Best Tarps

Updated July 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

31 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
465 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best tarps

Last Updated July 2020

A tarp is a simple yet versatile item. You can use it to cover a boat, car, piece of machinery, or even a woodpile. You can use it for yard work or as a makeshift tent while camping. A tarp can keep you dry when your roof fails, protect your truck bed from whatever you’re hauling, and keep paint off the floor when you’re painting your interior walls.

You may be surprised at the number of choices you have when shopping for a tarp. From size and thickness to material, color, and durability, selecting the right tarp for the job is a job in itself! This buying guide introduces you to the various features and other considerations to keep in mind. For example, we’ll help you determine whether you should buy a tarp made of polyethylene, canvas, or vinyl. We’ll present you with the facts on reinforced stitching, grommets, and average tarp costs so you can get the best deal.

If you’d like some product recommendations, we offer those, too. Read on to get the latest and best information about buying a great tarp for your needs.

While canvas is water-resistant, it may not be waterproof. Water that is allowed to pool in a canvas tarp will often lead to leaking.

Key considerations

Material

Polyethylene: The majority of tarps on the market are made of polyethylene, a type of plastic. Polyethylene is an affordable material that is naturally rainproof and usually treated to resist UV rays. While not extremely durable, you can find these tarps in a wide range of colors and sizes.

Canvas: Canvas is pricier than polyethylene but not naturally rainproof. It is a rugged and long-lasting material. A big plus: canvas tarps are nonslip, making them the go-to choice if you need a tarp you can walk on.

Vinyl: Thicker and heavier than polyethylene tarps, vinyl tarps are long-lasting and can hold up to a fairly extreme degree of abuse.

Size

If you’re like the majority of tarp buyers, you have a specific use in mind. That use dictates the size you need. For example, if you’re searching for a tarp to cover a boat, you will want one large enough to fit the boat’s dimensions but not so large that there are yards of difficult-to-secure material left over.

The majority of retailers stock tarps in a wide range of sizes. Your best bet is to do some measuring before you start shopping. Add a few inches extra to your final measurements just to be safe.

Thickness

A tarp’s thickness is measured in mils. The greater the number of mils, the thicker and heavier the tarp will be. While a thicker tarp can be bulky and difficult to transport, it will also be more durable and resistant to rips and tears.

Tarp thickness starts around 5 to 8 mils for lightweight tarps and reaches 16 to 24 mils for extremely heavy-duty tarps.

Durability

Durability is another important factor to consider when choosing a tarp, and we’re not just talking about rip-resistance. The best tarps can withstand abuse from a wide range of sources, including the following.

UV rays: The sun can be brutal on tarps. However, some tarps are treated to resist UV rays, which helps keep them from fading and breaking down over time. This is particularly important for tarps used outdoors.

Water: Any tarp exposed to the elements is going to endure some rain. In northern climates, snow is also a possibility. Tarps may be either water-resistant or waterproof. If your tarp will be used outside, a waterproof product is more desirable than a water-resistant product. Check the label for specifics.

Mildew and mold: Moisture and heat create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, so it’s no surprise that tarps exposed to the elements may be susceptible to both. Mold and mildew can not only break down a tarp, they can also create health problems, particularly for those with respiratory issues. To combat potential problems, select a tarp that has been treated to resist mold and mildew growth.

Fire: Some tarps, particularly canvas ones, may be treated with a fire retardant to keep them from easily burning. For tarps used around hot machinery or as tents or awnings, this is a particularly desirable feature.

EXPERT TIP

Using a tarp in the winter? Go with a vinyl tarp, which can often withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees°F without weakening or breaking down.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Color

Tarps are available in a range of colors. The question is, do you want something that stands out or blends in? A bright color like red draws attention, whereas a natural color like forest green becomes almost invisible outside. Some tarps are the same color on both sides, while others offer different colors, so you can select which color to show.

Much like size, sellers often provide a range of color choices. Give some thought to what color you want (or if it even matters to you) before you shop.

Reinforced stitching

Reinforced stitching on the edges or corners of a tarp provides extra protection for the areas that take the most abuse. If you need a tarp for more than simply covering furniture in a spare room, consider opting for one with reinforced stitching.

