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IP Ratings Explained: What Does the Code Mean for Your Devices?

Smartphone stuck in sand with light waves crashing over it

Every tech enthusiast worth their salt loves to pour over technical specs. But there’s one spec you’ve probably seen that you might not fully understand: IP ratings (like IP67). This enigmatic code represents a device’s resistance to intrusion from elements like dust and water, but what does each character mean?

We’ve dug down into the nitty-gritty of the IP rating system to learn how to decipher the code, and we explored the IP testing process so that you can better understand the ratings and what they mean for your devices. We even took a look at how much the IP certification process costs manufacturers, and why some manufacturers choose not to test their products.

Update, 3/10/22: Verified content/links up to date.

What Does IP Stand for?

IP stands for “Ingress Protection,” but it’s often referred to as International Protection. Ingress is defined as “the action of going in or entering,” and Ingress Protection ratings are the standardized code that refers to a device’s ability to keep out things like dust or water. It covers things such as appliances, plug outlets, street lamps, and everyday electronics like smartphones.

You’ll see IP ratings listed as those two letters followed by two characters, like IP67 or IPX5; each character is pronounced individually, as in “I-P-six-seven” rather than “I-P-sixty-seven,” since each one represents a unique element.

Wet smartphone on wood table

The whole point of IP ratings is to clarify how much ingress a device stands up to in standardized tests. It’s much more specific and helpful than general terms like “water-resistant” or “dust-proof,” and is incredibly helpful to know if you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker to use at your next pool party.

For consumers, it’s typically devices like smartphones, action cameras, smartwatches, earbuds, and Bluetooth speakers that are tested to get IP ratings. You won’t see gadgets like TVs or even turntables with IP ratings, as they aren’t typically the type of things you’ll take outside for everyday use (at least, we hope not).

How to Decode IP Ratings

The first character after “IP” represents a device’s ingress protection from foreign objects (like dust or bugs), while the second depicts its ingress protection from liquids (like light rainfall). It’s also possible for a device to have an “X” instead of one of the characters. This could mean that the device lacks a specific degree of protection or that it wasn’t even tested at all.

It’s possible for there to be additional characters in an IP code, too, but these are really only used for denoting hazardous parts or mechanical-impact resistance. They are rarely seen on common consumer electronics, and you don’t need to worry about them.

Note: IP ratings are meant to be informational. They don’t necessarily denote that devices with the highest numbers (a la IP68) are better than ones with a lower rating. IP ratings vary from product to product, and many don’t need IP68 certification. Some might only need to be certified to prevent access to hazardous or moving parts (like IP3X), so be sure to consider what the device is as you view its rating.

First Character: Solids

This character represents the level of protection against access to hazardous parts (like moving parts or electrical conductors) as well as the ingress of solid foreign objects (like dust).

  • IP0X: No solid intrusion protection.
  • IP1X: Protected against solid objects between 50mm-2in, like the back of your hand.
  • IP2X: Protected against solid objects between 12.5mm-0.49in, like your finger.
  • IP3X: Protected against solid objects between 2.5mm-0.098in, like a thick wire.
  • IP4X: Protected against solid objects between 1mm-0.039 in, like a paperclip or a large ant.
  • IP5X: Protected against a limited ingress of dust (dust-protected). No interference with equipment caused.
  • IP6X: Protected against all dust ingress (dust-tight). A vacuum must be applied, with a test duration of up to eight hours based on airflow.
  • X: Not formally rated or no rating data supplied for this type of ingress.

Second Character: Liquids

This character represents enclosure protection against ingress of water. It’s worth noting that ratings in this category beyond IPX6 are not cumulative. This means that a device compliant with IPX7 won’t necessarily be compliant with IPX6, as the aim of each test differs. If a device meets both tests—say, for both spray and immersion—it will have both listed separated with a slash, like IPX6/IPX7.

  • IPX0: No liquid intrusion protection.
  • IPX1: Protected against vertically falling water drops.
  • IPX2: Protected against vertically falling water drops tilted up to 15 degrees.
  • IPX3: Protected against water falling as a spray up to 60 degrees from the vertical.
  • IPX4: Protected against splashes of water from any direction.
  • IPX5: Protected against low-pressure water jets.
  • IPX6: Protected against high-pressure water jets.
  • IPX7: Protected against immersion in water up to one meter for 30 minutes.
  • IPX8: Protected against immersion in water between one to three meters under pressure for lengthy periods of time.
  • IPX9K: Protected against close-range, high-power, high-temperature water jets.
  • X: Not formally rated or no rating data supplied for this type of ingress.

Any time limits noted in these ratings only denote how long the tests are required to be carried out for. This doesn’t mean that leaks will start seeping in at exactly 31 minutes, for example. Certain manufacturers may also adjust test lengths, requiring them to be carried out over longer periods of time if it’s believed to be warranted.

It’s worth noting that all liquid tests are strictly carried out in freshwater, as testing in other liquids—like saltwater or chlorinated pool water—will lead to corrosion. Your device’s IP rating will decrease over time if you scratch, dent, or otherwise damage the surface or its seals.

Who Runs IP Tests?

Since the IP code is just a set of international standards agreed upon by each industry, there’s no official body or series of third-party companies that handle IP certifications. Rather, the onus is placed on the shoulders of the companies wanting certification to purchase, install, operate, and maintain the equipment needed for the tests.

As you can imagine, all of this equipment doesn’t come cheap for companies, nor does the cost of the manpower needed for managing and operating the equipment as well as the facilities they’re contained in. Companies also have to cover the costs of gaskets and other components needed to ensure a particular IP rating, though these cost much less than the testing equipment.

Large companies that sell millions of devices and have an experienced IP certification team can easily spread out and recoup the costs of the equipment without thinking twice. However, it’s totally different for small companies. For these smaller teams who are not pushing out millions of units each year, the cost of IP certification is much more difficult to absorb, and it’s more likely for them to decide not to test and certify their devices even though they could easily achieve an IP68 rating.

In this video interview between Marques Brownlee and OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, we learn that because of these steep costs, OnePlus opted out of testing for the OnePlus Nord:

Common Sense Is the Name of the Game

Hopefully, this guide gives you a better understanding of IP ratings as well as what your devices are likely to stand up against in an accident. It’s always worth checking to see if a device has an IP rating or has undergone similar testing before making a purchase.

Remember that even if your device has an IP68 rating, you should still use common sense and always keep it in a cool, dry area away from water and dust, and immediately dry it off if it falls into water. And if you tend to be the clumsy type, you might want to check out Applecare+ or other product protection services for some peace of mind.

Suzanne Humphries Suzanne Humphries
Suzanne Humphries was a Commerce Editor for Review Geek. She has over seven years of experience across multiple publications researching and testing products, as well as writing and editing news, reviews, and how-to articles covering software, hardware, entertainment, networking, electronics, gaming, apps, security, finance, and small business. Read Full Bio »