‘Waterproof’ and ‘Water Resistant’, are two terms that live in our heads rent-free when it comes to anything to do with technology. Tbh, these two terms have personally irked me a lot over the years. And it’s not even surprising when people can’t differentiate between the two, because frankly many can’t (speaking from personal experience). The difference is simple and takes (just) half a heartbeat to understand. Water-resistance is partial protection from water (or any other liquid) and waterproof is the state of being unaffected by water. That’s it, that is the difference. But wait, how do you quantitatively define or separate them? Now, that’s like throwing a wrench. From smartphones to audio products to apparel to watches, you’ll find peripherals that are water-friendly, somewhat friendly or not at all. While the last one is not our concern at the moment, I’ll try to surmise the disparity between the two as easily as it is not.
The Importance of IP Rating
Before going into the bigger differences, the one thing that you need to know is the IP rating. Known as Ingress Protection, the IP rating is useful in removing the subjectivity among electronic devices when it comes to safety against foreign bodies. Sadly, not just water, but your device may be impacted by dust and bigger solid entities as well. The IP Code or IP Rating was constituted by the International Electrotechnical Commission (ICE) to signify what level of protection an electronic device is subjected to as opposed to solid particles/objects or liquids. There are two determining factors that constitute how secure the device is.
1) Solid Ingress Protection— This determines how much your product is protected from devices that are solid in nature. The table below provides the range that regulates the protection level against the size and nature of the solid ingression.
Solid Ingress Protection Table
|Level||Characterization of Ingress Limit||Description|
|X||—||No data is available regarding solid ingress protection|
|0||No protection||No protection from any solid particles. The device is extremely vulnerable to ingression|
|1||>50mm||Safety against a large body part like the back of the hand but not against intentional contact with a body part|
|2||>12.5mm||Protection against fingers or any other object|
|3||>2.5mm||Protection against tools, wires, etc.|
|4||>1mm||Protection from the contact of objects like most wires, nails, screws or big insects like ants, snails, bees, etc.|
|5||Partial dust protection||Partial protection from dust or solid objects but is not immune to excessive ingress of dust or contact with solid objects|
|6||Complete Dust Protection||Prevents ingress of dust and other particulates. A vacuum seal is mandatory which should be shielded from continuous airflow (up to 8 hours)|
2) Liquid Ingress Protection— Liquids can be even more critical and trickier for electronic devices, therefore this ensures how much built-in protection your device has against them. The table below displays the range and nature of protection against any kind of liquid ingression each IP rating carries.
Liquid Ingress Protection Table
|Level||Characterization of Ingress Limit||Description|
|X||—||No data is available regarding liquid ingress protection|
|0||No Protection||No protection from any liquid particles. The device is extremely vulnerable to ingression|
|1||Vertical Droplets (≤1mm)||Protect against vertically falling droplets like condensation, given the item is kept in an upstanding position|
|2||Vertical droplets (≤3mm)||The device is safe from vertical droplet falls where the device can slant up to a maximum of 15 degrees|
|3||Water spray||Water falling on the object at any angle up to 60 degrees is considered safe|
|4||Water splash||Water splashes from any/every direction do not affect the object negatively|
|5||Low-pressure water jets||Water projected from less powerful jets from any direction (6.3mm nozzle) allows limited ingression but no harm at all. Water Volume- 12.5l/m, distance- 3m|
|6||High-pressure water jets||Protection against high-powered jets (12.5mm nozzle) from any direction will not harm the device in any way|
|*6K||Extremely high-pressure water jets||Extremely high-pressure water projected (from a 6.3mm nozzle) from any direction under elevated pressure won’t sever the device in terms of ingression. Water volume- 75l/m, distance- 3m|
|7||Temporary immersion||Protection from ingression of water when the object is immersed underwater up to 1 metre for 30 min. Partial ingression can take place but won’t be a deterrent|
|8||Continuous immersion||Protection from ingression of water beyond 1m immersion. The exact limits of this IP level are set by the manufacturer itself after going through various tests|
|*9/9K||Close range high pressure, high-temperature spray||A special (rare) case where the object resists high temperatures and high-pressure jet sprays from close quarters|
Note: The above IP ratings and details for Liquid Ingress Protection are part of the guidelines set by IEC standard 60529. The ones suffixed with the letter ‘K’ are governed by ISO 20653 and are not defined by IEC 60529.
Usually, the IP rating of a device is presented as a combination of the above ingress levels to determine how much protection the device can persevere. For example-
- IP23- Your device is safe from finger contact or solid object ingression less than 50mm and water sprays up to 60 degrees.
- IP55- Your device has partial protection from dust and solid ingression low-pressure water jets.
- IP67- Your device is completely dust-tight and safe from partial and temporary immersion in water.
- IP68- Your device is completely dust-tight and safe from continuous immersion of 1 metre for 30 minutes or more than 1 metre or both (decided by the manufacturer).
Water can be a real dementor to your electronic device, as you may not even realise, but even a small amount of water or any other liquid can suck the life out of your gadget. Similar is the case with dust and solid particles. Maybe you’re a bit careful and usually take good care of things, but you can’t be protective every time. That’s where the IP chips in to ascertain what level of protection your device can withstand. Let’s take the example of audio devices. You might’ve seen splashproof earphones and spill-proof speakers when you’re browsing online which implies that those devices are water-resistant and won’t be fettered from minor liquid spills or sweat. Water-resistant earphones, headphones, speakers and other audio devices IP range from IPX1 to IPX5 which means they have an enclosure that doesn’t allow water or any other fluid to pass through the water-resistant coating provided by the manufacturer.
Nowadays there has been a constant rise of a new term called water-repellant which is basically an upgrade on water-resistant technology. Water-repellent goods claim to be ‘hydrophobic’ due to a micro-stip of nanotechnology coating that guards the inside and outside of an electronic device. But since it is a relatively new term, its credibility is heavily debated as there’s no concrete evidence to construe if its repellency is closer to waterproofing or water resistance.
You enter a consumer electronics shop and see earphones submerged in jars with water up to the brim. A once fascinating sight that is now a dime a dozen. But it does guarantee one thing that those pairs of earphones are handsomely guarded from any liquid ingression and you don’t have to think twice before wearing them to your shower. The same applies to smartphones as devices having an IP rating of IPX6 and above are safe to hover around in pool parties or rainy scenarios. Waterproofing is rather simple to understand as waterproof devices are built to survive in or around water. I personally like to call them extra “marineated” (pun intended).
Among audio products, there has been a steep rise in the demand for waterproof earbuds, true wireless earpods and Bluetooth speakers. And while it’s quite obvious with the amount of partying and spirits flying around, there are chances that sound gadgets might get caught in between. I have been using the Quantum Sonotrix 51 for quite a while now and it has an IP7 rating and works neatly when swamped down a pail of water. The Quantum Sonotrix has a few waterproof portable speakers and they are pretty dope, you can check ‘em out.
Hope the contrast between the two heavyweight terminologies is a bit clearer now and you on your own can figure out which is what. The question remains which one should you root for. I would recommend items that’s waterproof because they have higher IP ratings and are safer around various environments. But do not make that the topmost priority as there are other aspects of technology that are far more concerning than these two; do go over them precariously as well. That’s all Folks!