IP ratings: Explaining water and dust resistance for audio gear

If you’ve ever gone online shopping for a new set of earbuds, a smartwatch, or even a new smartphone, you’ve probably encountered a cryptic code that looks like this: IPXY, where the X and/or Y are sometimes replaced by numbers, e.g., IPX5. This is commonly referred to as an IP rating. Manufacturers will usually toss that cipher into their descriptions at some point as a measurement of how water and dust resistant their products are.

But what exactly do these numbers mean, and how should they apply to everyday use? We’re here to help you crack the code with a step-by-step explanation of this oft-used, but seldom explained technical rating for water and dust resistance.

What are IP and IPX?

Holding flip 4 under water.

IP, IPX, or IPXY are all references to a standardized rating for how well a product can prevent solids and liquids from entering, and thus possibly causing damage to, your electronics. Officially, IP stands for “International Protection” marking because the standard was developed and is maintained by the International Electrotechnical Commission. But it’s more commonly referred to as Ingress Protection. The two numbers that follow the letters IP indicate what kind of protection you can expect.

The X is the solids/dust protection level, from zero to six, where zero means no protection whatsoever, and six means it’s dust-tight: No dust can enter at all, even after exposure for up to 8 hours. Because very few consumer devices are designed to keep out dust (presumably it’s just not something people usually need), this part of the IP rating is often left out. That’s why we most often see an X after IP e.g., IPX5 — it means there’s no rating for the solids ingress portion.

The Y is the liquids protection level from zero to eight, where zero means no protection whatsoever, and eight means it can withstand being immersed in water, usually up to a depth of three meters, for up to at least 30 minutes. Technically, there is a ninth level of liquid protection, but it isn’t used for consumer electronics products. There is no “X” level for water protection, so you’ll never see an IP code expressed as IP2X, for example — it would be IP20 if no water protection is offered.

Don’t worry, we have some charts further down that lay out all this information clearly if you want to look up a specific protection.

What does it mean for me?

If you’ve already guessed that an IP68 rating is the best you can get for protection from both dust and liquids, congrats, you just aced the first quiz! But in between IP00 and IP68, there’s a lot of variety, so let’s take a look at some specific examples.

IPX2

Wireless earbuds in case.
Dan Baker/We

With IPX2, your device can withstand a small amount of dripping water without being damaged. Since most of us don’t place our gadgets under leaky faucets very often, in practice this translates into “moderately sweatproof.” When we reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy Buds truly wireless earbuds — rated for IPX2 — we found they easily survived a 10K run while wedged in the ear canals of a very sweaty person. Do not try to wash these products under running water — it’s better to wipe them with a damp cloth.

IPX4

Bose sport open earbuds
Bose

IPX4 offers decent protection against splashing water. Keep in mind, this isn’t waterproofing — you shouldn’t dunk IPX4 products in water — but it is an excellent degree of protection for ultra-active workouts, or even long marathons in inclement weather. Most earbuds, whether wireless or wired, aimed at sports and active lifestyles are IPX4 rated and should have no problem coping with regular use during these activities. Bose’s Sport Open truly wireless earbuds are IPX4 rated. Again, don’t submerge these products.

IPX6

Tile sticker on a bike.

IPX6 concerns itself with protection from powerful jets of water, which means you can probably take them in the shower with no serious side effects, but don’t make a habit of it. Do not actually put them under the water, e.g. don’t go swimming, or expect them to necessarily survive an accidental encounter with a toilet bowl. Tile’s Sticker Bluetooth tracker has an IPX7 rating so you don’t need to worry about using it to track something that gets wet or splashed on.

IPX7/8

The rear panel of the iphone 13 showing its cameras up close.
Dan Baker/We

If you’re a complete klutz and have been known to drop your phone, camera, or watch into bodies of water both indoors and out, don’t settle for anything less than IPX7. This will protect your gadget from accidental kerplunks in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, while IPX8 allows for the same time period of protection in even deeper water (with the exact depth to be specified by the manufacturer).

Bluetooth speakers designed for the water will be rated at least IPX7, such as the waterproof JBL Flip 6, which you can safely take out into the pool without worrying. Many of our top picks for ebook readers also have X7 or X8 ratings. The iPhone 13 series and the Samsung Galaxy S21 are both IP68 rated, which means no dust will get in, and water will have a hard time too. These products can be safely rinsed off under gentle running water, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Water resistance by the numbers

Want to get technical? Here’s what the IP water resistance numbers mean, 1 through 9. You’ll note that the descriptions are very lab-friendly, in that they make it easy to test these resistances in the laboratory. Real-world results aren’t quite as certain, but these are still useful guidelines.

