It’s hard to imagine that the very water we drink also moonlights as one of the most dangerous substances found on Earth. Just think about it—too much of the stuff will drown you. And water will (slowly and surely) destroy everything it touches. Rust is a great example—demonstrating that not even metal is impervious to the corrosive properties of plain old water.
Your electronics are especially susceptible to water. Even the smallest drop can fry your electronics in a tenth of a second. Once thought of as innocuous, the beach or the public pool were at one time sources of anxiety for smartphones and smartwatches alike. Luckily, manufacturers have gotten with the program and are making their devices water-resistant. The Apple Watch is no exception. But how waterproof is the Apple Watch?
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant
When measuring imperviousness to water, there are two generally accepted terms used in the retail industry. Those terms are waterproof and water-resistant. Unfortunately, these terms are not regulated in any meaningful way so it’s risky to rely on them as an indicator of water imperviousness.
However, much of the industry agree that, when used in good faith, these terms mean slightly different things.
What it Means to Be Waterproof
To be waterproof, it’s generally accepted that you need to be impervious to water for an indefinite amount of time. To put it simply—a waterproof electronic device should be able to be submerged in water until the end of time. When it eventually stops functioning, it wouldn’t be because water seeped into the internal electronics of the device.
If you’re asking yourself if this kind of device exists, then you might find that there isn’t an easy answer. The industry measures water resistance more than it measures waterproofness. We use the IP code system to measure the degree of resistance a device has. To date, the highest-rated smartphone is IP68, which still limits its exposure to submersion in water to 30 minutes. With that said, it’s so much more accurate, when referring to electronics, to use the term water-resistant. We can delegate waterproof to rubber rain jackets and things like submarines.
What it Means to be Water Resistant
Bear in mind that these two terms are similar to saying a sandwich is “natural” or “fresh”. There’s a lot of wiggle room within these terms and, based on the scruples of the individual describing them, they can be of staggeringly different levels of quality because there is no governing body regulating the terms.
While water resistance isn’t exactly as thrown around, it’s still just a turn-of-phrase that can be used for good or evil depending on the manufacturer. As a consumer, you’re far better off understanding IP Codes and what they stand for.
Look for a Device that is IP67 & Higher
Today, most electronics that tout themselves as water-resistant have an IP rating of IP67. When understanding IP codes, you need to look at each digit, which is its own measurement. The first digit in an IP code measures the “ingress of solid foreign objects” (ie. dust and dirt). A rating of “6” is as high as you can go to protect a device against particulates.
The second digit measures “liquid ingress protection” (ie. water, be it from the pool or your toilet). With liquid ingress, the highest rating is “9k”, which protects a device against “powerful high-temperature water jets”. Most smartphones measure in at “7”, which equates to immersion up to 1m depth for up to 30 minutes. A few devices have an “8” rating, which is immersion beyond 1m depth for up to 30 minutes.
What is the Apple Watch Rated?
The Apple Watch clocks in at IP67, which is a perfectly adequate water resistance rating for showering and getting caught in the rain. If you’re an avid swimmer or planning a beach party or pool party, then you may want to take off the Apple Watch until you’re done.
Could the Apple Watch survive a swim in the pool? Probably—but why would you want to test it? It’s rated for up to 30 minutes of submersion in up to 1 meter of water. That pool party could fit those constraints. But after a couple of beers, a few cannonballs here and there you could potentially exceed the Apple Watch’s limits without realizing.
At the end of the day, Apple designed a watch that can adequately wet from day-to-day use. It works perfectly well for those purposes. However, it’s good to know that there is a clear distinction between the Apple Watch Series 1 and the rest of the family.
Apple Series 1 Water Resistance
Apple makes no grand claims about the Apple Watch Series 1’s water resistance. They tout it as “splash proof”, and that’s about as far as you should take it. Don’t fret a downpour, but don’t take it to a pool party.
Apple Watch Series 2 & Beyond
The Apple Watch Series 2 profoundly changed its water resistance by allowing the device to be submerged up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. Apple backs up this claim in their marketing materials. Feel free to bring these devices into the water for “shallow water actives”, as Apple likes to call it. But long, hazy days at the beach or pool might exceed its limitations.
How Does the Apple Watch Stand Up to Salt Water?
According to Apple, the Apple Watch isn’t significantly affected by saltwater. However, they recommend that only the Apple Watch Series 2 and newer be used for “shallow-water activities”. While the IP Rating of the Apple Watch Series 1 is the same as the rest of the family but doesn’t seem to have the same robust waterproofing features as the rest.
Apple Watch Waterproof Features
Apple’s engineers had to get creative when they designed the Apple Watch Series 2 and its newer counterparts to be not just splash-proof like the Series 1, but water-resistant for up to 30 minutes. Keeping water out of a handheld electronic device isn’t easy, so how did they accomplish it?
Apple calls their material a “waterproofing membrane” while the rest of us might refer to them as rubber gaskets—you know, the same stuff that keeps water in your fancy water bottle or keeps the water from spraying from the wrong part of your shower head. But however you cut it, Apple engineers have shut the internals of the Apple Watch tightly against incoming water.
The coolest waterproofing feature of the Apple Watch is something known as “water lock”. Apple will turn this feature on any time you open a fitness app on the watch. You can also manually turn on water locks from the control center.
While water lock itself doesn’t make your Apple Watch any more waterproof, it disables your watch face to ensure it doesn’t accidentally activate while you’re swimming or working out. However, once you exit “water lock”, your Apple Watch will emit a high-pitch frequency that will eject any water that may be sitting inside of your microphone or speakers.
Best Practices for the Apple Watch
While the Apple Watch is water-resistant, Apple recommends that you follow some best practices to keep your Apple Watch free of water. The company is refreshingly frank about the water-resistance of their devices. They haven’t claimed to have created a miracle device. Instead, they market their watch as water-resistant as a means of making our busy lives easier. The Apple Watch is not an accessory for your next scuba dive or even your snorkel adventure.
Limit Exposure to Water
If you have an Apple Watch Series 1, Apple doesn’t recommend you expose your watch to any water beyond the odd splash here and there.
For those of us with the Apple Watch Series 2 and beyond, exposure to “shallow-water activities” is fine. Apple says short trips in the pool or the ocean are fine, but the water should be cleaned off of your Apple Watch right after. While showering with your Apple Watch is probably okay assuming you take care to follow the next rule.
Do Not Expose Watch to Detergents, Lotions, or Perfumes
Apple notably mentions that you should not get any soap, detergent, shampoo, lotion, or perfume on your device, as it could degrade the waterproofing membrane applied to your device. A good rule of thumb—if it’s not good, clean water, don’t get it on your Apple Watch.
Dry Off Your Apple Watch Thoroughly and Clear Water from Speakers & Microphone
After your Apple Watch has gotten wet, dry it off with a lint-free towel. If you have an Apple Watch Series 2 or newer, then ensure you use the “water eject” feature on your Apple Watch (this will occur after you leave ‘water lock’) that emits a high frequency to clear your watch of any remaining water.
Waterproof Isn’t a Challenge
At the end of the day, it’s good to remember that waterproof isn’t meant to be a challenge. Apple has waterproofed their devices so consumers can more easily use them in their day-to-day lives. If you attempt to test the limits of your water-resistant Apple Watch, you may find it surprising that you easily find them. There’s a lot that your Apple Watch can do, but it’s best to keep it away from water as much as you can no matter how tempting it may be to test it against its water-resistant rating.