Getting a new copy of your birth certificate or social security card from the DMV can feel like a little taste of purgatory. A document safe will protect your important papers from damage, fire, and theft making extra sure you won’t be waiting six hours for your number to be called.
What to Look for in a Document Safe
Lots of document safes on the market claim protection from different things. You’ll want to make sure the safe you purchase offers the protection and capacity that fit your needs.
- Protection: A good safe protects its contents from being damaged or destroyed whether its dropped, soaked, or burned. Document safes need to be fire-resistant and last around 30 minutes to an hour when engulfed in a fire. Safes should also be capable of being fully submerged in water without leaking.
- Capacity: Document safes don’t need to be particularly big. They aren’t designed to hold rifles or mountains of gold bars. The safe should be able to fit normal sized paper (Letter, A4, Legal) and other little things like CDs and USBs, but it doesn’t need to be much bigger than that. Some document safes are designed like filing cabinets, with a hanging file system for an easy way to organize all your sensitive information.
- Lock Security: A safe needs to protect your stuff from fire and water, but safes also have locks for a reason. There are many different kinds of locks on safes, and some are less secure than others. A normal key-locked safe will be cheaper but easy to pick if given enough time and physical access. Keypads and fingerprint scanners are more secure but can be expensive and hard to find on small document safes.
A Word on In-Wall Safes
In-wall safes can be an attractive option because they don’t take up any floor or closet space and can be easily hidden behind a painting or poster. However, most options available tend to be very bad at protecting your documents from natural disasters.
An in-wall safe needs to have multiple holes (usually at least four) for mounting the safe in-between two wall studs. Having these holes means that in the event of a fire or a flood, everything in your safe is likely to be damaged or destroyed. Fires don’t care if most of the safe is closed; the holes mean no insulation from the heat.
Some in-wall safes are built with an interior fire-liner, which means no holes lead directly into the cavity with your documents. This allows the safe to be fire resistant while still having mounting holes, but the safes that have this feature are hundreds of dollars.
If you’re not worried about water and fire resistance and just want to conceal your safe inside a wall, you can try one of these two from Paragon. Otherwise, because of the lack of water- and fire-resistance (or the high cost on models that do include this), we’re leaving them off of our list.
The Best Overall: Honeywell 1104
The Honeywell 1104 is a durable safe that will protect all your documents from all kinds of harm. The safe is rated to last for an hour in fires up to 1,700° F and can be fully submerged as deep as 39 inches for up to 100 hours, keeping all the contents inside safe and dry. The weakest part of the safe is its standard key lock which can be picked, but that requires physical access, practice, and patience.
The 40-pound safe’s inside compartment is 14.8 inches by 12 inches and can fit all normal paper sizes (Letter, A4, Legal) without requiring you to fold or bend your documents. The safe has a depth of 3.8 inches, so even after it’s filled with documents, you should still have room for CDs, DVDs, USBs, and more.
Honeywell Safes & Door Locks – 1 Hour Fire Safe Waterproof Safe Box Chest with Carry Handle, Large, 1104
The Honeywell 1104 is a durable safe that can survive in a fire for up to an hour and stay fully submerged underwater for 100 hours while keeping your documents safe and dry.
The Budget Pick: First Alert 2011F
The First Alert 2011F is a small fire chest that will protect your essentials in case of a fire. This small safe has a capacity of 0.17 cubic feet (inner dimensions 11.33 by 7.09 by 3.7 inches), so it’s perfect for keeping things like your social security card, birth certificate, and passport, but it won’t be able to fit full-sized sheets of paper without folding them.
The safe is fire resistant and rated for up to 30 minutes at 1,550 degrees. It’s also water-resistant, but not water-proof. It cannot be submerged, and if exposed to too much water, your documents will get wet and damaged. The safe is closed with a simple clamp style latch and locked with a key.
First Alert 2011F Fire Chest, 0.17 Cubic Feet, Foot, Grey
The First Alert 2011F is a small document safe that will keep your sensitive papers safe from fire for up to 30 minutes without breaking the bank.
The Best Hanging File Safe: Honeywell 1108
The Honeywell 1108 is a hanging file safe that will let you protect your documents while still keeping them organized. The 0.6 cubic feet of space can fit letter and legal documents along with other removable electronic media in its hanging file system, turning your safe into an extra protective filing cabinet.
This 53-pound safe is rated to last up to 30 minutes at 1,550° F, and it can also be submerged a meter underwater for up to 24 hours while still keeping all your documents dry. The safe has two latches on the sides and locks using a regular key—nothing too fancy.
Honeywell Safes & Door Locks - 30 Minute Fire Safe Waterproof Filing Safe Box Chest (fits Letter and A4 Files), Medium, 1106
The Honeywell 1108 protects your documents from fire and water damage while also organizing everything in a hanging file structure.
The Best Biometric Safe: Amazon Basics Biometric Safe
AmazonBasics makes a large line of safes in every size and lock type. This biometric safe can save and use up to 50 individual fingerprints to unlock the safe. The sensor takes less than a second to register and has a lifetime of around one million scans. The safe also comes with a backup key for emergencies in case the fingerprint sensor is malfunctioning.
The safe has a capacity of 0.5 cubic feet and has an inside shelf to separate all of your belongings. It is made of heavy-duty steel and locks with two large live-door bolts. The safe also has four holes on the back that let you mount it to a wall or floor, making it incredibly difficult to remove and steal. The thick steel casing, huge bolts, biometric scanner, and mounting holes make this the most secure safe on this list against theft, but this safe is NOT fire-resistant or waterproof. It will protect your documents and keep your sensitive information locked, but it cannot be submerged in water or engulfed in fire.
Amazon Basics Steel Security Safe with Programmable Biometric Fingerprint Lock - Secure Cash, Jewelry, ID Documents - 0.5 Cubic Feet, 13.8 x 9.8 x 9.8 inches
The AmazonBasics Biometric Safe will keep your documents locked up and accessible with just your finger. The safe is built to protect against other people, but not fire and water.