Are your electronics waterproof? IP ratings explained
Here's everything you need to know about electronics IP ratings
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If you're shopping for new headphones, a new Bluetooth speaker, or even a new phone you're probably wondering how well they can handle water. Maybe you need headphones for running or just the occasional rough commute, or perhaps you'll be jamming to your tunes in heavy weather or near a pool. If so, you've probably come across dozens of products claiming to be protected against sweat, water, splashes, and everything in between.
Whether a product is labeled as sweat-resistant, sweatproof, water-resistant, or waterproof, if you want to know what it can handle, you'll want to look for its "IP" rating. Denoted with two numbers or one number and an "x" such as "IPX7," an IP rating can tell you how much water and dust exposure a product is certified to withstand. Below, we'll break down these terms so you can be confident about the protection of your next purchase.
Waterproof vs water-resistant
What's the difference between "waterproof" and "water-resistant"? To find the answer, you need to know how the IP rating—AKA Ingress Protection rating—actually works.
IP ratings are a (mostly) standardized way to describe how well any gadget is at keeping out solids (like dust) and liquids (like water). Any IP rating you see has two characters—for example, "IP67". The first number—6—tells you how good it is at keeping out dust, while the second—7—tells you how well it keeps out water. Higher numbers typically mean it's better at that task.
For example, if you see a pair of headphones with a rating of IP55, the first five indicates that headphones are "dust protected"—they allow some dust in, but not enough to interfere with the normal operation.
The second number indicates how well the headphones keep out water. IP55 headphones can be sprayed with a stream of water for 5-10 minutes (depending on the test setup) without being damaged. Just remember the two numbers are independent, so if you have three headphones rated IPX5, IP55, and IP65, they're all equally good at keeping water out.
While plenty of durable, sports-ready electronics currently on the market have a dust rating of at least 5 or 6, many electronics aren't tested for resistance against dust. For instance, plenty of portable speakers or wireless headphones will offer an IPX7 or IPX4 resistance rating respectively. This means you'll want to keep either of these products away from dust or ingress.
What does an IP rating actually mean?
Most products you'll find with dust resistance usually end up with a 5 (meaning ingress of dust is prevented sufficiently so as not to interfere with satisfactory operation) or 6 (meaning dust ingress is entirely prevented). As such, we'll mostly be focusing on the water resistance rating. We'll start with a "2" water resistance rating below, as this is really the minimum of any sort of notable protection.
IPX2: Water drips at a 15-degree angle or less have no harmful effect.
IPX3: Water sprays at any angle up to 60 degrees from the vertical have no harmful effect.
IPX4: Water splashes over 5-10 minutes have no harmful effect.
IPX5: Water projected from a small nozzle for 5 minutes has no harmful effect.
IPX6: Water projected in a powerful jet for 1 minute has no harmful effect.
IPX7: Can survive submersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
IPX8: Can survive submersion in >1 meter for >30 minutes; terms agreed to by the manufacturer.
So if you want properly waterproof electronics, we highly recommend a rating of at least IPX7. If you're simply looking for basic water protection for things like a few splashes, sweat or rain, anything at IPX4 or better is well protected.
To put it further in context, an IPX7 rating is something you can expect from most modern smartphones, the majority of sports-oriented headphones, as well as the vast majority of new portable Bluetooth speakers. An IPX4 rating is common for complex electronics also designed for mobility, such as noise-canceling headphones and earbuds (though some go well above this rating.)
It's also important to note that all of these ratings are for fresh water only. If you live near the coast, you probably already know that any brush with salt water can quickly spell trouble for your electronics, no matter the IP. The same goes for soda, coffee, etc.
One annoying quirk of the rating system? Being rated for submersion doesn't technically mean that it is also certified to withstand water jets. If it can withstand both submersion and water jets, the headphones should have two ratings listed. Most companies just list the higher rating—likely because this is so confusing—so it's often unclear exactly what a buyer should expect.
This is especially true because some lesser-known manufacturers write things like IPX-68, which is non-standard. It is very likely not conforming to the actual IP standard or the company didn't verify those claims independently. If you see a non-standard IP rating with a dash, extra letter, or anything else, you shouldn't trust the rating.
On the other hand, if a rating looks good but one of the dust/water numbers has been replaced with an X—such as our IPX7 examples above—it simply means it has been tested for one and not the other. Most of the time the one missing will be the dust/ingress protection. This is probably because water is the more likely candidate for electronics failures.
With all this in mind, we recommend you apply this knowledge the next time you buy electronics like wireless earbuds, a portable speaker, phone, or anything else you want to be protected against the elements.
Even if you find that better waterproofing is more expensive, it could pay for itself over time by allowing you to avoid replacing cheaper products that may be more easily damaged when it comes to exposure to the elements.