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I have some documents that have sensitive information on them, which for obvious reasons I do not want others to get their hands on. How can I destroy these documents so that others cannot read them? I don't have access to a paper shredder, which is generally the recommended way of destroying them.

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My father worked with secret things, and they would vaporize paper. I'm guessing you don't have a paper vaporizer though. – Carl Mar 4 at 0:52
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@Carl, no i dont. – Dragonrage Mar 4 at 1:02
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@Dragonrage I did. "How do I destroy paper" does not need a lifehack. I also believe that your quest to post a self-answered question blinded you to the (yes, controversial) need to explain why a standard tool didn't work for you and wasn't easily obtainable. I stand by my opinion, so pre-emptively: Don't argue with me here in these comments. If I am alone then the question will not be closed and that should suffice as validation for your disagreement. – Captain Obvious Mar 7 at 18:43
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Matches are free at the gas station. – Hack-R Mar 8 at 3:53
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@TomášZato Using a blender seems pretty Lifehacky to me – Wipqozn Mar 9 at 17:20

13 Answers 13

up vote 55 down vote accepted

If you have a fire pit, or something similar that can contain a small fire, burning the documents will make it very hard to recover the information. Just be sure that the part where the information is located is burned, and use a stick or something to break down the ashes.

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Burn pits are notoriously ineffective at destroying paper documents. Rising air currents will carry partially-burned single sheets away from the flames, while bundled papers will burn only around the edges, leaving the information in the middle intact. – Mark Mar 3 at 23:26
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@Mark I generally burn them one at a time after crumpling them slightly. Also if you dip them in an accelerant, you can burn them even better. – Dragonrage Mar 3 at 23:30
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Burning is what we did in the military for classified materials if we didn't have a secure shredder handy (which was more often than not). A small fire works fine, as long as you make sure it is thoroughly burnt (we normally used lighter fluid to help this along). Once burnt, the ashes got flushed if near running water or scattered if not. – TIO Begs Mar 4 at 5:14
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I once worked somewhere where they were approved to burn classified docs. A special screen had to be installed in the exhaust stack to catch unburnt fragments. – Carl Witthoft Mar 4 at 20:00
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Let me put it this way. If you went to a store to pay for items with a credit card, and the cashier took out a piece of paper (not a credit card slip, mind you) and started writing down your name and CC#, would you be okay with that? Even if they said "oh, our card system is down" or something similar? There is a general assumption that credit card information is sensitive enough to not be written down like that on an unofficial medium. The fact that databases get hacked is a completely separate issue. – Tim S. Mar 4 at 23:24

Blender or food processor with water. Turn it into pulp.

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The bonus here being that you now have paper pulp so if you have some creativity, you can do paper maché work or make your own pressed recycled paper for a more natural looking gift/holiday/get well card. I knew a lady who was into calligraphy and would make her own paper. – fractalspawn Mar 4 at 20:00
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Also, the benefit of this over @djsmiley2k's answer is that you don't have to worry about small bits of soggy paper getting down your drain and adding to the clog that is inevitably already forming from normal shower/bath use. It will take some time, but is a much more controlled process. – fractalspawn Mar 4 at 20:11
    
@fractalspawn or if you are Teller from Penn and Teller, you have a nice Smoothie. – Ryan Apr 27 at 16:05

There isn't much substitute for the standby methods, burning or shredding. Most secure is to crosscut shred, then burn, and finally disrupt the ashes by grinding into fine powder or washing down a drain.

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Comments have been purged on this answer. Please keep comments on topic. For extended discussions, please use Lifehacks Chat instead. – bwDraco Mar 6 at 20:55

Bath full of water, and then a sharp knife swilled around once they are nice and soggy will do a great job of destoying everything.

Add bleach or something corrosive to ensure ink is wreaked beyond readability.

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An unsharp knife is just a stick. Maybe you need -> lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/11247/… ? – djsmiley2k Mar 3 at 20:32
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growing up we distinguished between knifes like steak knifes as sharp, and knifes like butter knifes as not sharp – Dragonrage Mar 3 at 20:36
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Bleach might work against organic inks, but I wouldn't expect it to be effective against graphite or toner. – Mark Mar 3 at 23:37
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Careful; you might invoke another "life hack" with this one... I'm pretty sure that "How do I clean my bath tub without actually cleaning my bath tub?" is already a question here in some form or another. – Captain Obvious Mar 4 at 20:57
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@Dragonrage I know this is lifehacks and not English, but it's supposed to be "knives", not "knifes". – Pharap Mar 8 at 0:31

If you don't mind manual labour, you can tear it by hand.

Since tearing it by hand isn't perfect, you can cut out the important part and scatter it across different locations.

This will avoid people finding the jigsaw puzzle pieces!


Also, if you are really bored, you can compete with someone else (that you trust) to see who can tear the most number of papers at once

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Take the papers to your local copy shop and let them shred it for you. This is probably the easiest way to take care of them.

