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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.
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:
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.
The first digit ranges from 0–6 and reflects protection from solid particles.
The second digit ranges from 0–9 and shows how well the product is protected from water.
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.
“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: