The Comprehensive Guide To IP Ratings

What is IP rating?

An IP rating is shorthand for an Ingress Protection mark, sometimes referred to synonymously as an International (or Internal) Protection mark. An IP rating is usually a two-digit grading system that’s applied to the enclosure of a mechanical or electrical item, giving customers a clear indication of the item’s resistance to various types of unwanted intrusion.

‘Intrusion’ in the context of an IP rating has a threefold definition: IP codes signify the level of protection to users (hands, fingers etc) from mechanical or electrical parts; the degree of protection an enclosure offers those key components against dust, dirt and other damaging foreign bodies; and its overall resistance to moisture.

While you might encounter slight differences in IP ratings depending on where in the world you’re buying from, they are standardised in most regions: in the UK, IP codes are assigned in accordance with British standard BS EN 60529:1992. In Europe, they fall in line with IEC standard 60509:1989, and internationally they conform to EN 60529 certification.

Why have an IP rating system?

The reason for having a universal IP rating system is so that buyers and users can be confident of how safe it is to use certain electrical or mechanical goods in specific environments and applications.

Unlike more vague marketing terms such as ‘waterproof’ - which don’t necessarily give a clear definition of precisely where and to what extent an item can resist moisture ingress - an IP rating is designed to provide a far more specific account.

As we’ll see further on in this guide, each of the digits in an IP rating reveals detailed information about the exact level of protection/resistance the item in question can be expected to deliver.

What does an IP rating measure?

As noted briefly above, IP rating denotes three key metrics:

      • Resistance to ingress, accidental or otherwise, by the user

      • Resistance to ingress from foreign bodies (dust, dirt etc)

      • Resistance to moisture ingress

In general, an IP rating will consist of two digits, occasionally followed by a letter denoting specific materials, hazards or testing scenarios. The most common way you’ll see such a rating given will be in the format ‘IP43’, ‘IP67’, or similar.

The first digit will be a number between 0-6, and indicates the degree of protection from ingress of solid objects (the user themselves, and other potentially harmful particulates such as dust or dirt).

The second digit in an IP rating will be a number between 0-9, denoting the quality of resistance to moisture ingress at varying intensities, angles, depths and pressures of exposure or immersion.

In some cases, an additional letter may be appended to the end of an IP rating, e.g. ‘IP67M’. This is done to indicate either certified resistance to specific materials/hazards, such as oil or high voltages, or a particular scenario in which the IP testing was conducted (for example in moving water). This is relatively unusual in most day-to-day applications, however. For more information on any additional letters you see appended to an IP code, you can contact our support team any time.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the specifics of what each of the numbers in these codes means in practical terms.

IP ratings chart and table

The IP ratings table below tells you what each digit in a standard IP code means. You can use this ingress protection chart to get a clear picture of the specific hazards and scenarios a given item’s mechanical or electrical components should be protected against, and to what extent in what sort of environments.

First digit - protection from foreign body and particulate ingress:

0

(or X - see section below): Not rated (or no rating supplied) for protection against ingress of this type.

1

Protection against solid objects larger than 50mm (accidental hand contact with open palm), but not against deliberate body contact.

2

Protection against solid objects larger than 12mm (accidental finger contact).

3

Protection against solid objects larger than     2.5mm (tools and wires).

4

Protection against solid objects larger than 1mm (fine tools and wires, nails, screws, larger insects and other potentially invasive small objects)

5

Partial protection against dust and other particulates, such that any ingress will not damage or impede the satisfactory performance of internal components.

6

Full protection against dust and other particulates, including a vacuum seal, tested against continuous airflow.


Second digit - protection from moisture ingress:

0

(or X - see section below): Not rated (or no rating supplied) for protection against ingress of this type.

1

Protection against vertically falling droplets, such as condensation, sufficient that no damage or interrupted functioning of components will be incurred when an item is upright.

2

Protection against vertically dripping water when enclosure is tilted up to 15° off vertical.

3

Protection against direct moisture spray at angles up to 60° off vertical.

