Your Ultimate Guide to IP and NEMA Rugged Ratings

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All your rugged and waterproof tech & gear questions – answered.

What’s tougher — the Jaybird Vista headphones with an IPx7 rating, or the Jabra Elite Active 75t with IP57? Which one could you take swimming, and which one could survive a construction site?

How about your phone — is there a difference between ‘waterproof’ and ‘water-resistant’? Should you look for an IP or NEMA rating in your rugged tech, or perhaps both?

In our job of finding the most durable tech, gear, and gadgetry on the market (BIFL is the ultimate target), we come across IP and NEMA ratings a lot.

But we’ve come to realize that ‘IP54’ or ‘NEMA type 3X’ doesn’t mean much to the average consumer.

Learning what IP and NEMA represent, what the numbers for each rating mean, and the differences between the two standards will change the way you buy durable tech and gear.

So, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the two ratings.

We’ll explain each standard in detail with useful charts and diagrams to use when you’re on the lookout for your next phone, smartwatch, laptop, pair of headphones, or any bit of gear that promises to live through your roughest adventures.

What are IP and NEMA ratings?

IP and NEMA ratings are industry standards that benchmark the level of protection a given piece of technology or equipment has from external hazards. Namely, dust and water.

The standards are designed and set by regulatory bodies full of experts and specialists in the electronics space. There are several key reasons for the existence of these standards.


Firstly, they offer assurance for those using specialized technology or equipment in hazardous environments that their devices won’t malfunction or break, endangering the user’s safety or preventing the continuation of work. This mainly relates to medical and/or industrial contexts and equipment.

Another reason is to offer consumers a benchmark by which they can assess the suitability of consumer-grade tech for specific environments or use-cases.

Both IP and NEMA ratings use a numerical code to inform the prospective user of the level of protection the enclosure of a device has.

Despite their similarities, though, IP and NEMA don’t measure exactly the same thing.

To fully understand the differences between the two, let’s go into further detail on the context, testing, parameters, and exact definition of each standard.

IP ratings explained

Here’s pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about IP ratings explained, taken directly from the organization that founded it.

Who created the IP rating?

IEC - International Electrotechnical Commission

The IP rating and testing protocol was developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) [1] — a global, not-for-profit membership organization spanning more than 170 countries coordinating 20,000 industry experts.

The goal of the IEC since its founding in 1906 is to assist in the design, manufacture, testing, and certification of all electric-based technologies for greater levels of safety and efficiency.

Among its 10,000 international standards includes the IP rating of electrical goods. 

What does IP stand for and refer to?

‘IP’ stands for Ingress Protection, with ‘ingress’ meaning an opening or entrance to an electronic device.

An ingress, while necessary for the design and manufacture of certain devices, is also a risk factor for proper functioning and safety.

A fully open ingress doesn’t protect the internal circuitry or mechanisms of a device from external hazards like hands, dust, or other particulates, liquids, and oil. This puts it at high risk for malfunctioning or breakage.

A highly protected ingress, however, is vacuum-tight to fully protect from solids and is also completely submersible in water.

So, IP ratings refer to, in the IEC’s words…

the resistance of an enclosure against the intrusion of dust or liquids [2].

IEC – International Electrotechnical Commission

How do the IP codes work?

IP ratings are two-digit codes, for example ‘IP45’.

1st IP Digit = protection from solid objects
The first digit in an IP code represents the level of protection an enclosure has from solid objects, measured on a scale from 0 (meaning no protection) to 6 (no ingress of dust).
2nd IP Digit = protection from liquids
The second digit in an IP code represents the level of protection an enclosure has against liquids, measured on a scale from 0 (meaning no protection) to 9 (resistant to high-pressure hot water from various angles).
IP Number First digit (solids) Second digit (liquids)
0 No protection from solids No protection from liquids
1 Protection from solid objects bigger than 50mm in diameter Protection from vertically falling water droplets
2 Protection from solid objects bigger than 12.5mm in diameter Protection from vertically falling water droplets at a 15-degree angle
3 Protection from solid objects bigger than 2.5mm in diameter Protection from water spraying at up to a 60-degree angle on either side
4 Protection from solid objects bigger than 1mm in diameter Protection from water spraying at any angle
5 Some protection from dust particles Protection from water jets at any angle
6 Complete protection from dust particles Protection from powerful water jets
7 Protection from temporary submersion in water at a depth of 1m for 30 mins
8 Protection from continuous submersion in water
9 Complete protection from high-pressure water jets at any angle
the ‘X’ mark in IP Codes
Sometimes, an ‘X’ is used in IP codes, as in ‘IPX5’. In these instances, the ‘X’ means the device is not rated in the relevant category of protection.

