Burn Paper Documents

How To Burn Paper Documents at Home: Comprehensive Guide By An Expert

If you don’t have a paper shredder and are looking for the best way to get rid of sensitive paper documents at home, the best method would be to burn them. After all, that’s the method that people applied long before the paper shredder’s invention.

But there are problems like smoke, which can disturb you and your neighbors, and there’s the possibility of a fire accident. Well, this article is meant to help you navigate these issues and burn paper efficiently and safely.

Where to Burn the Documents?

Ever lit an open fire and tried burning books with it? You might have noticed that the middle pages of some of the books didn’t get completely burned. If you want to avoid this problem and get all the papers/books burned to completion, consider using a fire pit.

As a fire pit stands above the ground, the air gets into the fire freely, making the combustion process more efficiently. Remember, oxygen (which is in the air) is needed for combustion.

If you haven’t already built a firepit in your backyard, you can buy a freestanding one from home improvement retail shops. And again, if you don’t want to buy, building one will not cost you too much money or time.

Apart from fire pits, other alternatives for burning documents include:

  • A burn cage
  • A burn barrel
  • A bonfire
  • A BBQ grill

Now, before actually burning the papers, you got to research a bit about the regulations in your area involving open burning and smoke. That’s because in some areas, outdoor burning of papers is prohibited, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law.

If you live in an HOA, you need to check what your HOA rules state regarding this matter.

In case the outdoor burning of trash is unlawful in your area, you will definitely have to use other methods of disposing of the documents, which we will discuss later.

If it’s okay with the law to burn trash, proceed following these guidelines:

Guidelines for Best way to Burn paper Documents at Home

Choose a suitable day

The best day for burning paper documents is on a calm day when there’s not too much wind and definitely when there’s no rain because that would lead to the fire getting extinguished.

Wind could also put out your fire or blow some of the papers away, which is not very good especially if you have neighbors close by.

Take precautionary measures

You might want to get a fire extinguisher and keep it close while burning the documents. With it, you will be able to put out the fire if it catches something inadvertently.

Another precautionary measure to take is to ensure there aren’t flammable things near the fire, especially if it’s an open fire.

So, if there’s a plastic or rubber pipe, a pile of firewood, a can of oil or gas, or anything that could catch fire easily, be sure to get it as far away from the place you want to burn the papers from.

Pro tip: pour sand as a perimeter around the fire. If you don’t have sand, use stones to build a perimeter. These tactics work very well for confining the fire to one spot, preventing it from spreading to other areas.

Don’t put plastic in there

Some papers, especially those glossy magazines and newspaper inserts, are normally covered with plastic possibly for appearance improvement and preservation, who knows? Okay, the point is, don’t put these in the fire, as they might emit dangerous fumes.

Only burn ordinary newspaper, envelops or paper that is printed with ordinary ink.

Put the papers in there and stay close

Once you have put the documents in the fire, stay there and keep watch because an animal could come and knock over the barrel or the wind could get too strong and start blowing away the papers. Still, youngsters could come and decide to play with it. By staying close to the fire, you’ll ensure that the fire doesn’t grow out of control.

Oh, and when lighting the fire, it’s best that you start with the driest papers, as these are easy to burn. Start by putting in the smallest papers, one by one, as opposed to a large bunch of papers.

Consider throwing in little pieces of sticks to get the fire going. Once there’s a good fire, you can now add bigger pieces of paper and more wood.

Keep adding the papers

If you have many papers that you want to burn, understand that putting them in all at once isn’t the right way to go. If you want to have a good fire and not create too much smoke, give air some room to get in.

With regards to that, put only a small bunch of papers in the fire and after it burns, put in the next bunch, going on in that manner. This will not only help the fire burn efficiently but also ensure the papers burn completely. Use a stick to poke the papers from time to time to enhance the burning process.

If the fire is not burning as efficiently as you’d want it to, feel free to pour in lighter fluid, but be careful not to pour too much of it as you don’t want to create a huge burst of flame suddenly.

Collect and dispose of the ash

Once you’re finished burning the papers, poke the debris, just to ensure there are no unburnt pieces of papers left in there.

If all the documents were burned properly, only ash should be left; collect it, perhaps using a spade, and transfer it to your composting pit or bucket and use it later for revitalizing your plants.

We understand that due to laws or other reasons, burning paper might not be an option for some of you. If you can’t burn paper, here are some suggestions for how you can get rid of it:

Other Ways of Destroying Paper Documents

Water

Another way of destroying paper is placing it in water. If it’s just a small volume of paper, you can just put it in a resealable plastic bag filled with water or even a jug. But if you’re dealing with a larger volume of paper, it would be more appropriate to use a bucket.

Just put the paper in the water-filled container, seal the container, and leave the paper there for a few days depending on the volume of the paper. A small volume can use a few hours to get destroyed by water.

The water will soak the paper, leaving pulp mostly, and by the time you remove it, the writings should be totally illegible. 

Remove as much water as you can from the pulp, and then transfer the pulp to the trash can for disposal through the regular means.

Note: though the method works, it consumes lots of time.

Cutting

There are a number of ways in which you can cut the paper. You could use a razor blade, a pair of scissors or even your hands. While cutting the papers, ensure the sensitive parts, such as social security numbers and bank account numbers are thoroughly cut if you want to keep the information concealed.

If you take the time to cut the papers, the method can be very helpful, but you have to realize that it can be very time-consuming and tiresome. But if you can use a paper shredder, the method can be a bit faster.

Disposal services

Do you have a huge amount of papers that you want to get rid of?

Perhaps you hardly have time to do it yourself. In that case, the best option would be to hire a disposal services company to do it for you. Of course, you will pay some money, but this method is very convenient as you’ll not have to deal with the papers yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it okay to burn paper in the garden?

Burning paper in the garden is generally acceptable but only if you don’t cause disturbance to your neighbors. In that regard, there should be a minimal amount of smoke, which you can achieve by ensuring the paper is dry and that the fire is properly aerated.

How do I burn paper in my backyard?

First, select a place to burn the paper. It can be a fire barrel or a spot suitable for lighting a bonfire. Next, make a fire using little dry wood sticks and place the paper on it. Try to put the papers in the fire little by little to avoid blocking the fire’s aeration.

Is burning paper outdoors legal?

It depends on where you live. In some towns, burning paper is prohibited while in others, it’s okay under certain conditions like not causing a nuisance to the neighbors. If you live in a homeowners association, you should definitely check what your HOA laws state or even consult a board member regarding the issue.

Can I burn just any paper?

No, you should only burn ordinary paper like the one used in creating mails, newspapers, envelops, and books. Avoid burning magazine paper and any paper that looks glossy because such paper is usually coated with plastics and dangerous fumes might be released.

What are the various ways I can use to destroy paper documents?

There are many ways of destroying paper, including shredding with a paper shredder, burning, destroying with water, or cutting the paper into little pieces with your hands.

Burning is the most efficient method if you want to totally hide the information contained in the papers, but shredding using a micro-cut shredder also works excellently.

Final Word

We hope that you have understood how to destroy documents using fire safely and efficiently. Remember, the best way to do it is to use a fire cage or barrel, as it offers better and more controlled burning.

Don’t forget to check with your local authorities and your HOA before burning paper outdoors, and if you find that burning them is not permitted, use any of the other suggestions we’ve tabled.

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