Best Types of Tarps for Sun Protection

By the time you’re 70, there’s a 20% chance that you’ll have skin cancer. Every day, close to 10,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer. The more sunburns you’ve had in your lifetime, the higher the risk. The best way to avoid skin cancer is by using sunscreen, wearing clothing that covers the skin, and sitting in the shade.

Anyone who sits outside for periods of more than 10 to 15 minutes should invest in tarps for sun protection. Tarps provide shade, which can lower the risk of developing skin cancer. They also extend the amount of time you can spend outside on rainy days. Before you purchase a tarp to cover a play area, deck, or patio, make sure you’re choosing the right type of tarp.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Tarp for Sun Protection

Think about what you want from your sunshade. You want it to be waterproof rather than water-resistant. You wonder about its durability. You might want to avoid having that strong chemical smell of a vinyl or plastic tarp. You might want to be sure you have a tarp that withstands the sun’s intense rays.

Do you live in a region where rainy days are just as common as sunny ones? Or, are you in a climate where it hardly ever rains? That will impact your decision as water-resistant tarps may not stand up to heavy rains. If spring weather goes from being 80 degrees Fahrenheit one day to snowing and icy a day later, you need a tarp that can handle rapid temperature changes.

Tarps often list their weight. That weight is per yard. If the tarp says 10 ounces, it means one yard of this tarp weighs 10 ounces. That’s important when considering how much weight your pergola or framing can handle.

Create your checklist of the most important features, and compare them to these options for the best tarps for sunshades.

Canvas Tarps

Canvas tarps are popular in outdoor applications. They’re not always the best choice for awnings as the coating can stain items below them, but there is one canvas tarp worth your consideration.

If your outdoor space has a fire pit or patio heater nearby, consider a fire retardant tarp. It’s only water-resistant rather than waterproof, but it’s treated with a flame retardant coating to help prevent a fire. It only comes in olive, so you don’t get a choice of colors.


  • Fire retardant
  • 16-ounce lightweight, breathable cotton
  • Resists mildew and condensation

Iron Horse Tarps

Iron Horse is a waterproof tarp that’s twice as strong as a canvas tarp. The 15-ounce tarp has a dry finish in seven colors, so it’s easy to match the tarp to your gardens or siding. In addition to custom sizing, you can get the tarp in cut sizes ranging from 5′ x 7′ to 30′ x 30′.


  • Dry finish with no odor
  • Breathable waterproof polyester
  • Double thick hems won’t rip or tear

Heavy-Duty Poly Tarps

Like canvas tarps, heavy-duty poly tarps are only water-resistant. They also resist mildew and are one of the most lightweight options here at 6 ounces. The reason we’ve included it is because it is UV resistant. In addition to not weighing as much as the other tarps we love for sun protection, the sun isn’t going to damage the tarp over time.

The size is another reason this tarp may be your best choice. If you have a larger space to cover, the max size of 30′ x 50′ is appealing.


  • 12 sizes starting from 8′ x 10′
  • Lightweight but durable
  • Neutral silver color

Vinyl-Coated Polyester

Vinyl-coated polyester tarps are heavy and durable. The 18-ounce weight stands up to abrasion and won’t tear, but it is the heaviest of these options. Seams are heat-sealed for durability. This tarp is waterproof, resists mildew, and comes in nine colors.

These tarps are available in custom sizes and cut sizes ranging from 5′ x 7′ to 10′ x 20′. As this is a vinyl tarp, it can have a chemical, plastic smell that diminishes over time.


  • Good selection of colors
  • Increased thickness for durability
  • UV coating protects the tarp from sun damage

Tips for Installing a Sunshade

Once you’ve chosen the right sunshade tarp, how do you install it? What’s most straightforward is to tie each corner of the tarp to a tree or post. If you can do that, it’s easy to put the tarp up on a sunny day and take it down when it’s not needed. You may not have trees close enough, so you would need to put in some posts.

If you use posts, you want them secured in the ground and not at risk of toppling. This set-up can be your best choice if you have a patio you want to cover. For a durable, permanent structure, build a pergola over the patio and cover it with a tarp when needed.

A pergola is a solid structure, but it is also attractive and adds to your landscaping and home design. If you have basic knowledge, some help, and power tools, you can build a pergola in a couple of days using these guidelines.

  • Get four 6″ x6″ posts for the corners (cedar or pressure-treated)
  • Connect two 2″ x 8″ boards to the front and back top of two posts and repeat for the pergola’s other side.
  • Notch eight or ten 2″ x 6″ boards about 10 inches from each end to make the purlins.
  • Evenly space the purlins horizontally across the two pergola sides and hammer the notches over the 2″ x 8″ sides to form the ceiling structure.
  • Finish the pergola with 2″ x 4″ stringers that are screwed to the purlins.

Secure the pergola to your deck or patio using post anchors. You’ll screw the post anchors into the concrete or onto the deck framing. It’s a vital step if you want to keep the frame from blowing over on windy days.

What about a deck? One of the simpler ways to cover a deck is by installing hooks on the home’s siding. Heavy-duty Command hooks designed for outdoors eliminate the need to drill or nail anything into the home’s siding. At the front of the deck, secure posts to the front deck rail that the tarp extends to. A pressurized shower bar between the two front posts provides a sturdy beam to connect the entire edge of the tarp to.

Is your tarp going to block the sun all season long? If that’s the case, it’s worth investing in a canopy tent frame. Look for one made from steel or aluminum that is easy to set up and take down when the season ends.

Make Sure You Get the Measurements Right

You may use sun shades to cover part of your deck or patio or the whole thing. Before you purchase a UV-treated tarp, make sure you have the correct dimensions. Measure your space twice to ensure the lengths and widths come out the same.

Tarps are sold cut size or finished size, and that makes a difference. After hems and seams are added to a cut size tarp, it can take several inches off each side of the tarp. It gets confusing. You have to add extra inches to each of your measurements to allow for this difference.

There’s an easier way to get the sun tarp size for your outdoor space. The tarp experts at Chicago Canvas & Supply make sure you have exactly what you need. We’re happy to discuss your different options and go over custom sizing. Reach out online or call our toll-free number for expert advice.