From the earlier example, an IPX5 device would not be rated for protection from solids like dust (represented by the ‘X’), but can resist water jets at any angle (represented by the ‘5’).

IP ratings chart

The full details of the level of protection each number represents, along with the testing methods used to determine levels of protection, were first published in the IEC 60529 [3] document in 1976 and last updated in 2019.

A summary of all the IP rating codes can be viewed in the below chart:

IP RUGGED RATINGS Infographic
IP RUGGED RATINGS Infographic

NEMA ratings explained

Here we answer all your burning questions about the NEMA Enclosure Rating system, based on information from NEMA themselves.

Who created the NEMA Enclosure rating?

NEMA - National Electrical Manufacturers Association

NEMA stands for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association [4], an ANSI-accredited organization of business leaders, electrical experts, engineers, scientists, and technicians that develop standards to enhance the safety and regulation of electrical products.

NEMA creates and maintains over 700 standards and technical white papers, including the NEMA Ratings for Enclosures [5].

What do NEMA ratings refer to?

The NEMA Ratings for Enclosures, like IP ratings, offer a standardized scale that measures the extent to which an electronic device enclosure protects against hazards.

Unlike IP ratings, however, NEMA ratings relate exclusively to enclosures of electrical devices and usually larger industrial ones such as refrigeration units.

More so, NEMA ratings measure protection against a broader range of hazards than IP ratings, including oil, corrosion, sleet, and snow. Accordingly, some NEMA ratings approve devices to be used specifically in outdoor environments.

How do the NEMA codes work?

NEMA ratings are referred to as ‘types’, as in ‘NEMA type 1’.

The scale ranges from type 1 to type 13, with subtypes that correspond to different environments and levels of protection.

Types 1–6 and 11–13 rate devices in the context of non-hazardous environments, and types 7–10 rate devices in classified hazardous locations, such as military or industrial environments.

NEMA Ratings Definition


All NEMA type definitions can be viewed in the table below:

Subtypes represent additional levels of protection from certain hazards like corrosion, and are denoted with letters after the type number, for example, ‘NEMA Type 3RX’.

NEMA Type Definition
Type 1 Enclosures constructed for indoor use to provide a degree of protection to personnel against access to hazardous parts and provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt).
Type 2 Enclosures constructed for indoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt); and, provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (dripping and light splashing).
Type 3 Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); and, that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 3R Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); and, that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 3S Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); and, for which the external mechanism(s) remain operable when ice-laden.
Type 3X Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); that provides an increased level of protection against corrosion and that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 3RX Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the 2020 National Electrical Manufacturers Association equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure that provides an increased level of protection against corrosion.
Type 3SX Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow); that provides an increased level of protection against corrosion; and for which the external mechanism(s) remain operable when ice laden.
Type 4 Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow, splashing water, and hose-directed water); and, that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 4X Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and windblown dust); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (rain, sleet, snow, splashing water, and hose directed water); that provides an increased level of protection against corrosion; and that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 5 Enclosures constructed for indoor use only to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and settling dust, lint, fibers, and flyings); and, provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (dripping and light splashing).
Type 6 Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (hose directed water and the entry of water during occasional temporary submersion at a limited depth); and, that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 6P Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (hose directed water and the entry of water during prolonged submersion at a limited depth); that provides an increased level of protection against corrosion and that will be undamaged by the external formation of ice on the enclosure.
Type 7 Designed to contain an internal explosion without causing an external hazard.
Type 8 Designed to prevent combustion through the use of oil immersed equipment.
Type 9 Designed to prevent the ignition of combustible dust.
Type 10 Designed to contain an internal explosion without causing an external hazard.
Type 12 Enclosures constructed (without knockouts) for indoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and circulating dust, lint, fibers, and flyings); provide a degree of protection from harmful effects National Electrical Manufacturers Association on the equipment due to the ingress of water (dripping and light splashing) and provide a degree of protection against light splashing and seepage of oil and non-corrosive coolants.
Type 12K Enclosures constructed (with knockouts) for indoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and circulating dust, lint, fibers, and flyings); and, provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (dripping and light splashing) and provide a degree of protection against light splashing and seepage of oil and non-corrosive coolants.
Type 13 Enclosures constructed for indoor use to provide a degree of protection for personnel against access to hazardous parts; to provide a degree of protection of the equipment inside the enclosure against ingress of solid foreign objects (falling dirt and circulating dust, lint, fibers, and flyings); to provide a degree of protection from harmful effects on the equipment due to the ingress of water (dripping and light splashing); and, to provide a degree of protection against the spraying, splashing, and seepage of oil and non-corrosive coolants.

