Water-resistant vs Water-repellent vs Waterproof: What’s the Difference?

We all see references to waterproof materials, water resistant materials and water repellant materials being thrown around on products. The big question is: What’s the difference? There are a lot of articles written on this topic, but we figured we would throw in our two-cents as well and take a closer look at the differences between all three terms, with specific focus on the world of materials.

First of all, let’s start with some quick definitions of all three terms, as given by the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Water-resistant: able to resist the penetration of water to some degree but not entirely
  • Water-repellent: not easily penetrated by water, especially as a result of being treated for such a purpose with a surface coating
  • Waterproof: impervious to water

1.  Water-resistant, this is the lowest level of water protection of the three. If a material is labeled as water-resistant it means that the material itself may be treated in such a way that it is more difficult for water to get inside of it, or possibly that it is coated with a very light substance that helps improve the material’s chances of surviving an encounter with water. Water-resistant is something you see commonly among watches, giving it the power to withstand the average hand-washing or light rain shower.

2. Water-repellent, which is basically just a step up from water-resistant. If a material is labeled as water-repellent it actually possesses the properties in which to, you guessed it, repel water from it, making it hydrophobic. A water-repellent device stands a very high chance of being coated with some form of thin-film nanotechnology, whether that is on the inside, outside, or both, and has a much better chance of standing up to water than your average material. Many companies claim water-repellency, but the term is heavily debated because of all the questions and unpredictable elements associated with it.

3. Waterproof. Although the definition is pretty straightforward, the concept behind it is not. Currently, there is no established industry standard in order for a material to classify as waterproof. The closest thing currently available, as far as a rating scale is concerned, is the Ingress Protection Rating scale (or IP Code). This scale assigns items a rating from 0-8 in terms of how effective the material is at keeping water from entering into it.

Using the term waterproof can also be considered a risky move for many companies. This is because the term waterproof usually communicates the idea that this is a permanent condition, and that whatever has been ‘waterproofed’ will never fail due to contact with water–no matter the situation.

With all the controversy surrounding the correct use and end results associated with these terms, it’s no wonder that they are often not used incorrectly. It’s also not surprising that the products labeled as water-resistant, water-repellent, or waterproof are often misrepresented due to an incorrect use of labeling. With how far technology has come since these terms were first being used, the words themselves almost need new definitions.


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