What are IP ratings and MIL-STD? IP67, MIL-STD-810G, and other certifications explained

What are IP ratings
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The iPhone 7 may be Apple’s first water-resistant phone, but don’t go dunking it in your pool’s deep end anytime soon — after all, the manual’s fine print warns that it can only withstand a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. That got us wondering: Just what do manufacturers like Apple mean when they use terms like “water-proof” and “water-resistant?” What constitutes a “rugged” device? And just how many times can you drop your phone in the toilet before you can expect it to bite the dust?

Some terms that describe a phone’s ruggedness are actually standardized, it turns out, and there’s a whole lot more to them than meets the eye. IP ratings measure a smartphone’s resistance to water, dust, and other particles, for example, while military specs describe their structural integrity. Some certifications are a little less precise than others, but taken together, they give a rough idea of how a smartphone will hold up against the elements.

Here’s everything you need to know about IP ratings and MIL-STD certifications.

The ratings behind a “rugged” product

what are ip ratings

“Rugged” is just a word, a marketing ploy as meaningless as “summer-proof,” “water resistant,” and “dust proof,”. All make nice bullet points on a phone’s spec sheet, but they aren’t all that descriptive — “rugged” and “water-resistant” devices can short just as easily as “non-rugged” devices when they fall into water (and shatter when they hit the concrete).

Certification means something different. When a phone has what’s called an “IP rating,” a third party has conducted tests to ensure that it can survive conditions like hard falls, dusty shelves, extreme heat, certain kinds of radiation, and deep pools of water.

Phone, tablet, and PC manufacturers measure the ruggedness of devices using two systems of standards: The Ingress Protection (IP) Rating, published by the International Electrotechnical Commission; and the Military Specification or Military Standard (MIL-STD), which is developed by arms of the U.S. Military and Department of Defense.

Ingress Protection Rating

what are ip ratings
Sony Xperia XZ Premium Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

A smartphone’s Ingress Protection Rating is determined by how well it holds up against dirt, dust, and water. Ratings range from 1 to 6 for dust and dirt and 1 to 8 for water, where the first and second digit in the rating indicate how well it withstands exposure to solid particles and liquids, respectively. The maximum rating for solid objects, IP 6, means it lets in very little dust and dirt, and a water resistance rating of 8 indicates it can be submerged in water for up to minutes at a time.

To make matters more complicated, a high IP rating doesn’t necessarily mean that dust, water, or debris won’t enter a phone’s enclosure. Rather, it indicates that when dust and water does make its way through a phone’s seams, it won’t enter in sufficient qualities to cause malfunction. Don’t expect your iPhone 7 Plus, which has an IP67 rating, to emerge from your bathtub dry.

In order for a smartphone to achieve an IP rating, it must pass every test leading up to the highest rating. For a smartphone to nab the the coveted IP68 certification, for example, it has to check every box through ingress levels 6 and 8, respectively.

Here’s a breakdown of the ratings for solid foreign objects.

Level

Object size protected against

Effective against

0 Not protected No protection against solid objects
1 >50 millimeter Protection against large surfaces like the back of the hand
2 >12.5 millimeter Protection against finger-sized objects
3 >2.5 millimeter Protection against thick wires and like objects
4 >1 millimeter Protection against wires, screws, etc.
5 Dust protected Some protection against dust and complete protection against contact
6 Dust tight Complete protection against dust and contact

There’s a separate chart for water ratings.

Note that they’re described in terms of “water nozzles” and “jets” — a manufacturer like Sony, Apple, or HTC will expose their phone to high-pressure blasts of water from an industrial hose, and see how it fares over time.

Level

Object size protected against

Effective against

0 Not protected Nothing
1 Dripping water Protection against 10 minutes of dripping water
2 Dripping water when tilted up to 15 degrees Protection against 10 minutes of dripping water when tilted 15 degrees from normal position
3 Spraying water Protection against 5 minutes of spraying water at any angle up to 60 degrees from the vertical
4 Splashing water Protection against 5 minutes of splashing water
5 Water jets Protected against at least 3 minutes of water spraying from a 6.3-millimeter nozzle from any direction
6 Powerful water jets Protection against at least 3 minutes of water spraying from a powerful nozzle (12.5-millimeter) from any direction
7 Immersion up to 1 meter Protection against 30 minutes of water up to 1 meter of submersion
8 Immersion beyond 1 meter Protection against continuous immersion in water up to depth specified by the manufacturer

Here’s a chart of the top five phones in terms of water and dust resistance:

Phone

IP rating

Effective against

iPhone 7 Plus IP67 Complete protection against dust and contact; protection against 30 minutes of water up to 1 meter of submersion
Samsung Galaxy S8  IP68 Complete protection against dust and contact; protection against continuous immersion in water up to depth specified by the manufacturer
Sony Xperia XZ Premium IP68 Complete protection against dust and contact; protection against continuous immersion in water up to depth specified by the manufacturer
Caterpillar CAT S60 IP68 Complete protection against dust and contact; protection against continuous immersion in water up to depth specified by the manufacturer
LifeProof FRE (iPhone case) IP68 Complete protection against dust and contact; protection against continuous immersion in water up to depth specified by the manufacturer

For an idea of how an IP certification is determined, take a look at this video of a test being conducted on behalf of electronics company Siemens. It ended up getting a an IP67 rating — the same rating as the iPhone 7 — and it means it’s been shown to withstand exposure both to objects and up to about three feet (or one meter) of water for 30 minutes.

It isn’t always that simple. Some phones have two ratings, such as Sony’s IP55- and IP57-certified Xperia Z, which indicates that it failed a tier of water or dust protection tests. We can only speculate, but it’s most likely that the Xperia Z couldn’t withstand ingress level protection 6, which sprays a 12.mm nozzle at 100kPa (14.5PSI) for three minutes straight at all parts of the phone’s enclosure. That’s a total of 300 liters of water (79 gallons).

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