Grommets

Grommets are the little metal rings along the outer edge of a tarp. On most tarps, these are standard. Grommets allow you to securely tie down a load. If you’re taking your tarp on the road, you will probably want one with grommets.

Brass grommets are the strongest grommets you will find. Grommets made of other materials, such as aluminum, are also available. A tarp with a large number of grommets spaced closely together on the outside edge is a versatile investment, as it provides you with plenty of options for securing it.

DID YOU KNOW?

Used to measure tarp thickness, a mil is equivalent to 1/1,000 of an inch.

Tarp prices

Tarps start under $10 and can reach $100 or more. The average tarp costs $20 to $35.

Inexpensive: Inexpensive tarps tend to be simple polyethylene sheets that are fairly compact, usually under 10 x 10 feet. These inexpensive tarps sell for less than $20 and are suitable for light indoor use.

Mid-range: As price goes up, you will find more rugged tarps. Tarps in the $20 to $35 range tend to be larger, heavier, and thicker. They often feature better waterproofing, UV-resistance, and resistance to mold and mildew.

Expensive: The priciest tarps cost greater than $35 and are large, heavy-duty items made from a range of materials, from polyethylene to vinyl to canvas. Tarps closer to the $100 mark are often used for emergency roofing repairs and to protect materials and equipment while on the road.

EXPERT TIP

The closer together the grommets on a tarp are, the stronger and more secure it will be.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Check the length. Because some tarps are measured before the edges are hemmed, the advertised length may be several inches shorter than the actual length. Read the product literature carefully to make sure you’re getting what you want.
  • Focus about durability. While polyethylene tarps are widely available, they may not be the best choice if you’ll be exposing your tarp to severe cold or sun. Under these conditions, polyethylene tarps tend to break down sooner than other tarp types.
  • Choose cool colors. If you’re using a tarp as a tent or awning, go with a silver or white one, as these colors will help to block out the sun and keep everything underneath the tarp cooler.
  • Consider brass grommets. If the ability to tie down your tarp is a primary consideration, try to find one with brass grommets. They’ll be more durable than grommets made of another material, like aluminum.
  • Consider camo. Some polyethylene tarps are available in a camouflage pattern that can be used during hunting, either to hide the hunter or to shelter the hunter from the elements.
  • Shade with mesh. Some tarps are made of mesh, which can be handy to use as a shade cloth for plants or as a way to shield pets from the sun in an outdoor kennel.
  • Use canvas when painting. Because of its nonslip qualities when wet, a canvas tarp is the best choice to use as a dropcloth on floors or other surfaces when painting.
Invest in a tarp for leaf-raking season. You’ll save time by raking the leaves onto the tarp and moving them as a unit across your yard.

FAQ

Q. What should I consider if I want the strongest water protection in a tarp?
A.
A “water-resistant” tarp can protect what is underneath it, but only to an extent. If you need to safeguard an item against all moisture, opt for a waterproof tarp rather than a water-resistant one. Note that polyethylene tarps are naturally waterproof, while canvas tarps are merely water-resistant, unless the canvas has been treated with a special waterproofing compound.


Q. How strong of a tarp do I need?
A.
Tarps are made in a range of strengths that can be divided into three categories: standard, medium, and heavy-duty strength.

Standard tarps sport a light design and are generally best for use in temporary situations, such as shielding an item from dust. These tarps should only be used indoors.

Medium tarps are for heavy-duty work. This is the type of tarp you’d use to cover a boat, a piece of machinery, or another stationary item. Medium tarps may be used indoors and out.

Heavy-duty tarps are the strongest tarps. This is the type of tarp you’d use to cover a roof or secure a load in the back of a truck.


Q. Are the number of grommets on a tarp important?
A
. Yes, but perhaps not as important as the degree of space between grommets. This space affects your ability to secure items beneath the tarp. Grommets vary in spacing from 18 to 36 inches, depending on the tarp. The shorter the distance between grommets, the easier it will be to tie down the tarp and secure it.

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The team that worked on this review
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    Senior Editor
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