How can I destroy sensitive documents without a paper shredder?

  • 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.

    My father worked with secret things, and they would vaporize paper. I'm guessing you don't have a paper vaporizer though.

    @Carl, no i dont.

    Whoever vtc as off topic, can you please explain why you feel that it is off topic?

    @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.

    Please keep comment discussions to a minimum. These discussions have been **moved to chat**.

    Matches are free at the gas station.

    You ask question, then put well known/obvious answer right away... I can see hows your rep goes up. Looks like test for moderators, stackexchange and LH community.

    @StahlRat Why didn't you post the question and answer first?

    @StahlRat The SE network encourages posting answers to our own questions (you can even post an answer when creating a question). If you think the question or answer is low quality or not useful, then you can downvote them.

    I also voted for Off topic, even the answers show no indication of life-hack.

    @Wipqozn There's a possible "hack" for every situation, some are just so impractical and unlikely I still call them off topic.

    @TomášZato Answers can't be off-topic.

  • Dragonrage

    Dragonrage Correct answer

    5 years ago

    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.

    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 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.

    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.

    When I have written down someone's credit card information (usually mine, but also applies to orders etc.) and want to destroy it, I usually take a piece of aluminum foil shaped into a bowl with a handle. I snip out the part I want to destroy, brush the paper with some coconut oil to give it some extra burning power, then crumple it into a ball (to discourage flight) and head outside so that I don't set off the smoke detectors. As long as there's fewer than, say, 20-30 slips of paper this can be done within about 15 minutes and the ashes can be washed down the drain with no hope of recovery.

    @CRDrost I'd be curious as to why you are writing down other people's credit card information on paper. It seems horribly insecure.

    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.

    @TimS. I'm curious about why you think that some random private citizen writing credit card details is less secure than whatever retailer whose database of millions of credit card numbers got hacked most recently. One person writing down a few details is unlikely to cause any problems, since they're not a worthwhile target and the cost of any breach is small. Also, pieces of paper can't be remotely hacked, which reduces the threat surface _massively_.

    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.

    @CRDrost That's a lot of work. As a hack you could try just scratching it out with the same pen. A loooong time ago I discovered a pretty straight forward hatch pattern that will unrecoverably obscure writing. Do vertical, horzontal, and diagonal (both directions) lines, then a final touch with circles. The lines don't even have to be that close together. Try it.

    @DavidRicherby "Also, pieces of paper can't be remotely hacked" Not yet. ;-)

    @TimS.: When I travelled to the USA a few years ago, and wanted to pay for delivered pizza by card, the delivery bloke took a physical, paper imprint of my card and took it away with him. Apparently this is fairly commonplace? Needless to say I was not impressed. It would be unthinkable here in the UK; we prefer our data insecurities to be obfuscated behind digital systems so that we can pretend they don't exist :P

    Why did you ask a really obvious question only to post the really obvious answer? It looks like a cheap attempt to harvest rep, but I'm sure there's more to it. the only reasonable explanation is that you didn't know the answer when you posted the question. So can we have a reference as to where you found out about this 'fire' thing?

    Just throw it into water. After a few hours, the text on it would be erased and and blurry. Afterwards, you can just rip the already weakened paper into hundreds of pieces by hand. Then, toss them into fire or into your toilet.

    Large ceramic pots, or metal bins, can withstand the heat that a couple of burning papers emit.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM