Everything you need to know about waterproof smartwatches

Everything you need to know about waterproof smartwatches
So you’ve got yourself a fancy new smartwatch and it has a waterproof rating. Awesome! You’ve washed your hands a couple of times while wearing it, it hasn’t fried, so everything is going according to plan. And now you get an invitation to a pool party.

You like that watch and you’d like to wear it when you go. Maybe even dive into the water with it. Well, we’re here to help you find out if that’s actually a good idea or not through explaining the types and meaning behind water-resistance ratings.

What types of waterproofness are there?

Most often we see two systems for testing how water-resistant a smartwatch is:

  • Ingress Protection (IP) rating system, which assigns a rating in two numerical values, representing how dust- and how water-resistant a device is, in that order
  • The ISO 22810 standard, which you will see represented as AMT ratings, that grades what type of exposure to water the device can handle

Both these systems have their own testing methods for assigning a rating. The IP system is more complex, as its numerical values are not linked to the quality of the resistance, while the ATM system is pretty straightforward: higher number = good.


IP ratings explained

The rating consists of two digits that have different meanings. The first is related to dust protection and the other linked to water-resistance. An important note here is that these ratings are not mutually exclusive. If a watch is water-resistant at level 7, it doesn’t mean it was tested for previous levels too.

When that is the case, several ratings are usually listed. For example, if a watch has both an IP67 and an IP69 rating, that means that it has gone through the tests for water-resistance at levels 7 and 9.

What is IP69?

The rating of IP69 means that you have a watch, which is completely protected against dust, and has been tested against close-range spraying of high-pressure hot water.

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In other words, it means that your IP69 watch will be fine if:

  • You take hot showers with it, even if the stream is more intense
  • You work up a heavy sweat with it
  • You have it on while it’s raining
  • You spill water over it and dry it up in a sensible pace

However, a water-resistance rating of IPX9 means that no submersion tests have been conducted. As such, dropping your watch in a water container of any kind isn’t recommended, let alone swimming.

And this is exactly what we meant earlier – this is the highest possible numerical value that the IP rating system can assign, but it doesn’t mean that the watch has guaranteed all-around protection. So let’s see what else is there to learn!

What is IP68?

As with above, the rating of 6 here stays related to the watch being completely dust-proof. The second digit however has changed from a 9 to a 8, which doesn’t mean a lower quality of water-resistance. It means that the watch has been tested via submerging it in water deep up to 9.8 ft (3 m) in water for an undisclosed amount of time.

And by undisclosed, we mean that the duration of this test specifically is agreed upon with the watch’s manufacturer, so there is no universal standard here. That being said, a watch with an IP68 rating should also be fine when you go for a:

  • Warm, but not hot showers with medium stream intensity
  • Workout and work up a sweat
  • Walk in the rain
  • Drop it in a pool or other water-filled basin thats no more than ~10 feet deep

Rare but notable IP ratings

Now, these are rarely seen in the wild world of wearable technology, but we felt that we should let you know about some notable facts

  • A Dust rating of X means that the watch was not tested against dust, while 0 means that it’s not protected in any meaningful way.
  • Dust ratings from 1 to 4 depict how small an object has to be to be able to breach your device, with lower numbers meaning bigger items. For example, a rating of 2 includes fingers.
  • A Dust rating of 5 means that while the device has some ingress weaknesses here and there, it is mostly dust protected.
  • IP water ratings with a 7 or 8 are the only ones that test submerging the device, with 7 meaning 30 minutes of total submersion in a depth of 39” (1 m).
  • A water rating of 9 is the only one that subjects the device to high-temperature spraying, guaranteeing that hot showers are fine.
  • Keep in mind that the IP rating system is not applied only to smartphones and smartwatches, which is the cause of its complexity. Your friendly neighborhood street lamp probably has an IP rating too!

Is dropping my watch in the pool or the sea dangerous?

So, now that you know what the numbers mean, we need to specify a few other very important facts, which you need to take to heart.

For starters, all water-resistance tests mentioned above use clean water only. This means that if your watch’s rating states it’d be fine if you drop it in water, you should consider if that water isn’t salt water, pool water with chlorine or even puddle water, which may contain other particles.

Salt water and chlorine are always deadly to your smartwatches, because they are highly corrosive. Should your watch come in contact with them, you should rinse it with clean water right away – as long as it's rated as capable of handling it – and dry it after that.

With muddy water, you’ll need to take dustproofness into consideration, too. If it’s rated 6, it should be fine (except if damaged by the fall), but if the rating is lower, you should either consult your water-resistance rating and rinse it with clean water, or take it to a specialist.

Does an IP rating last forever?

No, it does not. Sometimes, manufacturers outright state on the box or manual of the watch how long the rating is expected to last for, with the period usually being around 2 years.

However, there are external factors that may decrease that time even further. Basically, in order for your watch to be anything-proof, it has to be sealed in a special way. Your smartwatch’s IP rating might become void if you are:

  • Taking your watch into a hot tub or sauna, regardless if it’s rated at a 9 for water-resistance, as that might loosen its glue, which in turn breaks its seal.
  • Exposing your watch to chlorine and salt water without cleaning it, as the IP tests always utilize fresh water.
  • Damaging the watch in such a way, which may remove its seal, as the glue being intact doesn’t mean much if there is, say, a puncture wound on the watch.