Level Protection Against
X No data available
0 None
1 Protected against vertically falling water drops
2 Protected against vertically falling water drops when the enclosure is tilted up to 15 degrees
3 Protected against “spraying” water at an angle up to 60 degrees on either side
4 Protected against “splashing” water from any direction
5 Protected against “water jets” from any direction
6 Protected against powerful “water jets”
7 Protected against the effects of “temporary immersion” in water
8 Protected against the effects of “continuous immersion” in water
9 Protected against “high pressure and temperature” water jets

For true underwater use, where you would take a product snorkeling or SCUBA diving, you should be looking for divers’ rating based on the ISO 6425 standard for divers’ watches. These products are individually tested, and must perform at depths that are 25 percent deeper than the number claimed on the dial. Watches with these ratings are typically guaranteed by the manufacturer to survive repeated use at these depths for prolonged periods, as well as being able to handle the changes in pressure that accompany the act of descending to and ascending from those depths.

Water resistance rating Suitability Remarks
Water Resistant 3 atm or 30m Suitable for everyday use. Splash/rain resistant. Not suitable for showering, bathing, swimming, snorkeling, water-related work, fishing, and diving.
Water Resistant 5 atm or 50m Suitable for everyday use, showering, bathing, shallow-water swimming, snorkeling, water-related work, fishing. Splash/rain resistant. Not suitable for diving.
Water Resistant 10 atm or 100m Suitable for recreational surfing, swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and water sports. Not suitable for diving.
Water Resistant 20 atm or 200m Suitable for professional marine activity, serious surface water sports, and skin diving. Suitable for skin diving.
Diver’s 100m Minimum ISO standard (ISO 6425) for scuba diving at depths not suitable for saturation diving. Diver’s 100 m and 150 m watches are generally old(er) watches.
Diver’s 200m or 300 m Suitable for scuba diving at depths not suitable for saturation diving. Typical ratings for contemporary diver’s watches.
Diver’s 300+m for mixed-gas diving Suitable for saturation diving (helium enriched environment). Watches designed for mixed-gas diving will have the DIVER’S WATCH xxx M FOR MIXED-GAS DIVING additional marking to point this out.

Dust resistance by the numbers

We haven’t discussed dust resistance much yet: It’s a simpler standard that’s easier to understand, and most useful for those taking their devices out into nature or on active job sites where dust contamination is a possibility. If your device has a numeral in the third IP place, here’s what it means.

Level Protection Against
X No data available
0 None
1 Protected against solid foreign objects of 50mm and greater
2 Protected against solid foreign objects of 12.5mm and greater
3 Protected against solid foreign objects of 2.5mm and greater
4 Protected against solid foreign objects of 1.0mm and greater
5 Dust-protected
6 Dust-tight

The difference between dust-protected and dust-tight may seem vague, but generally dust-tight is a much more rigorous rating involving dust, airflow, prolonged exposure, and vacuum seals.

If a product is IPX8, does that mean it’s also good for IPX1-7 too?

Not necessarily. Each level of IPX protection can act as its own standard, which is important when separating the differences between protection against jets of water from different angles, vs ingression and immersion of water. Sometimes you will run across headphones or earbuds that say something like “IPX5/7” which means they offer both the jet-proof quality of X5 and the immersion protection of X7.

However, devices may simply provide the highest IP number to avoid creating confusion. Manufacturers may add their own specific descriptions or limitations that you can look at for more information. That includes potential caveats as well: Apple specifically states that liquid damage is not covered under warranty, and that resistance can decrease over time through wear and tear — as well as recommending users to avoid taking an iPhone surfing, skiing, in the sauna, etc.

Does IPX8 or X9 mean it’s fully waterproof?

No. The term waterproof is more of an ideal than an actual rating. A genuinely waterproof product would be one that never lets water in, under any circumstances. Because that’s rarely the case, we tend to talk more about water resistance. IPX7/8 are intended as ratings for the survival of a gadget after a certain kind of short-term or accidental immersion in water — they are not an indicator that your product is meant to be used continuously under water.

In fact, even when you see products (usually watches) that have a water resistance mark (WR) e.g., 30M, that’s still no guarantee that it will survive in the water. Unless otherwise specified, these products aren’t individually tested, and only one brand-new example product needed to pass a very basic water immersion test in order for every watch of that design to bear the WR mark.

What if my product doesn’t have an IP rating?

You’ve probably already noticed that plenty of devices can survive an encounter with water or dust, even if they don’t come with an IP rating from the manufacturer. There’s a good chance you’ve been for a few sweaty runs with your non-rated Apple AirPods, wiped them off, and experienced no problems at all. Sometimes that’s due to good design, and other times it’s luck. An IP rating is your only true indication that a manufacturer has designed the product to perform under those conditions. But keep in mind — it’s not a guarantee. Always check your product warranty for what is and is not covered.

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