How to Keep Tarps Clean & How to Care For Your Tarp

A tarp’s longevity depends on how well you treat it. Keep it dirty and wet and it’s going to wear quickly. Chicago Canvas can help you maximize your tarp’s life by directing you to the right tarp for the job. That’s an important step in getting the longest life out of a new tarp.

How long does a tarp last? It depends on the type of tarp. A canvas tarp that’s cared for can last years. An Iron Horse poly tarp could last decades if it’s treated with care. Clear PVC tarps also last a very long time with proper care.

How Do You Clean a Tarp?

Tarp care is easier than you might think, but you need to know what kind of tarp you own in order to clean it correctly. An untreated canvas tarp is not cleaned the same as a canvas tarp. A poly tarp is also cleaned differently to a canvas one.

The first step involved in cleaning a tarp is to look it over and determine the type of tarp. Once you know that, you need to look up the best way to clean them.

Fire Retardant Canvas Tarps

A canvas tarp treated with a fire retardant agent shouldn’t be washed using bleach, starch, or fabric softeners. If you do, you remove some or all of that fire retardant coating and would need to invest in products that reapply the fire retardant coating. Fire retardant canvas tarps must be washed carefully in water that does not lead to mineral build-up. This means no hard water.

The detergent used must be gentle and fragrance-free, and you need to use cool or warm water. Never use hot water. Line dry the tarp. Once it’s completely dry, fold it and store it until it’s needed again.

Talk to distributors like DuPont about specially formulated detergents that are designed to wash fire retardant fabrics. Products like CitroSqueeze remove soot, grime, and smoke from fire retardant tarps without harming the fire retardant coating.

Mesh Tarps

Mesh tarps are easily hand-washed. Use a large bucket or kitchen sink to wash them in mild dish soap. You can soak it to help loosen pollen, dust, and dirt. Rinse the tarp thoroughly and dry it on a laundry line.

Poly, PVC, or Vinyl Tarps

Poly, PVC, and vinyl tarps are also easy to clean. Use mild soap as your cleaner. Blue Dawn dish soap is a good choice when it comes to dish soap. You’ve probably heard how it’s a first choice for removing oil from the wings of birds after an oil spill. It’s also effective at removing grime from tarps.

Apply a little and spray with the hose to create the sudsy solution. Let the soap solution sit on the tarp for 10 to 15 minutes. At that point, use a soft brush or sponge to loosen stuck-on dirt and grime. Try not to walk all over the tarp while you wash it. If you have a pool brush on the telescoping handle, your back will appreciate it. Be gentle washing around the grommets.

After scrubbing the tarp, Rinse thoroughly. Dry it on a clothesline or flat on a clean, paved driveway. Make sure both sides are dry before folding it and storing it until it’s needed again.

Untreated Canvas Tarp

Untreated canvas tarps are the easiest to clean. Toss them into your washing machine with a gentle laundry detergent. Dry them in the clothes dryer or on a laundry line. Once dried, you can fold and store them.

No matter which tarp you have, it has to be completely dry before you store it. Most tarps resist mildew, but mildew still can form if you’re not careful. If you fold up a wet tarp, mildew may form while the tarp is in storage. If it’s dry, you don’t have to worry about mold or mildew growing.

The other reason you want it completely dry is that if you store a wet tarp over the winter in a shed that gets very cold, it can damage the tarp. Not all poly, PVC, or vinyl tarps are designed for below zero temperatures and icy build-up.

Proper Tarp Care

In addition to cleaning your tarp, you need to make sure it’s cared for. A damaged tarp isn’t useful. It allows water through. It won’t offer the protection you expect of it. These four steps ensure proper tarp care.

#1 – Repair Rips and Tears

After the tarp is washed and dried, check it carefully for rips. A canvas patch kit or canvas repair tape repairs a canvas tarp. A vinyl repair kit repairs vinyl tarps. If you have a mesh or poly tarp, there are mesh tarp repair kits and poly repair tape, too. Vinyl cement is also useful in fixing many types of tarps. Allow the repair time to cure properly.

If you’ve repaired a water-resistant canvas tarp, make sure the repair is treated to keep water out. A product like Canvak is an important part of your repair.

#2 – Remove and Replace Broken or Torn Grommets

Is the tarp missing grommets? Get a grommet kit to fix them. You may need tin snips to remove the old grommet. If the hole is frayed, canvas, poly, mesh, or vinyl repair tape can fix the hole and allow a new grommet to be affixed.

Grommet kits work on canvas, mesh, poly, PVC, and vinyl tarps. They’re easy to use. Use the hole cutter to cut a hole. Set the grommet on top of the wood block and put the bottom of the grommet in the holder. Place the top part of the grommet on the grommet tool and position it so that it lines up with the bottom. Use a hammer to secure both sides together.

#3 – Fold and Store Until Needed

Once the tarp repairs are made, fold the tarp into half lengthwise. Keep folding it until it’s in a compact square. Tuck that into a plastic storage container that mice will not chew their way into. If you place the tarp in a bag or leave it in the open, mice may chew it up for nesting material. You’ll end up with large holes that are hard to repair. A plastic container prevents mice from damaging the tarp.

#4 – Use the Tarp Properly

When you buy a new tarp, make sure you purchase the right tarp for your needs. You wouldn’t use an untreated canvas tarp outside where it gets wet. You wouldn’t use a mesh tarp to keep your firewood dry in the winter.

Get the right size. Tarps may be cut size or finish size. They are not the same. Cut size doesn’t have the final seams and hems added. The size difference between a cut size and finish size tarp can be a few inches per side. If you get a tarp to fit on your truck bed and it’s a few inches too small, you might try to stretch it to fit and end up ripping it.

If you use the tarp incorrectly, it can shorten its life. If you are uncertain what tarp you need, call Chicago Canvas. Our experts are happy to discuss your options and sizing. We also offer many of our tarps in custom sizes.