4

Protection against splashing water from any direction, tested for a minimum of 10 minutes with an oscillating spray (limited ingress permitted with no harmful effects).

5

Protection against low-pressure jets (6.3 mm) of directed water from any angle (limited ingress permitted with no harmful effects).

6

Full protection against dust and other particulates, including a vacuum seal, tested against continuous airflow.

7

Protection against full immersion for up to 30 minutes at depths between 15 cm and 1 metre (limited ingress permitted with no harmful effects).

8

Protection against extended immersion under higher pressure (i.e. greater depths). Precise parameters of this test will be set and advertised by the manufacturer and may include additional factors such as temperature fluctuations and flow rates, depending on equipment type.

9K

Protection against high-pressure, high-temperature jet sprays, wash-downs or steam-cleaning procedures - this rating is most often seen in specific road vehicle applications (standard ISO 20653:2013 Road Vehicles - Degrees of protection).

IPX ratings

In certain cases, you might see an IP rating given as ‘IPX7’, ‘IP5X’ or similar. The difference between an IP rating and an IPX rating is more straightforward than you might think: in fact, ‘IPX’ is not entirely valid as a separate IP code in and of itself.

Ratings that feature an ‘X’ somewhere in the code simply denote that a numerical rating has only been provided for one of the two main ingress types (foreign body or moisture), but not for the other. Hence IPX7 will indicate a moisture resistance rating of 7, but no assigned rating against foreign body ingress. Conversely, IP5X will mean the product has been coded 5 against foreign body intrusion, but no certified level of moisture resistance is stated.

Types of IP rated products

There are numerous types of IP-rated products available on the market. The standardisation of these codes is what enables customers and users to gain a clear understanding of each product’s abilities and limitations in different scenarios.

In this section, we’ll look more closely at some of the more common IP ratings you’ll find on a majority of everyday item types.

Weatherproof & waterproof IP ratings

A ‘waterproof’ or ‘weatherproof’ IP rating is one of the most frequent examples people look for in a wide range of everyday products, from mobile phones and Bluetooth speakers to kitchen and bathroom fixtures, lighting setups, CCTV enclosures and more.

Again, it’s worth noting that to use terms like ‘waterproof’ when discussing IP ratings can actually be somewhat self-defeating - the very reason IP ratings exist, in fact, is to more clearly define the exact parameters of potentially vague marketing claims. As such, the second digit in a typical IP code indicates a precise level of protection against moisture ingress under specific test scenarios.

The ratings widely accepted as ‘waterproof’ for most general purposes are IP65, IP66 and IP67. However, one common misconception regarding weatherproofing is that items intended for prolonged outdoor use require the highest numerical IP ratings for moisture resistance.

This isn’t always the case since most rainwater - even in windy conditions - tends to fall relatively close to vertical, and under very low pressure. An IPX2 rating should protect against dripping water equivalent to 3 mm rainfall per minute at angles up to 15°, while IPX3 indicates resistance to continuous spray at up to 60° from vertical.

In addition, it isn’t strictly accurate to think of IP ratings for water resistance as being ‘higher’ beyond IPX6: be aware that IPX7, IPX8 and IPX9 are codes specifically addressing immersion properties, and that items certified at these ratings need not necessarily meet the criteria for pressurised water jet resistance denoted by IPX5 and IPX6.

IP rated enclosures

There’s a vast range of different IP-rated enclosure types available across all sectors and industries, including a great many options for all manner of electronics and mechanical systems aimed at both home and industrial settings.

Enclosure IP ratings are assigned to everything from mobile phone housings to junction boxes, bathroom/outdoor lighting setups, and instrument cases intended for robust protection in harsh marine or chemical environments. In the following sections, we’ll examine some of the more widely used enclosure types, and consider some of the demanding IP standards each enclosure type might require to make it suitable for a range of specific applications.