How do I tell if I can go swimming with my smartwatch?

If you are looking for a smartwatch which you can take swimming, you need to find one that has been tested for an ISO 22810 standard. These are marked with ATM ratings, which typically paint a pretty clear picture of how deep you can go with the watch.

An important detail here is that a good ATM rating will allow you to swim with your favorite smartwatch in rivers, seas and pools, as the test itself determines how much pressure the watch can take, before it lets water in to begin with.

What do ATM ratings mean?

ATM ratings are not inferior to IP ratings when it comes to quality, but they are a bit easier to explain. Here’s a quick overview of the ones that you’re most likely going to see on smartwatches:

Unlike with IP ratings, a marking of ATM10 includes everything that can be expected of watches rated with previous ratings too. This is because the numbers on each rating denote how much pressure the watch can take before it lets water in, versus representing completely different testing methods.

Do ATM ratings on smartwatches last forever?

ATM ratings usually last until the watch has been opened up, as that compromises its seal. The same logic applies to smartwatches, so that means that you need to be on the lookout when getting a refurbished smartwatch or if you’ve sent yours to be repaired.

If my watch isn’t waterproof, why was it fine after I took it swimming?

Because having an ATM or IP rating doesn’t exclude any internal testing, which companies might be making in order to make sure that their products meet their consumers’ demands.

These ratings systems were introduced so that we can have an objective way of measuring water-resistance, and while they’ve become widely-accepted, they aren’t mandatory and don’t forbid anyone from doing their own testing.

The gist of it is that your smartwatch may be fine for swimming, even if it has a lower IP rating, as long as its manufacturer has done the work to protect it, test it and describe that for you somewhere. So, when in doubt — check your brand’s website out!

Are IP ratings better than ATM ratings for a smartwatch?

It’s more so a matter of a difference in approach and testing methods with these two systems, and not a different standard of quality. In other words – neither is better than the other, especially from a consumer’s point of view.

The IP68 rating is one of the most common ratings, seen for example on the Samsung Galaxy Watches. However, the series also has a separate ATM5 rating, allowing its wearers to go out for a swim too, so the systems aren’t mutually exclusive.

A way to remember it would be to say that ATM ratings prove how much and how deep you can take your watch in pools or the sea, while IP ratings showcase how resistant it is to sprays of clear water and dust.

What rating means that a watch is completely waterproof?

No such rating exists in either the IP rating system or the water-resistance ISO 22810 classification. In fact, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) banned the term “waterproof” precisely because it is misleading.

As of now, water-resistance is the only factor you can count on when it comes to watches and smartwatches. The systems via which that is supported only aim to determine under what circumstances that resistance remains valid.

As you can see, the topic is complex, but definitely not complicated. Catching up on these ratings might save you a possibly tragic situation, where you’ve fried one of your favorite watches, due to not being familiar with the meaning of its rating.

Naturally, if there ever comes a time, when a truly waterproof smartwatch becomes available to the masses, we’ll be the first to let you know.

What water-resistant watch should you choose?

So, now that you've found out that waterproof watches don't exist yet, you might be wondering what water-resistance rating would be ideal for your lifestyle. Well, here's a nifty TL;DR on the topic, which will hopefully help you make a quick and easy choice.

What water-resistance is needed if I never take off my watch?

You are looking for a combination of both a IP69 rating and a mark for 5ATM or above. This combo guarantees that your smartwatch will remain safe during hot showers, rainy days and swim sessions in a pool or the sea.

Just don't forget to rinse the watch with clean water and dry it off when you are done, just in case. This will help you make sure that unwanted substances like sea salt or chlorine from the pool have not remained on your favorite smart accessory.  

What water-resistance is required if I want to work out with my watch?

Any smartwatch with a second digit of at least 4 in its IP rating should be fine for workouts. If your watch's rating is below a 7 or an 8, you should make an effort to dry it off whenever your wrist has gotten too sweaty. After all, most water-resistance tests last only 10 minutes, which is significantly shorter than your average workout session. 

However, if you don't want to deal with that, then look out for a rating of 3ATM or above. That will not only let you wear the watch during intense training sessions, but also allow you to not take the watch off for your post-training shower. Nice! 

What water-resistance is needed for basic everyday use?

If you are in the market for a watch that will let you do normal things like wash your hands or do the dishes without having to worry about taking it off, then any rating of IPX4 or above should be fine for you. Just remember to dry it off afterwards. 

Similarly, if your smartwatch of choice has a mark of 3ATM or above, you wouldn't even have to worry when you take it for a shower. 

And, to finish the list off, kind reminders for the two most notable exclusions:

  • If the smartwatch has been serviced, consult your manufacturer before trusting its water-resistance, regardless of rating system
  • If your watch only has an IP rating, and it is water-resistant at a level 8 or below, don't expose it to hot water, even temporarily 

In conclusion, the perfect water-resistant watch is the one that fits your lifestyle needs. In most cases, any smartwatch with a rating of at least 3ATM can handle anything that daily use can throw at it. 

However, if you are looking for something specific, then make sure to check out the info above, so you can make an educated choice and get the smartwatch that matches your expectations perfectly. 

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