IPX4 Water Resistance Rating Explained

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If you’ve been buying modern electronic devices, especially earbuds and speakers, you have probably heard about the IPX4 rating. We assume that you have some basic understanding of IPX ratings but we’ve decided to write a short article about IPX4 water resistance rating and explain its meaning and importance.

Many of today’s products are classified as water-resistant, water repellent, waterproof or hydrophobic. These terms are used to describe the level of protection against liquid intrusion and are often misunderstood because they are used in different situations and for different types of products. For example, the terms “water-resistant”, “water repellent” and “hydrophobic” are usually used to describe the level of clothes protection while the term “waterproof” is used to describe the level of protection against the liquid intrusion of electronic devices.

When we say that something is water-resistant, it means that its fabric is very dense and that you will be protected for a long time before you get soaked. Both “water repellant” and ‘’hydrophobic’’ imply that the fabric is covered by a coating that repels liquids. However, hydrophobic materials are considered to be of better quality than water-repellant.

Waterproof, on the other hand, commonly relates to different kinds of electronic devices. Waterproofness is usually achieved by covering the product with a special coating that prevents liquids from entering electronic components and causing their malfunction. However, it is quite difficult to determine the exact level of protection by simply labeling a device as waterproof. There are always questions about the term’s exact meaning, the way of its use, etc. This is the reason why it’s easier to classify electronic devices using IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) Standard established in 1989 and later adopted by the European Standard EN 60529. Based on this standard, the IP code/rating was established. IP stands for “International Protection” or “Ingress Protection”, and it refers to the ingress of solids and liquids into electronic devices.

IEC standard enables all the consumers to use IP codes to determine the possibilities and potential of electronic devices even before they buy them. IP code uses up to 5 numbers/letters to send us detailed information about the level of protection that our device has. Thanks to this information, we can plan our purchase, decide what kind of device we need, what will be its purpose, and then start looking for such devices. We will talk about this more thoroughly later but let’s now skip to the most important segment – IPX4 rating.

IP Ratings Explained

IP is the abbreviation for International Protection (also called Ingress Protection). It is the marking that defines the level of protection against the intrusion of water and other liquids or dust and other solids provided by the enclosure of a certain device.

IP code consists of the two letters “IP” and one, two or three symbols that can be represented by a number or a letter. The first symbol implies the device’s dust resistance. When a device is tested for dust resistance, its value is represented by the number ranging from 0 to 6. If the device is not tested, the manufacturer will simply mark it with the letter “X”. The second symbol stands for water resistance. If a device is tested, its level of protection against water intrusion is marked by a number ranging from 0 to 9 or by the letter “X” in case the device is not tested. The third symbol is quite rare and it describes in which conditions the device was tested. It can be marked by letters H, M, S, F, and W. H implies high voltage conditions, M means that the device was moving through the water during the test, S means that the device was not moving during tests, W stands for different weather conditions and F for oil resistance.

Ingress/International Protection

Currently, the most important symbol for us is the second one because it refers to the protection against the intrusion of liquids. 

What Is IPX4 Rating and Why Is It Important?

As we have previously mentioned, if your device is tested for water resistance, the level of protection will be expressed by a number ranging from 0 to 9.

The reason we have chosen the IPX4 rating for this article is that it represents the minimum protection/rating that any device intended for occasional outdoor use must have. It is also the minimum protection that any device that might be used near water must have.

IPX4-certified devices are the devices tested in standardized conditions that involve the use of a nozzle approved by the IEC Standard. The same shield is used for testing devices with IPX3 and IPX4 rating but the nozzle has a counterbalanced shield in the first case. In the second case, the shield is removed and the water jets can hit the device at any angle.

IEC-approved IPX3/IPX4 water spray testing nozzle

IEC-approved IPX3/IPX4 water spray testing nozzle (source – Guangzhou HongCe Equipment)

IPX4-certified devices are often considered splash proof and can be used in various situations and scenarios. Since they can’t be fully submerged in water, we can’t use the term “waterproof” to describe them. Those are the devices with IPX7, IPX8 or IPX9 ratings only, so we’ll be using a “weaker” expression – “water-resistant”. Let’s see how and when these devices can be used.

The Use of Devices with IPX4 Rating

All the outdoor devices should have at least IPX4 rating because they can survive certain (less severe) outdoor conditions such as rain. Also, these devices are considered not only splash-proof but also sweatproof, which means they will survive contact with human sweat and still be able to work properly.  

So, what kind of IPX4-certified devices we have? Different kinds, actually.

The first two things that cross our minds when IPX ratings are mentioned are portable Bluetooth speakers and Bluetooth earbuds because they are often used outdoors. For example, if you like to listen to your favorite music while hiking or camping, you will need a device that can survive exposure to rain or generally to humidity without any malfunctions. Also, since IPX4-certified headphones can survive constant exposure to sweat, you will be able to use them not only for jogging but also for indoor workouts. The devices are nicely coated in order to prevent any damage.

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However, there are some other devices, such as smartphones, that are used every day in different conditions. We don’t often think about that but they should also have a certain level of protection in order to enable you to answer a call or send a text message in the rain.

Also, we mustn’t forget about headlamps, which are often intended for outdoor use.

In addition, there are certain situations that require a device to be water-resistant even if it’s not used outdoors. For example, many people love to listen to music in the shower. In case you are one of those people, you should definitely buy a speaker with a minimum IPX4 rating, because they can survive drops or even splashes of water falling on them at different angles. 

Is IPX4 Enough?

This question can be quite difficult to answer if you don’t have the entire framework. By this, we mean your wishes, needs, and the purpose of the product you want to buy.

Before you buy it, you should think about the device you actually need. You should think about all the situations in which you might use the device and determine if the IPX4 rating is enough for you or you need a device with a higher protection level.

Let’s give you a simple example based on a shower speaker. If you want to use the speaker in the shower, the IPX4 rating should be more than enough. On the other hand, if you need a device to use in a bathtub where the speaker can be easily dropped into the water, IPX7, IPX8 or IPX9 ratings will be a better choice.

It’s the same with earbuds. If you need a pair of earbuds for workouts, even for outdoor workouts, we believe that the IPX4 rating should do the job just fine. However, if you need a pair of earbuds for swimming, you should look for the products that have the corresponding certificate. 

Products with Incorrectly Written IP Ratings or Without IP Rating

The absence of the IP rating on the specs list is not the reason to be worried. It doesn’t have to mean that the device is not protected or that it doesn’t have the necessary level of quality. It can simply mean that the manufacturer didn’t test it and that such information is not available. However, if you’re really interested in that product, you can always call the manufacturer and check the information.

On the other hand, there are certain situations when IP code is indicated but in an incorrect or strange manner. You should run away from such products because the information about the IP rating is 99% false. If you see a product with IP-X4 or IP-44 rating, you should be aware that the product was probably not tested at all and that the manufacturer just wants to trick you into buying the product. The only right way of stating the IP rating is without any hyphens (IPX4, IPX7, IP44, etc.).

One Comment

  • Avatar Stephen

    This was really helpful. I need earbuds I can use while riding my bike in all seasons, including summer when sweating is an issue, but because I’m one of those people that can’t keep certain buds in my ears, my choices are few and far between. I’ve found a pair that fit, but are “only IPX4” so I didn’t get them. I’ll now be looking for post-holiday sales. Thanks.

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