iPhone 7: How Waterproof Is It?

There are plenty of things to love about Apple’s brand-new iPhone 7. Like its impressive camera, its stereo speakers, and its sleek new colorways. Or, more practically, the fact that the iPhone 7 is water-resistant. (Which is handy if you have kids, spend a lot of time at the pool, or are simply accident-prone.) But as plenty of smartphones boast water resistance or waterproofing, the details get confusing.

The real-life implications of IP ratings are never quite so straightforward as they seem. And we all know that dunk tests, while fun, aren’t necessarily a good indicator of real-world performance, either. So how waterproof is the new iPhone 7? What does water-resistant mean? And how much water can the device really handle? Read on for all the answers.

What’s the difference between water-resistant and waterproof? Which one is the iPhone 7?

Apple employees greet customers as they arrive to buy the new Apple iPhone 7

How waterproof is the iPhone 7? It’s actually water-resistant, and there’s a big difference between the two terms | KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

The iPhone 7 is water-resistant, so that means that you can drop in the pool or spill your morning coffee all over it without incident, right? Wrong. There’s a big difference between water-resistant and waterproof. (And the iPhone 7 is the former, not the latter.) With a truly waterproof phone, you could take your phone to the pool and snap some underwater photos. But with a water-resistant phone, you probably shouldn’t rely on the device to withstand much more than some splashes. That’s in no small part because Apple won’t cover water damage under the iPhone 7’s warranty.

The iPhone 7 uses a re-engineered enclosure to make the device water-resistant. Apple explains that the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus were tested under “controlled laboratory conditions” with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529. (But the company also warns that resistance can decrease as a result of normal wear.) An IP67 rating for water resistance means that the device is technically capable of working one meter (or 3.3 feet) underwater for up to 30 minutes. But as Antonio Villas-Boas reports for Business Insider, “you’re better off keeping it out of water when you can” if you don’t want to deal with expensive repairs that aren’t covered by the warranty.

In other words, water resistance is enough to protect your iPhone from accidental spills and drops. But you shouldn’t treat water resistance as a feature, like you might if the device featured guaranteed waterproofing. As Villas-Boas writes, “If it were water PROOF, the phone could potentially go a lot deeper and last a lot longer under water. But it’s not, so don’t take it diving.”

How does water resistance work on the iPhone 7?

man visits the Apple Store

So the iPhone 7 is water-resistant, not waterproof. But how does the technology work? | Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Now that we’re clear on what you can and can’t do with your new water-resistant iPhone 7, you might be wondering exactly how this works. Sean Hollister reports for CNET that smartphones have many gaps that can let water in. (Every port, every button, every speaker grille, and every microphone hole. Plus the gap between the rim of the phone and its screen.) Glass screens are an especially big problem, since manufacturers can’t permanently attach them to the phone’s frame.

So typically, manufacturers use glue-like substances — in the form of gaskets, seals, tapes, and adhesives — to create an airtight seal. But a few parts of the phone aren’t completely sealed. Speakers and microphones need air to enter and leave the device. Typically, water-resistant phones use fine mesh to keep water out of the speaker and microphone. (Which works thanks to water’s cohesion and surface tension.) Some phones, including the iPhone 7, also add a water-resistant, breathable fabric membrane to let air through and equalize the pressure.

But as Hollister reports, there’s no such thing as a truly, permanently waterproof phone. With enough pressure, water can still travel through. Water with added chemicals, like salt, further complicate things. Phones with specific IP ratings are tested to see whether they can withstand droplets of fresh water, jets of fresh water, and gentle submersion in a few feet of water for a prolonged period of time. IP ratings have nothing to do with whether you can use a device underwater, drop it into water instead of gently submerging it, or splash it with other kinds of liquid. They also don’t guarantee that your phone will survive water after sustaining some wear and tear.

What can (and can’t) you do with the iPhone 7?

People buy the new iPhone's at an Apple store

What can, and can’t, you do with a water-resistant iPhone 7? | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

So what kinds of encounters with water can, and can’t, the iPhone 7 withstand? Apple has an entire list of things you should avoid doing with the newest iPhone. To avoid liquid damage — which the company reminds us is not covered under warranty — Apple says that you should avoid:

  • Swimming or bathing with iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus
  • Exposing iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus to pressurized water or high velocity water, such as when showering, water skiing, wake boarding, surfing, jet skiing, and so on
  • Using iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus in a sauna or steam room
  • Intentionally submerging iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus in water
  • Operating iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus outside the suggested temperature ranges or in extremely humid conditions
  • Dropping iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus or subjecting it to other impacts
  • Disassembling iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, including removing screws

Apple advises minimizing your phone’s exposure to soap, detergent, acids and acidic foods, and any other liquids. If your iPhone does have a run-in with water or another liquid, Apple advises drying it thoroughly, leaving it in a dry area with some airflow, and allowing at least five hours before charging it or connecting a Lightning accessory. Again, Apple’s warranty doesn’t cover water damage. Which may (and probably should) inform how adventurous you are with your new iPhone 7.