Water and dust IP ratings: What does IP68 actually mean?
Your phones and devices come with a code to tell you how waterproof it is - but what do these codes mean?
In the smartphone market it's rare to find a top-of-the-line phone that doesn't have some kind of water and dust resistance. While it used to be a rarity, it's now become a lot more commonplace. Even folding smartphones - like the newer Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 with their moving hinges - are water-resistance. In fact, most upcoming smartphones will likely have some form of protection.
Look at the spec sheet, and you'll likely see something called an IP rating. These days, that'll probably be IP67 or IP68.
But let's face it, if you're spending good money on a device, whether it's an action camera, smart sports watch or a new phone, you need to know it's going to survive the rain or an accidental trip into a toilet bowl.
With so many different codes, stamps and names for water and dust-resistant qualities and certifications, it can be confusing. Let us explain.
IP ratings are usually made up of four characters. The first two characters, I and P, stand for Ingress Protection or - in other words - how good it is at stopping stuff from getting inside it.
The first numeral indicates how good it is at protecting against small solids (dust/sand etc), with a maximum rating of 6. This ranges from no protection at all, through to being dust tight.
Solid object/dust resistance
Protected against solid objects 50mm or larger
Protected against solid objects 12.5mm or larger
Protected against solid objects 2.5mm or larger
Protected against solid objects 1.0mm or larger
Dust-protected (but not completely dust-tight)
The second numeral is the liquid or water resistance rating, with a max rating of 9. That's from no protection up to high-pressure and high-temperature water jets.
Protected against small drops falling vertically onto the device head on
Protected against small drops falling vertically with the device at a 15-degree angle
Protected against water being sprayed up to a 60-degree angle on either side of the device
Protected against splashes against the device from any direction
Protected against water being projected gently in jets
Protected against water being projected in powerful jets
Protected against being immersed in water temporarily
Protected against being continuously immersed in water for a longer period
Protected against water being projected at high pressure and temperature
In other words, if you see IP69 somewhere, you know it offers the highest IP rating for both dust and water resistance. At least, when it comes to the IP-rating certification.
There are a large number of combinations when it comes to IP ratings, and it can get confusing, but IP68 is one of the most common you'll find on technology devices.
When it comes to solids, devices have been tested against dust and found to be dust tight. Anything with a "6" as the first numeral is as impervious to dust as can be tested and certified on this particular scale. For the second numeral, the 8 denotes that it's protected against submersion in water up to a defined depth and time duration.
It's probably worth noting that just because something is IP68 rated and great at lasting underwater, it may not be tested to withstand rain or spray from a jet of some kind. This is why Sony states IP65/68 on its devices.
Another thing to mention is that the IEC (which governs the international standards for IP ratings) doesn't specify what the depth or the duration of water protection is - it just sets a standard for 7 and 8, saying that 8 needs to be more than 7. Typically, you'll find that 7 would be 1 metre for 30 minutes and 8 would be more than that - but manufacturers should state what protection level has been tested. For instance, Apple says its IP68-rated iPhone 14 can survive being up to 6 metres deep for up to 30 minutes.
Often times you'll see products with more than one IP rating, and that's simply because they're tested for different kinds of waterproofing. For instance, the Sony Xperia 1 IV has both IP68 and IP65 ratings. As mentioned already, the IP68 rating means it can survive being submerged. IP65 denotes that it's also good at handling spray.
Technically, it's tested using water being projected by a 6.3mm nozzle. In real-world use though, it just means it can survive the rain, or the shower. Just don't go spraying it with a pressure washer.
If you find an older device with IP53, that means it's somewhat protected against dust, but not totally, and can live with spraying water, but not jets of water and certainly not being submerged.
Apple Watch Series 7 was announced in September 2021 and - in the announcement - two unfamiliar terms were used to denote how water and dust resistant the latest watches are: IP6X and WR50. These have since translated across to the Series 8 and the Apple Watch SE (2nd generation). The Watch Ultra has IP6X too, though it has WR100 instead of WR50.
As we've already mentioned, the first numerical value is for dust resistance. Like any device with IP68 or IP67, that "6" just means it's dust resistant to a very high level, or is "dust tight", meaning no dust can get into the watch. The "X" means it doesn't have an IP-rating against water, but that doesn't mean it's not water-proof - it's just not tested to that standard.
Apple's WR50 and WR100 labels means water resistant to 50 metres or 100 metres, respectively, and since that's way above the 1.5m depth that's certified by the standard IP-rating system, there's no real need to have devices with those labels certified. They are water-tight and you can take them swimming, or out in the rain on a run.
It's much more common for watches to supply water protection figures in depth (50m for example) or in atmospheres (5ATM), which is really a reflection that it will survive that pressure of water at that depth.
The presence of the X in the rating does throw some people, but devices like the first generation Apple Watch, some Garmin cameras and wearables, and even some phones feature it. It means the device hasn't been certified for protection against dust, but doesn't mean it isn't dust resistant.
This simply means it can withstand water ingress - such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 which has an IPX8 rating, meaning it can withstand immersion in water, but has no protection against dust ingress (because of the hinge design).
A nano-coating is a microscopically-applied film that's sprayed over the internal components to help water roll away from anything that could potentially be damaged by moisture.
Some companies like to build their phones with a water-repellant nano-coating but don't offer a specific IP-rating. With these devices, like the old Moto Z, the phone will probably be fine with accidental spills, light rain or the odd splash, but won't survive being submerged or when faced with jets of water or heavy rain.
This type of nano-coating has evolved and will offer complete protection from submersion too, without being reliant on seals in the body of the phone.
Although some smartwatches will include an IP rating, you'll more often than not find waterproof capabilities denoted by ATM, at least with watches designed for sports or outdoor activities. ATM stands for atmospheres (nothing to do with cash machines), and basically indicates how much pressure it can take. Or in other words, how deep you can take it underwater.
It's normally reserved for devices designed to be used underwater, and in most cases, 1 ATM is 10 metres, 5 ATM is 50 metres and 10 ATM is 100 metres. With the Apple Watch models (except the Apple Watch Ultra) for example, that depth is 50 metres, so it can be used to track swimming.
For a breakdown of each individual possible IP-rating, check out the level-by-level chart at the IEC.
Cam has worked in online tech reporting since 2010. His responsibilities at Pocket-lint include producing and hosting quality, personable and informative YouTube videos on our growing channel as well as writing reviews and features. Prior to Pocket-lint he honed his video skills at PhoneDog, and wrote for 9to5Google.In that time, his areas of focus and expertise have mostly been smartphones and smartwatches, but with experience filming for the channel, he's equally adept at reviewing cameras. He’s a graduate in Film and TV Production, and in his spare time, he’s usually throwing kettlebells around, doing yoga or training in the arts of coffee snobbery.