For example, Fedex/Kinkos will shred documents for 99 cents per pound (around 100 sheets per pound depending on paper size and thickness).

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+1. I just took some to my local copy shop today. I find this to be a cheaper and easier option than repeatedly buying cheap shredders that fail when you need them. – Ben Miller Mar 10 at 23:58

Folding the paper onto it itself several times, then cutting the result as small as you can with strong scissors (nibbling away mm by mm), a carpet knife, bolt/ wire cutters, sandpaper/whetstone ... will give you a lot of cutting for a little :) I mention wire cutters because good wire cutters WILL cut paper too, and will probably survive a stack of paper better than average scissors :)

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In cases like this, I tear or cut them into strips and put the strips alternately with the old paper and with the compostables (fruit and veg remains). Anybody wanting to recreate them will have to sort through huge amounts of old paper and rummage through disgusting compost.

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You would not believe how many low-level operatives the various intelligence agencies have hanging around for just such a situation. "Comrade Flunki - go through compost pile and extract classified information!". "But, Supreme Leader...". "OR ELSE!!!!" "(sigh) Yes, Supreme Leader..." – Bob Jarvis Mar 4 at 21:50

Has anyone suggested simply burying them? It would take a bit of effort to dig the hole, but the paper would biodegrade in no time. Alternatively, mix them in with garden waste and potato peelings and the like and it will all eventually become compost. Use that on your garden and nourish your plants with those unwanted reports and correspondence.

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Burying stacks of paper is not actually a good way to get them to break down. If they were shredded and mixed with dirt and water, and spread thinly, you might get somewhere, but decomposition is pretty slow for paper in low-oxygen environments. nytimes.com/1992/08/13/nyregion/… – Adam Mar 4 at 21:24
    
Someone may dig them up. – Kiran Linsuain Mar 4 at 21:24
    
The probability of being seen when burying them is high. – Nicolas Raoul Mar 9 at 9:05

Throw them in acid, if you don't have access to acid, throw them in water, and let them stay in for a while, then throw away the remaining pieces. You can also wait them to try, then divide them to multiple parts with a knife and then burn the parts. That will be pretty safe.

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You need to pick your acid correctly. Sulfuric acid is a good bet, but I wouldn't count on hydrochloric acid doing the job, and acetic acid probably won't do more than get the paper wet. – Mark Mar 3 at 23:34
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Honestly, this just sounds like you're guessing. What acid should be used? You're aware that "acid" isn't a single substance, right? If you're going to burn the stuff, why bother with the whole acid or water thing? That just slows everything down by requiring you to dry the paper before it'll catch fire. – David Richerby Mar 4 at 3:24

I have thought of 2 solutions for this:

  1. Burn the document. Use a match to ignite its edges (Be careful) and let it burn slowly (NOT in flames). The fire will slowly eat through the document. Burn it until the essential part of the document is gone, then put it out by blowing at it. For safety reasons, it may be best to do this above a bathtub filled with water. Also, be careful not to burn your hand.

  2. Throw the document into water. After several minutes, it will be extremly soft and easy to rip. Just remove it from the water and rip it by hand into tens or hundreds of small paper pieces, easily.

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Welcome to Lifehacks! I've downvoted this answer, but please don't take it personally. I'll explain why. It is best to read the already-existing answers on a question to make sure you aren't duplicating them. Both of the methods mentioned in your answer were already mentioned in other answers. Additionally (and this is unrelated to why I downvoted), it is usually best to leave multiple answers separately so that they can be voted on based on their own merits. – Sterno Mar 8 at 17:44
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I do take it personally, since I haven't replicated another answers intentionally. And don't think I am a new user. I'm active here from at least 3 days and I struggled to get 10 additional reputation to answer this protected question. But I see that only who is first can answer. @Sterno – John Mar 8 at 18:13
    
Actually, the document burning solution is from burning my picture on its edges, to give a saved-out-of-fire look. @Sterno – John Mar 8 at 18:16
    
@John, here is special case Only who is ask is first can answer :) – StahlRat Mar 8 at 18:34
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@John, Yes and yes :) I'm really puzzled with what is really going on here. OP asks question with obvious answer, gets bunch of votes from ppl who thinks that the question is cool, then OP gives obvious answer, gets bunch of votes again (here I LOL). Then OP selects his answer as the correct one (makes me LOL again). – StahlRat Mar 9 at 2:33

How to completely destroy sensitive paper documents—without shredding or burning.

You'll need an old pair of panty-hose with no holes in them. One pair of panty-hose will be enough for two "treatments." Cut off a leg of the panty-hose.

Put your documents into one leg of the panty-hose and knot it tightly closed.

Toss it into the washer. Put it through a wash cycle with some detergent.

Done.

Discard the wad of wet fibre residue without removing it from the 'bag.'

I have not yet found any personal information that survives this treatment.

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Eating the doucment always works and you don't need fuel source or nearby water source.

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I think eating the document will be dangerous for your internal system. – Henry WH Hack v2.0 May 14 at 2:40

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