Water resistance: IP ratings explained

An IP rating indicates how well a product resists water and dust. Learn how to read them, and what to do if the resistance fails.

Kids taking selfies in the ocean.

It’s helpful if your smartphone or cooking thermometer can withstand the elements, but it’s important not to overstate the resistance.

We explain what IP ratings really mean and what your rights are if your device’s protection doesn’t measure up.

How to read a rating

Example of how to read an IP rating.

Ingress Protection (IP) ratings have two digits:

  • The first states the level of solid/dust resistance the device has been certified for. It has a maximum rating of 6.
  • The second digit relates to water resistance and goes as high as 9.

An X rating means the product hasn’t been assessed for that type of protection.

If your product gets damaged

If your device becomes faulty after an activity that should be covered by its IP rating, you have rights under consumer law. For example, if your IPX7 headphones stop working after a run in the rain, you can demand a replacement from the retailer. The Fair Trading Act protects you against misleading claims, such as advertised water resistance that doesn’t measure up, or you could invoke the Consumer Guarantees Act on the basis that the device isn’t of acceptable quality.

Technology can’t be waterproof

Among fitness trackers, mobile phones, and other smart devices, there’s a trend of manufacturers cranking up their water resistance claims until you’d reasonably expect the device to be completely waterproof. You might hear words like “submersible” or “swimproof” thrown around.

In reality, even the highest immersion rating of “8” has a maximum depth and duration, meaning the IP scale has no truly “waterproof” rating.

Photograph of a person using a smartwatch in the rain.

In addition, IP ratings are assessed in a lab, with products immersed in still, clean water. The test doesn’t account for real-life situations, such as a chlorinated lap pool or high tide at the beach.

We’d advise against intentionally dunking your tech, regardless of IP rating. Think of water resistance as protection against an unfortunate accident, rather than a free licence. The exception is a device specifically designed to be used underwater, such as a swimming watch.

More water-resistant means harder to repair

Trying to achieve waterproofness is a major motivation for tech manufacturers sealing devices shut with strong adhesives. In the past five years, it’s become significantly harder to maintain and upgrade our devices because we can’t get into them, leading to more tech being binned before its time – commonly because their batteries age and lose capacity.

It would be a reasonable trade-off if waterproofing worked reliably, but most manufacturers don’t even cover water damage under warranty. That means we have sealed phones that are hard to repair, yet aren’t necessarily protected from a dunking.

Ideally, we want both – a sealed device protected from water damage, which can be repaired further down the track when its battery wears out. Surely that’s not too much to ask from a mobile device costing hundreds or thousands of dollars?

Waterproof cases

A third-party waterproof case that fits your phone (or other device) will probably work – after all, it’s easier to keep water out of a plastic box than a complex electrical gadget with ports all over it. But waterproof cases are bulky, muffle the speakers, and often make the touchscreen less responsive, so you probably won’t want one on permanently.

It’s only worth buying one if you really want to use your phone in the water, because it’s a hassle to attach and remove the case whenever you need it. Be sure to test the empty case for leaks before each use.

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