IP rated enclosure accessories

When looking into the myriad configurations of enclosures and system housings on the market, you’ll find that there’s an equally wide range of IP-rated enclosure accessories and optional extra fittings available for most types of housing. IP ratings for these types of add-ons usually mirror those of the enclosures they’re designed to be used with.

The majority offer various tweaks and specialisations, each designed to make a generic enclosure more ideally suited to one particular application or another. These are usually focused around component-specific mounting solutions, attachment methods or additional security features, aimed at a particular type of application or enclosure contents.

Popular examples may include:

  • Brackets, screws and nuts
  • Additional panels, racks or dividers to add to a basic enclosure frame
  • Locks, keys and keypads
  • Stability accessories, such as self-adhesive feet, for added security or robustness


IP rated floor standing enclosures

A typical IP-rated floor-standing enclosure might see codes starting at around IP43 (resistance to entry from slender tools, wires, insects etc over 2.5mm; and resistance to water spray up to 60° from vertical). They’re most often used as sturdy protective metal surrounds for racks of sensitive electronic equipment or similar.

Depending on the construction materials and intended application environment, they can also be IP rated to indicate complete dust exclusion and full hose-cleaning resistance without risk of corrosion. Typical uses might include housing for busbars or block fuses in energy distribution applications (including residential electrical setups and cable handling), or to protect pneumatic/hydraulic controls and instrumentation in industrial settings.

IP rated general-purpose enclosures

General purpose enclosures are frequently sold with IP ratings, serving as flexible and multi-function storage units predominantly designed to house and protect electronics or other sensitive equipment.

General purpose enclosures are often found affixed to walls via dedicated enclosure-mounting accessories and tend to be adaptable for a wide range of uses. Smaller enclosures of this type are often referred to as junction boxes, and many will have additional security accessories fitted, such as a padlocking mechanism or a keypad.

When the unit isn’t tailored to fit any one specific application, it’s usually crafted as a simple but sturdy box without specialist features for particular housings or contents. Sizes and construction materials will depend on their intended application and environment, but they’re commonly rated at IP65 and above for general outdoor use.

IP rated handheld enclosures

Handheld enclosures are protective cases for controllers and electronic instruments, widely used for both simple mobile controls and more heavy-duty electronic devices including volt-meters, digital thermometers and flow readers.

Handheld enclosures are usually designed to mount digital or analogue LCD display modules behind an acrylic window and are typically constructed from sturdy but lightweight aluminium for portability. They often contain battery compartments with easily removable lids.

IP ratings for handheld enclosures tend to focus on keeping both users and contents (such as PCBs) safe from inadvertent contact with mechanical or wired parts, but it’s common to see IP ratings for full protection from water ingress (IP65+) depending on their intended application.

IP rated instrument cases

Instrument cases are another widely used housing type, most often found protecting every day electrical products from damage by dirt, dust or moisture ingress. Typical IP ratings for instrument cases might start from around IP40, indicating resistance to particulates only (i.e. not intended for outdoor use), but it’s also common to see ratings up to IP67+ for full immersion resistance.

Instrument cases are usually available in both heavy-duty and more lightweight configurations, depending on the level of protection and portability required. They can be used for anything from outdoor LED power supply casings to industrial camera housings, desktop electronics and measuring/control equipment.

IP rated power supply cases

Power supply cases generally need to be constructed from robust materials designed to safely and securely house high-voltage components such as transformers, PSUs and other key electrical items. Sizing and configuration will depend entirely on what the individual unit is intended to hold and protect.

IP ratings for power supply enclosures tend to be ‘lower’ (typically IP20+) to allow for breathability and heat transfer while protecting against accidental tool or finger ingress to protect users. These units often come with a range of additional safety features, including tamper-proof housings with strong resistance to corrosion and abrasion.

IP rated wall boxes

IP-rated wall boxes are an extremely familiar sight in all manner of household and industrial electrical systems very often used to secure access to delicate or potentially dangerous components such as fuse boxes. They can also be used for general storage of important or hazardous items. For this reason, they’ll usually include a locking door, giving easy access only to authorised personnel.

