder fails, there are usually a few easy to address reasons. Following a few extra tips will also vastly extend the life of the office shredder.

    • If the shredder won’t run at all, but it is plugged in and turned on, ensure the bin is securely installed. This is a safety feature on most shredders.
    • Don’t fold papers before placing them in the shredder, even for multi-page rated units.paper shredder don't fold paper
    • Avoid putting adhesives like stickers or papers with glue residue into the shredder as these can cause jams.
    • Feed CDs or credit cards through individually. Use the designated slots for CDs or cards if applicable.paper shredder cd
    • When the shredder slows, or gives a whirring sound with no movement, the cause could be over-feeding or fast feeding the shredder, where too many pages are put through one after the other.
    • Constant use can lead to overheating or cause a false jam reading. Let the unit take a break for at least a minute after 10-15 minutes of non-stop shredding to avoid overheating.
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