What Does Your Gear’s IP Rating Really Mean?

An IP rating (also known as an IP code or ingress protection code) specifies the amount of protection a mechanical casing or electrical enclosure provides against intrusion from solid particles and liquid. Unlike generic terms such as “dust resistant” and “waterproof,” an IP rating specifies exactly how well a piece of equipment can endure in a dusty or wet environment.

How to Read IP Ratings

Reading an IP rating is easy. Every rating begins with the letters “IP. That is then followed by two numbers: the first reflecting solid particle protection, the second reflecting liquid ingress protection. In brief: IP(dust resistance)(water resistance)

Dirty flashlightIP Rating Charts

Digit One: Solid Particle Protection

The first digit of a rating is the more straightforward one: The higher the number, the better the device is protected against foreign objects entering the light.

IP Rating Chart for Solid Particles

NumberEffective AgainstExamples
XX means there is no data availableVaries widely as no data is available
0Basically nothingNo protection provided
12"Hands, flat surfaces (i.e. not very much)
20.49"Fingers, toes
30.098"Screwdrivers, 10 gauge and wider wires
40.039"Small screws, most visible insects, 18 gauge and wider wires
5Very SmallDust particles (although not completely "dust-tight")
6Smaller than DustDust particles (completely "dust-tight" for a duration of at least eight hours)

IP Water Proof Rating

Digit Two: Liquid Ingress Protection

The second digit of the rating is a little more complicated. These numbers are not cumulative beyond 6. For example, that means a tactical flashlight which can survive being submerged in water is not necessarily immune to water jets. A properly rated flashlight for submergence and water jets would be IPX6/IPX7.

IP Rating Table for Water Protection

Rating NumberEffective AgainstExample
X(Not rated by manufacturer)No data provided/available
0Virtually nothingNo protection against water (keep it dry or lose it)
1Dripping waterOne minute of very light rain (specifically 0.039" of rain per minute)
2Dripping water tilted at 15°One minute of light rain (0.12" of rain per minute)
3Spraying waterSpray nozzle or sprinkler
4Splashing waterGarden hose
5Water jetGarden nozzle
6Powerful water jetCar wash nozzle
6KPowerful, high-pressure water jetPressure washer nozzle
7Immersion up to 3.25' deepUp to 30 minutes in a bathtub
8Immersion up to ~9.80' deepSwimming pool (duration depends on manufacturer)
9KPowerful, high-temperature water jetsIndustrial cleaning nozzle

water testFor a more complete overview of IP ratings, please visit the International Electrotechnical Commission’s website.

How High Of An IP Rating Do You Need?

How tough your gear needs to be depends a lot on what you expect to do with it and what your budget is. For the most part, the average armed citizen doesn’t have to deal with the extremes of weather and other environmental factors that law enforcement officers and the military needs to deal with. Therefore, we do just fine with something in the IP6 or 7 range. However, if you live in area where extreme weather is more commonplace, like the dust storms in Arizona or hurricane season in the Southeast, you might want to consider something that’s built to handle that sort of abuse.

Putting It All Together

Once you understand how these ratings work, it becomes easy to see just how resistant a piece of equipment is to a harsh environment. A flashlight with a rating of IP68 is designed to survive a sandstorm. We’re thinking an subsequent hour or two at the bottom of a river! Meanwhile, manufacturers design flashlights with a rating of, say, IP41 as one you might carry in a purse.

Don’t get stuck trying to use a piece of equipment in an environment its not designed for! Check that IP rating and rest assured you’re ready for the task at hand.