water and dust ip ratings: what does ip68 actually mean?

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(Pocket-lint) - 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 companies that used to stay away from IP-ratings - like OnePlus - have added it to their top devices. In fact many upcoming smartphones for 2021 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 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 - what do the letters and numbers stand for?

IP ratings are usually made up of four characters. In some very rare cases there may be five, but you're unlikely to ever see those on a phone unless Samsung or Apple makes a phone that's impervious to high pressure jets of hot steam. 

The first two characters, I and P, stand for Ingress Protection or - in other words - how good it is at stopping stuff getting inside it. The third digit is the number that 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 small screws, a little dust or all dust. 

The last digit is the liquid or water resistance rating, with a max rating of 8. 

In other words, if you see IP68 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. 

What does IP68 mean?

There are a large number of combinations when it comes to IP ratings, and it can get confusing. IP67 devices have the same dust resistance as the IP68-rated Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but can only survive being up to 1 metre deep in water. Any more than that and the water could push through any protection into the internal components of the device.

When it comes to solids, devices have been tested against dust and found to be dust tight. Anything with a "6" as the third character is as impervious to dust as can be tested and certified on this particular scale.

IP = Ingress Protection6 = Dust Tight8 = Survives being submerged in water up to 1.5m deep (normally for 30 minutes)

It's probably worth noting, 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.  

What does IP68 mean?

The 8 at the end means the phone has been tested at depths more than 1 metre, and found to be unharmed. While the standard testing doesn't specifically mention an exact depth, you'll find manufacturers do list them. For instance, Apple says its IP68-rated iPhone 12 can survive being up to 6 metres deep for up to 30 minutes. 

What about IP65, IP53 or others? 

Often times you'll see products with more than one IP rating, and that's simply because they're tested for different kinds of water proofing. For instance, the Sony Xperia Z5 had both IP68 and IP65 rating. 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. 

What's with the Apple Watch's IP6X and WR50 ratings? 

IP6X = Dust tightWR50 = Water resistant to 50M 

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. 

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. 

Apple's WR50 label means it's water resistant to 50 metres, 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 it certified. It's water-tight and you can take it swimming, or out in the rain on a run. 

What does IPX7 mean?

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. 

As with any other rating with 7 at the end, it means the Apple Watch series 1 (as an example) can last up to half an hour in water up to 1 metre deep. 

What is nano-coating?

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.

What does ATM mean?

Although some smartwatches will include an IP rating, you'll more often than not find water proof 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 under water. 

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  for example, that depth is 50 metres, so it can be used to track swimming. 

For a break down of each individual possible IP-rating, check out the level-by-level chart on DSMT.com. 

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