NEMA ratings chart

The full definitions of each NEMA Enclosure Rating, along with the testing parameters and industry applications, were published in the NEMA 250 document [6], last updated in 2020. 

A summary of NEMA Rating codes can be viewed in the below chart:

NEMA RUGGED RATINGS Infographics
NEMA RUGGED RATINGS Infographics

What’s the difference between NEMA and IP ratings?

NEMA and IP ratings are similar to each other, generally speaking, as they both measure the ability of an electronic device to resist external hazards.

However, there are a few key differences to note when shopping for durable tech and gear.

As mentioned, NEMA ratings relate exclusively to enclosures — the body which protects the inner circuitry of a device, or a separate electrical device. An example would be this electrical unit enclosures with a NEMA type 4 rating, meaning it provides a degree of protection to the electrical unit inside from dirt and dust as well as outdoor hazards like rain, sleet, and snow.

IP ratings, however, can be awarded to a device in its entirety, rather than solely its enclosure. Take, for example, this IP67 rated security camera which has complete protection from dust and can be temporarily submerged in water at a depth of 1m for up to 30 mins.

Continually, NEMA ratings are mostly focused on large industrial devices that pose a greater threat to the functioning of the device and the safety of the user, should it be exposed to certain hazards.

On the contrary, IP ratings are aimed more towards consumer-grade technology and devices like in-ear headphones and iPhone cases as a kind of customer assurance for certain use-cases.

The differences are mostly due to the types of products and intended use-cases of the respective standards.


This begs the question, are there equivalents between the two?

IP and NEMA ratings comparison chart

NEMA ratings and testing can be used as compliance for IP ratings — but not vice versa.

As the two standards use different testing parameters, there‘s no direct equivalent between a given NEMA and IP rating. However, reasonable comparisons can be drawn between a select few of the IP and NEMA ratings based on their respective definitions. See the chart below for an approximate comparison between the two standards:

NEMA and IP RUGGED RATINGS Correspondence Infographic
NEMA and IP RUGGED RATINGS Correspondence Infographic

What ratings should I look for in rugged tech and gear?

So, what does all this mean when you as a consumer are on the lookout for durable tech to take with you on that rainy fishing trip or dusty mountain adventure?

Well, our first piece of advice would be to search specifically for tech that‘s rated according to the environment you plan to use it in.

For example, if you work at a construction site and are looking for a durable smartphone that can withstand exposure to dust, water, and oil, you’ll want an IP rating of no less than IP68 — complete protection from dust and submersible in water.

In our Most Durable Android Phone list, we included a number of IP68-rated smartphones, like the Cat S62 Pro.

Continually, mainstream tech producers are adding IP ratings to their devices, like Apple with the new iPhone 13 Pro, which also has an IP68 rating [7].

