Manufacturers often describe their products as “dust resistant” or “moisture proof.” To back these claims up, products can be given an IP rating. But what does it mean?
We’re used to seeing terms like “waterproof,” “weather resistant,” “dust protected,” and countless other variations. While they give product marketers plenty of ways to massage their message, these terms can lead to major confusion for the rest of us. Is my water-resistant phone as well protected from rain as my weatherproof Bluetooth headphones? Can I take either of them scuba diving with me? (Note: Please never scuba dive with your phone.)
Luckily, there’s a way to compare these products based on a standardized rating scale. That scale is the thrillingly titled “IEC Standard 60529” set by the International Electrotechnical Commission. Colloquially, it’s known by its cool street name: IP rating (or IP code).
Let’s look at what it actually means.
What is an IP rating? IP stands for “Ingress Protection” and measures how well a device is protected from both solid objects and liquids. An IP rating may look something like this:
As you can see, it consists of two digits. The first digit tells us how well the product is protected from solid stuff. The second one is about resistance to water. The higher the rating, the better a product is protected.
IP rating is only officially given to a product that undergoes special testing by a certified, independent company. So – no – a company can’t just slap its own IP rating on a product because it feels like it.
Now let’s talk about exactly what each digit represents.
Protection from solid objects and dust
The first digit ranges from 0–6 and reflects protection from solid particles.
IP0X: The product is not protected against any physical contact or objects.
IP1X: Only protected from objects larger than 50 mm. You won’t accidentally stick your hand into this product, but you can still easily get, say, your finger in. You probably shouldn’t.
IP2X: Protected from any object larger than 12.5 mm. This now includes fingers.
IP3X: Protected from things above 2.5 mm, which includes most tools and thick wires.
IP4X: Protected from anything bigger than 1 mm.
IP5X: Dust resistant. Some dust may get through, but it won’t be enough to damage the product.
IP6X: “None shall pass!” This product is fully dust tight.
Protection from water
The second digit ranges from 0–9 and shows how well the product is protected from water.
IPX0: The product offers no special protection from water.
IPX1: Can resist water that drips vertically onto the product.
IPX2: Can resist water that hits the product at a 15° angle or less.
IPX3: Can take water sprays of up to 60°.
IPX4: Is resistant to water splashes from any direction.
IPX5: Can resist a sustained, low-pressure water jet spray.
IPX6: Can resist high-pressure, heavy sprays of water.
IPX6K: Can resist water jets of extremely high pressure. Rarely used.
IPX7: Can be submerged up to 1 meter in water for 30 minutes.
IPX8: Can be submerged deeper than 1 meter. The exact depth is specified by the manufacturer.
IPX9K: Resists high-pressure, high-temperature sprays at close range. A very special case that’s dictated by a separate standard. Rarely used.
Curiously, IPX7 and IPX8 do not “stack” with lower ratings. So a product that’s IPX8 rated can live underwater for a while but might still get damaged by a spray of water from the side. If a product can survive both scenarios, it gets a dual rating – e.g. IPX6/IPX8.
What if a product doesn’t have an IP rating? “But what if there’s no IP rating on this product? Does it mean the company is lying to me? Are they trying to sell me some junk?!” you indignantly ask.
All that means is that a product did not go through this specific IP test. It’s not unusual for a product to get tested for, say, water resistance but not dust resistance. In this case, it may literally have a rating like “IPX7” on it. Here, “X” is not the same as “0.” It just means the manufacturer didn’t specifically test the product for protection from solids.
IP rating can also be missing if the company went for a different certification or rating standard. Look for other quality marking that proves the product is water- or dust-resistant.
And – yes – if someone tells you their product is “totally waterproof, man” but refuses to show any certifications, you may indeed be talking to a snake oil salesman.
Here’s a humorous video that does a good job of summarizing IP ratings: