What’s the Difference Between Waterproof, Water-Resistant, Water Repellent, and Weatherproof?

There are two types of materials in this world: hydrophobic and hydrophilic when it comes to water exposure. Hydrophobic materials are averse to water, while hydrophilic materials welcome water.

While there are some items in your life that you want to be hydrophilic, like your towels or your bath mats, for instance, you probably prefer most of your items that are intended to get wet to be hydrophobic or water averse.

The market for hydrophobic, or water-resistant, items is huge and continually growing as the technology evolves. Regardless of whether you are shopping for a winter jacket or a mobile phone, you probably will be bombarded with claims that the item is waterproof, water-resistant, water repellent, or weatherproof.

It can be challenging to understand the difference between these descriptions and to know which one is right for you, especially since many businesses use them interchangeably and sometimes incorrectly. Below, we’re breaking it down to help you better understand the differences between waterproof, water-resistant, water repellent, and weatherproof.

What Does Waterproof Mean?

Very simply, a waterproof item is water impermeable. Waterproof materials and items are hydrophobic, so when water comes into contact with them, it beads up and rolls off without penetrating the material.

A common question is whether anything can be 100% waterproof. Most everyday items are not technically 100% waterproof. Still, they lie somewhere on a scale of impermeability, meaning they are usually waterproof until they reach a certain point of water volume or water pressure. However, that point is generally so high that you can use your waterproof item for all daily intents and purposes as if it is 100% impenetrable.

An item’s waterproofing has failed when it “wets out” or begins to absorb water. Rating scales, such as the waterproof rating and the IP rating, have been devised to measure how waterproof an item is and at what point you can expect its waterproof qualities to fail.

Waterproof Rating

Items you intend to use outdoors, such as tarps, tents, sleeping bags, and jackets, often have a waterproof rating, measured in millimeters. The waterproof rating measures the maximum level of water and water pressure a particular fabric or item can withstand before water starts seeping through.

To get the waterproof rating, sometimes also known as the hydrostatic head, outdoor gear manufacturers will conduct what is known as a hydrostatic head test.

During the hydrostatic head test, they place a tube over the fabric being tested and filled with water until the fabric “wets out” and water begins to penetrate it and drip through. When this happens, they record the height of the standing water in the tube in millimeters, and this number becomes the waterproof rating assigned to that particular fabric or item.

Waterproof or hydrostatic head ratings lie on a scale of 0->20,000mm. The numbers range widely, but the higher an item’s rating, the more water volume, and water pressure it can withstand.

  • 0mm – 1,500mm: the fabric is water-resistant and can withstand light rain
  • 1,500mm – 5,000mm: the fabric is waterproof in moderately rainy conditions
  • 5,000mm and beyond: the fabric is very waterproof and can withstand prolonged exposure to heavy rain
  • >20,000mm is the highest rating that any fabric can get, essentially impervious to water. For reference, 20,000mm is equal to approximately 65 feet or about a 4-story building.

International Protection or Ingress Protection (IP) Rating

The International Protection or Ingress Protection (IP) rating is used to measure the level to which an electrical device is protected or resistant to foreign bodies such as water and dirt. All electrical devices have an IP rating, and because the rating is internationally recognized, it guarantees that your electronic device will be protected to the same standard regardless of where in the world you buy it.

The IP rating consists of two numbers. The first number in the IP rating is the level of protection against solids. This number can range from 0-6, from the lowest to the highest level of security. 

The second number in the IP rating is the level of protection against liquids. This number can range from 0-8, from the lowest to the highest security level. The lowest level, 0, means the device has no superior protection against liquids, and you should not use it around water. The highest level, 8, suggests that the device is protected against prolonged immersion under pressure and is safe to use around water.

What Does Water-Resistant Mean?

Like waterproof, water resistance is just another term to indicate how water-impermeable an item is. Waterproof items lie on the higher end of impermeability and are more hydrophobic, while water-resistant items lie on the lower end of impermeability and are less hydrophobic.

Water-resistant items can be impermeable to water up until a certain point. However, unlike waterproof items, water-resistant items can withstand less water volume and water pressure before they “wet out.” For example, water-resistant items usually rate up to 1,500 mm on the waterproof or hydrostatic head scale.

Water-resistant items can withstand a splash of water or exposure to a light rain before water begins to seep through. Unlike waterproof items, water-resistant items usually should not be exposed to a lot of water for prolonged periods.

What Does Water Repellent Mean?

While the terms waterproof and water-resistant indicate the measure of how water impermeable or hydrophobic an item is, water repellent is an all-encompassing term that simply indicates that an item is hydrophobic. Waterproof and water-resistant items are both water repellent.

Experts also use the term water repellent in reference to how a material achieves its water impermeability. A water-permeable fabric is treated with chemicals that make it more hydrophobic or water repellent in many cases. In other cases, the way the manufacturer produces the material or the weave of the fabric determines its water repellency level.

For example, Gore-Tex is a trendy waterproof fabric. Gore-Tex produces many of its items with two water repellent layers. They treat an outer layer with durable water repellent (DWR). They then make an inner layer from fabric with millions of pores that are each 20,000 times smaller than a bead of water. This fabric is often referred to as breathable because it prevents water drops from permeating the layer while allowing for smaller water molecules, such as sweat, to evaporate through the layer.

Durable Water Repellent (DWR)

A durable water repellent (DWR) is one type of chemical treatment applied to shoes, clothing, and outdoor gear to make them water repellent. In some cases, an application of DWR can turn a water-resistant item into a waterproof item.

However, DWR does not last forever. As the DWR-treated fabric or material folds or flexes during regular use, the DWR becomes broken down. High-impact items such as tents will lose DWR more quickly than lower-impact items like umbrellas. 

DWR can also become covered by soil, sweat and body oil, campfire residue, and other substances that your outdoor gear may come into contact with. These substances are hydrophilic or water-absorbing and challenge the DWRs ability to do its job, which is why it is essential to keep your water-resistant and waterproof items clean.

To preserve DWR, you should clean your items with non-detergent soap wash, as detergents can leave a hydrophilic residue behind. And don’t worry, you don’t have to throw your gear out as the DWR wears down. DWR can be reapplied as often as needed, usually as a spray or in the wash.

What Does Weatherproof Mean?

Weatherproof is an inclusive term that means that an item or fabric will protect against extreme weather elements, such as wind, freezing temperatures, snow, and even rain to some extent.

Weatherproof items can be water repellent, but they are not waterproof. They are also typically not designed solely with water exposure in mind. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect weatherproof items to be exposed directly to water for a prolonged time.

There are no official ratings to measure how weatherproof an item is, meaning that businesses can stick that label on anything to make it more appealing to consumers.

Quick Comparison

Now that we’ve gone in-depth about each of these categories, let’s look at a general comparison between them.


  • The most water repellent option
  • Highly waterproof items can withstand being submerged or used in a downpour without failing
  • Best option for items that you will often expose to water for prolonged periods


  • Less water repellent than waterproof items
  • Can withstand puddles, splashes of water, and light rain without failing
  • Best option for daily use items that will occasionally come into contact with light to moderate amounts of water


  • Resistant to the elements, such as wind, snow, low temperatures
  • Can repel water to a point, but not waterproof
  • No way to measure how weatherproof something is
  • Best option to protect against cold, windy, or snowy days

The Last Drop

There you have it. You now can tell the difference between waterproof, water-resistant, water repellent, and weatherproof. Remember, water repellent is an all-encompassing term that just means that something is hydrophobic or water averse. Water repellent can also describe the technique used to make something more impermeable to water. Waterproof, water-resistant, and weatherproof are just different measures of how water repellent an item or a material is.