Another important piece of advice from us is to watch out for companies claiming waterproof or water-resistant devices, as those terms often don’t mean what you think they might mean…

Water-resistant vs. waterproof

Watch in contact with water | IP RUGGED RATINGS
Watch in contact with water | IP RUGGED RATINGS

Many companies make the claim that their device is ‘waterproof’, but what does this actually mean?

Unfortunately, the liberally-used term ‘waterproof’ almost never means ‘completely impervious to the damaging effects of water’.

Instead, it usually means something along the lines of ‘can be partially or completely in contact with water for a limited amount of time’.

So, when you see a company use one of these terms, check the specifications of the product for either a NEMA or, more likely, an IP rating.

Don’t forget the IPX specs:

  • IPX0-rated devices (remember, ‘X’ in an IP rating means the device is not rated in the relevant category) offer zero protection from water.
  • IPX1—6 rated devices offer protection from water droplets, spray, and jets, but cannot be fully submerged. This is what companies are usually referring to when they claim their devices are ‘water-resistant’.
  • IPX7—9 rated devices offer protection from total water submersion and high-pressure water jets, and this is what companies usually mean when they claim their devices are ‘waterproof’.

Conclusion

Both IP and NEMA ratings are incredibly useful standards for comparing the durability of the tech products and gear out there.

Developed by relevant experts, we can be safe in the assurance that an IP or NEMA rated product has been tested to a standard of protection from hazards that we can truly rely upon when using our electronics out in the world.

As a consumer, you’ll mostly want to be on the lookout for IP ratings — a numerical measure of a device’s protection from dust and water.

Careful, though. ‘Waterproof’ doesn’t necessarily mean you can take your device for a leisurely swim for a few hours.

When in doubt, check out the specifications of the product in question and refer to its IP rating chart to see what kind of abuse you can put your tech through.

Oh, and what was the answer to the opening question, we hear you wonder?

The Jabra Elite Active 75t is tougher, as its IP57 rating means it has some protection from dust particles and matches the JayBird Vista’s water-resistance rating of 7, whereas the JayBirds are not rated for dust protection. And remember to stay tuned right here for more comprehensive ratings and reviews of the most durable products on the planet.

FAQ: IP and NEMA Rugged Ratings

What do IP ratings mean?

IP ratings refer to the extent to which an electrical device is protected by external hazards like dust and water. Check the IP Ratings chart here.

When were IP ratings introduced?

The first document explaining the IP standard and rating system was published in 1976.

Who issues IP ratings?

IP ratings are created and maintained by the IEC — International Electrotechnical Commission, a global not-for-profit organization spanning more than 170 countries and coordinating 20,000 industry experts.

Which IP rating is best?

The highest IP rating is IP69, meaning a device is completely protected from dust, continuously submersible in water, and resistant to high-pressure water jets at any angle.

What is the highest IP waterproof rating?

The highest IP rating for water resistance is IPX9, which offers complete protection from high-pressure water jets at any angle. Look for a similarly high solid object protection rating like an IP59 or above for better overall durability.

IP ratings vs NEMA

IP and NEMA ratings both measure the extent to which an electronic device can resist external hazards, but NEMA relates typically to medical or industrial devices (like CCTV wireless transmission enclosures for example) and exclusively to a device’s enclosure. Whereas IP ratings relate mostly to consumer-grade electronic tech like smartphones. Check the NEMA equivalents for IP Ratings in this chart.

References:

  1. Homepage | IEC. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.iec.ch/homepage
  2. IP ratings | IECIP ratings | IEC. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.iec.ch/ip-ratings
  3. IEC 60529:1989+AMD1:1999+AMD2:2013 CSV | IEC Webstore | water management, smart city, rural electrification. Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://webstore.iec.ch/publication/2452
  4. About | NEMA.org (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.nema.org/about
  5. Standards | NEMA.org (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.nema.org/standards
  6. NEMA 250 Enclosure Types | NEMA.org (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.nema.org/standards/view/nema-250-enclosure-types
  7. iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max – Technical Specifications | Apple.com (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021, from https://www.apple.com/iphone-13-pro/specs/
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