How Strong is a Tarp?

Tarp strength varies depending on the type of tarp. Because there are so many different types of tarps that the answer to “how strong is a tarp?” isn’t simple. It all comes down to how the tarp is used and what the tarp is made of.

Types of Tarps

To better understand how strong a tarp is, start by understanding how different types of tarps are made. There are six tarp fabrics available.

  • Canvas: Made from 100% cotton and may be untreated or treated to resist water and mildew.
  • Clear PVC: Made from a flexible see-through polyvinyl chloride.
  • Iron Horse: Made from a silicone-treated canvas and polyester combination.
  • Mesh: Made from a vinyl-coated mesh fabric.
  • Poly: Made from woven polyester strands with UV protection.
  • Vinyl: Made from vinyl-coated or vinyl-laminated polyester.

In addition to the different tarp fabrics, they come in different weights. That lends a lot to the strength. A lightweight tarp will not be as strong as an Iron Horse or 18-ounce tarp.

What Factors Give Tarps Their Strength?

What factors determine what makes a tarp strong. There are several important factors.

#1 – Weight

When you look at tarps, you see some listed as 3 or 7-ounce tarps while others are 16 or 18-ounce tarps. What does that weight mean? It’s the weight per square yard. If you took a yard (3 by 3 feet) of that tarp, it would weigh that many ounces. Higher weights can be stronger, but it’s not always the best way to judge.

#2 – Thickness

In addition to the weight, a tarp is a certain number of mils thick. For example, a generic blue tarp is 4 mils thick. A mil is one-thousandth of an inch. To put that into perspective, 4 mils is about the same thickness as a piece of computer paper. A blue poly tarp is about the same thickness of a sheet of paper, but the tarp is stronger because it’s made from woven strands of polyester. That doesn’t mean it’s strong enough to hold pounds of ice and snow without ripping.

What about the other end, what about a clear PVC tarp? That is 20 mils thick. How strong is that type of tarp? A credit card averages around 30 mils thick, so a PVC tarp isn’t as thick. It nearly is though. It’s definitely stronger and durable, and that’s why it’s a good choice for protective plastic barriers. It’s not as likely to rip easily.

#3 – Weave

That’s the weight and thickness covered. There’s one more factor to consider. It’s the weave. A looser weave like mesh tarp won’t hold as much weight as a tightly woven tarp. Canvas tarp is one of the most durable tarps on the market because the cotton is tightly woven. Add the protective coating that makes it water-resistant and it’s not going to tear easily. Iron Horse is one of the strongest tarps on the market. It’s twice as strong as a canvas tarp. If you want a strong tarp that will stand up to frequent use, choose Iron Horse tarps.

#4 – Grommet Placement

To be strong, a tarp needs to be secured over the load or materials it’s protecting. Look for grommets that are placed evenly and aren’t too far apart. Make sure the tarps are spaced at least every two feet.

#5 – UV Protection

Exposure to the sun breaks down the plastic or vinyl over time. If the tarp has been treated to protect from ultraviolet rays, the tarp is protected. It is important to clean and dry the tarp when the tarp isn’t being used. If you leave it outside in the elements 365 days a year, it will break down faster than a tarp that’s cared for.

How Do You Know What a Tarp is Best Used For?

With all of those factors in mind, how do you decide what tarp is best? Is a strong tarp always the best choice? Strength can be important, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

If you’re using the tarp outdoors where it will be exposed to winds, it needs to withstand damage from winds. People in areas where the temperature goes below zero need to have a tarp that won’t freeze and crack in bitterly cold weather.

A vinyl-coated/vinyl-laminated tarp or Iron Horse tarp is going to be waterproof. A poly tarp or some canvas tarps are water-resistant rather than waterproof. They’ll keep water away for a while, but constant exposure to water may lead to leaks. You do have to think about whether waterproof or water-resistant tarps are necessary. Both may be strong, but water can get through, freeze, and lead to damage you may not want to deal with.

Heavy-duty poly tarps withstand freezing temperatures making them a popular choice for covering shed roofs and ice skating rinks. They’re also good for covering firewood. A poly tarp is also a good choice for covering metal, plastic, or glass patio tables during the winter.

Say you need a tarp for an item that cannot get wet, but you also want to avoid condensation during temperature changes. In that case, Iron Horse tarps also offer breathability and waterproof protection. Iron Horse tarps can also withstand colder weather.

Vinyl tarps withstand abrasion, which makes them good choices in windy conditions. The other benefit is that they can be fire retardant and stand up to damage from some chemical spills.

Canvas tarps are strong. They have a wax and oil coating that creates a water-resistant quality. That coating smells and can stain items. You don’t want to use a canvas tarp to cover a car or boat for the winter.

Mesh tarps may not have the strength an Iron Horse or canvas tarp has, but it allows water through. If you’re covering a pool to keep fall leaves and pine needles from getting into the water, a mesh tarp is best.

Clear PVC tarps are one of the best choices for blocking wind. If you have a home that’s not as air-tight as you’d like, a clear PVC tarp is a good cover for a patio door or window during the colder months. It keeps rain and snow from hitting the window, which is helpful if the wooden frame or sill is deteriorating.

Those are some of your strongest tarps. It’s important that the tarp is treated with care. If it’s mistreated, it’s not going to last as long. You spend more money than you would have if you’d taken the time to care for your new tarp.

Properly Care for a Tarp for Optimal Longevity

Tarps are designed to be resilient and stand up to years of use. The key is that you have to care for them by choosing the right type of tarp for the job you need done and maintaining it properly. When the tarp is not in use, make sure it’s clean, dried thoroughly, and stored in a container that keeps rodents from chewing it.

Before you put the tarp away, use a brush, dish soap, and hose to clean it. Let it air dry. If you have a large laundry line, that helps. If not, spread it in a clear area, such as a concrete patio or paved driveway. Make sure both sides are dry and fold it into a square for storage until it’s needed again.

Chicago Canvas & Supply’s experts help you find the right tarp for your needs. Let us know what you plan to use the tarp for, and we’ll help you pick the right product and size. Reach us by phone or email. We also offer free quotes if that’s more convenient.