As they’re often deployed in tough outdoor environments, wall boxes commonly come in rugged plastic moulding with IP ratings for full moisture ingress resistance (IP67, indicating full hose-down protection and suitability for some marine applications). Transparent windows are often found on wall boxes of this type, allowing for quick visual checking of internal components and systems.

IP ratings for lights

IP ratings for lights are a key area of consideration in both home and industrial design when planning/installing a lighting setup, particularly in bathrooms, kitchens, outdoor areas and any other spaces likely to be exposed to particulates or moisture ingress from various sources (including weather).

While lighting systems use the same IP rating numbers and definitions as any other enclosure, it’s also important to be aware of different ‘zones’ in a given room or area, and how they might impact on the IP demands your lights need to meet. This is of particular concern in bathroom applications, as we’ll see below.

IP ratings for outdoor lights

IP rating for outdoor lights is key to both the safety and proper functioning of any unit installed where condensation, rain or wind-blown foreign bodies might pose a potential risk to circuitry and users alike. This includes accent lighting and soffit spots, safety or task floods, PIR/security sensor lights and more.

    • The following are general industry rules of thumb for outdoor lighting, but it’s always wise to seek manufacturer or supplier advice for your specific application scenario before installation:
    • IPX3 will protect against continuous spray at up to a 60° angle, which is generally considered sufficient in partially enclosed or covered areas.
    • IPX4 is more commonly used as a minimum in more exposed spaces.
    • If the lights are likely to be cleaned using pressurised jets, they should be rated at IPX5 or above.
    • Any lighting intended for immersion (e.g. pond or pool lighting) up to a depth of 1m must be rated at least IPX7, but always check explicitly with the manufacturer before installing any lighting below the surface of the water.
    • Immersion at greater depths will require IPX8, and should again be checked explicitly for precise ingress resistance capabilities before installation.

IP ratings for bathrooms

Bathrooms are typically divided into zones for lighting and IP ratings, and each comes with different regulatory specifications and criteria that must be met for safety purposes:

    • Zone 0 indicates an area inside a bath or shower itself (such as tray-level lights in a shower cubicle, or jacuzzi-style lighting in a bath). Fittings and enclosures used in zone 0 must be at least IP67 rated for full immersion, and low-voltage (max 12v).

    • Zone 1 indicates an area directly above a bath or shower enclosure, to a height of 2.25 metres from the floor. This would include any wall- or ceiling-mounted downlights within the vertical perimeter of a shower enclosure, for example. IP45 is technically the minimum resistance required here, although IP65 is a much more common standard, and most lighting for shower or bath areas will be rated to at least IP65 by default.

    • Zone 2 indicates a 60cm radius around any bath or shower enclosure, and here a splash-proof rating of IP44 is the minimum requirement. (This is also commonly extended to areas around sinks, where the 0.6m measurement is usually taken from the taps themselves.)

    • Bear in mind that you’ll need to plan for future cleaning in most bathrooms and kitchens, so IP ratings for bathrooms that protect against water jets (IP65) may be necessary even for lighting installed outside the regulated zones listed above.

Electrical IP ratings

As with all other types of enclosures, IP numbers for electrical applications follow the same universal coding system for clarity and ease of understanding. However, it’s even more important with electrical IP ratings to fully consider the potential exposure types and resistance protection you might need for any electronic components or systems, as ingress from either particulates or moisture of any kind can often result in damage or increase hazard risk.

Be especially mindful of potential ingress from less obvious sources of moisture or particulates, such as condensation, steam, accumulating dust in harder-to-reach areas, and corrosion or chemical attack if the enclosure is to be placed in any sort of challenging industrial environment.

Summary

IP ratings offer buyers, installers and users a convenient and universally consistent way to assess the likely performance of a wide range of enclosures in many typical applications and environments. If you’re in any doubt as to what IP rating you need for the specific use you have in mind, then please don’t hesitate to contact our expert technical support team for further advice and assistance when planning your purchase.