Everything You Need to Know About How Tarps Are Made

How is a tarp made? The process varies, and it all comes down to the type of tarps you’re looking at. Find out everything you need to know about how the different types of tarps are made and why tarps shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

Canvas Tarps

Canvas tarps are made from cotton. The process starts with the cotton threads that are woven on looms to form the sheets that will become the tarp. An untreated tarp finds the woven material going onto rolls and heading to the machines that will cut it into the right sections.

Not all canvas tarps are untreated. Some are coated in materials that provide the protective coating that makes them water-resistant. This coating is often a mix of oils and wax. There are also flame-retardant canvas tarps.

A flame-retardant canvas tarp will not catch fire as easily. Untreated canvas tarps are treated with a chemical mixture that often contains bromine or polyethylene.

Canvas tarps are durable and they help with many household or industrial tasks. An untreated canvas tarp is a great dust cover or protective cover when you’re painting inside your home. When you’re done, you can toss it into the wash for quick cleanup.

Fire-retardant tarps are great for camping. You can have a canopy to sit under a short distance from a campfire or grill and not have to worry about a sudden spark triggering a major fire.

Water-resistant tarps have a coating that keeps things below them from getting wet. Canvas tarps that have this coating are often used for tents.

Clear PVC Curtains

Clear PVC tarps are crafted from 20-mil thick PVC plastic. They’re ideal for tent walls, patio enclosures, or construction site enclosures where it’s important to be able to see out of them or to allow natural light in.

To make clear PVC curtain tarps, clear plastic pellets are fed into a hopper and heated. The melted plastic is extruded into a line that feeds into rollers. Those rollers press it out to the desired thickness before it passes through a system that stretches it out to its final form. Once it’s the right thickness, it’s rolled up and readied to be cut into the sections that will form the final tarp.

To finish the clear PVC curtains, the PVC rolls are cut to the appropriate size. Hems are added and finished with a two-inch wide white polypropylene hem. Grommets are added once the hem is in place.

Iron Horse Tarps

An Iron Horse tarp starts out as a heavy-duty polyester sheet. Like other tarps, plastic pellets are melted down, formed into sections that look like rope, and go into presses to be transformed into material that’s the correct width. Once the width is right, it’s sent to the laminating machines that coat both sides of the polyester tarp with silicone.

As Iron Horse tarps are built to last and can stand up to heavy use, they’re ideal for equipment covers, boat/truck/car covers, and protective covers for outdoor furniture. They don’t smell either, so you can also use them as a cover over a patio or deck.

Mesh Tarps

Mesh tarps are perfect for screening in a deck to keep out insects. Air still flows, but bugs can’t get in. Mesh tarps also block some UV rays, which is great if you want to sit outside on the deck and limit your sun exposure.

To make a mesh tarp, plastic pellets are melted down and formed into threads. Those threads are woven to allow spacing for air to pass. Hems are added along with the grommets once the mesh tarp is cut to size.

Poly Tarps

Poly tarps are woven rather than pressed and rolled onto spools or cut into sheets. The process is similar, however. Polyethylene pellets are melted, but extruders create strings that are then pulled into long threads. Those polyester threads are woven together on large looms to weave the plastic fabric. The woven plastic material is laminated on both sides for durability and rolled onto spools.

From those spools, poly tarps can be cut into the appropriate sizes for sale. If a custom size is needed, the materials are joined using seams. All edges are hemmed with heavy-duty hems and grommets are added as the final step. Individual tarps are then packaged for delivery to the customers.

Poly tarps are extremely versatile tarps. You’ll find they’re great for garden clean-up in the fall. Put weeds, leaves, and dead plants on the tarp and pull it to the compost pile. You can use them to cover a leaking roof until roofers can come to make the necessary repairs.

Vinyl Tarps

Use vinyl tarps as divider curtains on a work site, equipment covers, awnings, and non-slip floor covers. In the summer, they make fantastic slip and slides.

Vinyl tarps start as poly tarps, but they’re laminated with a vinyl coating that makes them completely waterproof. Once the coating is set, it can be treated with chemicals that protect against UV damage, too.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Tarp

Tarps come in a range of colors. Sometimes, it won’t matter to you, but if you’re using a tarp as an awning, patio cover, or playground structure, you’ll appreciate getting to match the color to your home décor.

Be aware that water resistance is not the same as waterproofing. Waterproof tarps will not let any water through unless someone punctures them. Water-resistant tarps repel as much water as they can, but they can become waterlogged in heavy rains and allow some water to get through.

You’ll often find that tarps are sold in standard sizes. At Chicago Canvas, most tarps start at 5′ x 7’. They are also available in custom sizes, so you can get a tarp as large as you need. If you’re looking for a tarp that can cover both sides of your roof at the same time, it’s possible with a custom size.

Pay close attention to cut size vs. finish size. This often trips people up. The cut size is the size of the tarp material before hems and seams are added. Finish size is the size of the tarp after the hems, seams, and grommets are in place. Finish size is often around three inches per side smaller. If you’ve ordered a 6’ x 6’ cut size tarp, it may be 5’ 9” x 5’ 9” as a finish size tarp. If you don’t order the right size, you’ll end up disappointed.

Could you use help choosing the best tarp for your indoor or outdoor project? The experts at Chicago Canvas & Supply are happy to help. Let us know what you’re planning to do with a tarp and we’ll walk you through your options. Plus, many of our tarps are available in custom sizes, which is helpful when common sizes aren’t quite right. Reach us online or by phone at 1-866-389-2218.