Waterproof tech has become a big trend in recent years. But how do you know how protected your device is? Most devices use either IP or ATM ratings. Let’s start by talking about IP ratings. Most high-end smartphones these days either have an IP67 or IP68 rating. These include the Samsung Galaxy S20, LG V60 ThinQ, and Google Pixel 5 . But what does that even mean? Good question.

Read more: Best waterproof smartphones

You probably know that IP ratings have something to do with protection from water and dust, but if you are reading this, it’s quite possible that’s as far as your understanding goes.

IP rating

An IP rating tells you the level of protection a device offers against solids and liquids. They are set by the International Electrotechnical Commission. The “IP” stands for Ingress Protection (or International Protection) and is followed by two numbers. The first number indicates the level of protection against solid particles (dust, dirt…) and ranges from one to six. The second number tells you how much water a device can handle without suffering damage and ranges from one to eight — the higher the number the better the protection. Check out the chart below for detailed info on what each number means:

LevelSolids (first number)Liquids (second number)
1Protected against solid objects over 50mm (example: hands)Protected against vertically falling drops of water
2Protected against solid objects over 12mm (example: fingers)
Protected against direct sprays of water up to 15 degrees from the vertical
3Protected against solid objects over 2.5mm (example: tools and wires)Protected against direct sprays of water up to 60 degrees from the vertical
4Protected against solid objects over 1mm (example: small wires)Protected against water sprayed from all directions
5Dust protected — limited ingress of dust permitted
Protected against jets of water from all directions
6Dust-tight — no ingress of dust permitted
Protected against powerful jets of water from all directions
7/Protected against the effects of immersion in water — between 15 cm (5.9 inches) and 1 meter (3.3 feet) for up to 30 minutes
8/Protected against the effects of long periods of immersion in water under pressure

As you can tell by the chart above, a handset with an IP67 rating is completely dust-tight and will survive in up to one meter of water (3.3 feet) for no more than 30 minutes. An IP68 rated device is also completely dust-tight and is protected against the effects of long periods of immersion in water, which usually means it will survive in up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of water for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Water-resistant, but not totally waterproof

Even if a smartphone has a high IP rating, it may not be completely waterproof. You might drop a phone with an IP68 rating in a freshwater pond, or in a tub, and it should be fine. However, if that same phone is dropped in a chlorinated pool, or in the ocean which has saltwater, that could cause problems. The rubber seals that usually protect a high IP rated phone from water damage could be weakened over time. That could decrease the device’s overall water resistance. Those same seals could also be eroded if a smartphone encounters spills from coffee, soft drinks, or champagne.

Keep in mind that an IP rating for a phone is made under closed lab conditions, and not from real-world situations. In other words, try to keep your phone dry, even if it might have a high IP rating.

ATM Rating

There’s another rating to consider for devices, especially for smartwatches; the ATM (Atmospheres) rating system is supposed to indicate how much static atmospheric pressure a device can deal with while in water. It’s actually an older rating system than the IP certification. A rating of 1 ATM means that you are at sea level, outside of water. If a device has a 1 ATM level listed, don’t put it in water under any circumstances.

Here’s a look at the ATM rating system.

RatingPressureDevice Meaning
1 ATM0Do not put in water
3 ATMUnder 100 feetDevice can be used in the rain, and protected against splashes.
5 ATMUnder 165 feetDevice can last for short amounts of time submerged in water, like swimming in a pool.
10 ATMUnder 330 feetDevice can last for much longer amounts of time submerged in water, such as for snorkeling in the ocean.
20 ATMUnder 660 feetDevice can handle being used for high impact water sports like surfing and jet skiing.

Looking after your devices

An IP or ATM rating gives you peace of mind if you pick up your device with wet hands, accidentally drop it in the pool, or get caught in the rain. Without it, your device could get damaged when it gets in contact with water or even stop working altogether.

However, that does not mean your smartphone is invincible if it does have a high IP rating. Here are some quick tips to ensure you will get the most out of your smartphone:

  • If you do decide to take your phone in the water, make sure all the cover ports are closed.  Those posts may include SIM and microSD card slots. Your USB power port may also have a cover.
  • If you take your phone into a chlorinated pool, wash it off just with fresh water when you take it out. Don’t use soap or chemicals.
  • Your phone should stay away from salt water, like the water found in the ocean
  • Try to avoid using your phone in extreme locations, including places with high heat, like a sauna, or rough environments.
  • If your phone does go into the water, dry it off thoroughly before plugging other accessories into their ports, That includes your USB phone charger or headphones if the phone has a headphone jack. Also, don’t use a hair dryer to dry off your phone; just use a good dry cloth.
  • Remove any dirt, hair, or other small objects that you might see inside your phone’s covers and ports. Even small amounts of dirk could damage your microSD card slot, USB power ports or headphone jacks.

That’s our look at the IP rating system. If there are any changes, we will update this article.

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