Read This Before You Purchase a Cheap Big Box Store Tarp

Saving money is everything in a tough economy. You’re in a big box store and see an 8 x 10 tarp for less than $10. It’s a bargain that you can’t pass up, right? Before purchasing that cheap big box store tarp, be sure you understand what you’re spending money on. The wrong tarp ends up costing you more money than you’d expect.

Not All Tarps Are Suited For All-Purpose Use

The cheap tarps at box stores are designed for light use. They’re not meant to be used over and over for years. A discount tarp may suit your needs if you’re using the tarp to provide shade during a yard sale. However, if it’s windy that day, the tarp may start to rip or tear with each gust of wind. You’ll get one or two uses out of the tarp before having to find a way to recycle it.

A plastic tarp may not allow air to pass. Moisture can build up under this tarp and drip on the objects below. There’s nothing worse than waking up while camping and finding water dripping from the tent ceiling. A breathable tarp may or may not be waterproof.

Features You Must Consider Before Purchasing

Don’t purchase a tarp until you’ve weighed the different factors. Tarps are not universal. Some are made from canvas, while others are plastic. There are canvas tarps coated in silicone and others in an oil and wax mixture that repels water. Others have no coating and let the rain soak through, so they’re meant to be used inside or only on non-rainy days.

Each tarp suits a different need, and those differences impact your goals. You need to understand the features to consider before you buy a tarp. That starts with the essential factors like thickness, protective nature, and construction.

  1. Mil Thickness and Weight

Tarps come in weights and thicknesses. Tarp weights are based on the weight of one square yard. The lower the weight, the thinner the tarp is. Thinner tarps are designed for light use. That $10 big box store tarp may not be as protective as you need.

The main thing to consider is that you have a blue tarp from your local box store, and it costs you under $10. There’s no denying that it’s a great price. That tarp is 4 mils thick, and you’re planning to use it to cover your outdoor woodpile. By the end of the winter, the built-up snow and ice, freezing temperatures, and winds have created some rips and tears. You’ll spend another $10 next winter if you want your wood to stay dry. By the end of three winters, you’re up to $30.

Compare that to a heavy-duty silver tarp that’s 12 mils thick. It’s designed to withstand heavy use, and it’s UV protected, so the sun isn’t going to damage the tarps fibers. This same tarp costs less than $20, but it lasts longer. Instead of replacing this tarp every year, you could get three or four years of use from it. You’ve saved money.

  1. Waterproof vs. Water Resistant

There’s a big difference between a waterproof tarp and a water-resistant one. Water-resistant tarps help protect from water, but the water can seep through at some point if the weather doesn’t change. If melting snow sits on top of that tarp for months, at some point, the fibers become waterlogged and will let some moisture seep through.

A waterproof tarp is coated with silicone to prevent any water from seeping through the material. Other tarps have an oil and wax mixture that makes them waterproof. These tarps will have an odor and can stain items below them.

You don’t want any moisture to seep in if you’re covering a leaking roof. Waterproofing is the best option for preventing any additional water damage. If you’re covering lawn equipment during a brief rain shower, a water-resistant tarp offers all the protection you need.

  1. Hems and Grommets

Most tarps have hems. Hems are reinforced edges where sections of the tarp are folded onto the rest of the tarp. The folded edge is stitched up to create a strong border that won’t fray or unravel over time. See how they’re reinforced. Some will say double-edge hems, while others are web-reinforced and have nylon webbing sewn inside the hem for strength. Many tarps add grommets to the hems to make it easier to secure the tarp to other fixtures for security.

Grommets provide a rigid structure for securing a tarp to stakes, hooks, or other fixtures using rope or cable. Grommets are crucial if you plan to tie the tarp down to items to create walls, protect items during a move, or create a pool, machinery, or another protective cover. The spacing between grommets impacts how well you can tie something down.

If you have grommets spaced every 24 inches, the tarp won’t be as secure as tarps with grommets that are 18 inches apart. It is imperative when you’re covering items in a truck bed and will be driving from one area to the next. The tarp needs to be tightly affixed to a truck bed or trailer to keep the wind from blowing it loose.


Tarps come in different sizes. Many start in the 6-foot x 8-foot range, but they can be big enough to cover a house. While these ready-to-order sizes may suit your needs, what if you need a tarp outside of those options? Choose a tarp store that accepts custom orders. You can have a tarp customized to your exact dimensions. That’s something that you’ll never find in a big box store.

You’d have to purchase multiple tarps with a box store tarp and use duct tape to combine them. You might have the equipment needed to sew them together, but that can impact the durability if the thread you use isn’t strong enough. With a custom tarp, heat-sealed seams are durable and will not break apart the first time you use the tarp.

Trust the Experts

Chicago Canvas & Supply has tarps in dozens of sizes and materials. We’re happy to work with you on a custom tarp, too. Our tarps are all made in the USA, so you don’t have to worry about them having dangerous chemicals that are banned in the U.S. but allowed in other countries. After cadmium was found in polyvinyl tarps in Asia, an environmental agency raised awareness.

What kinds of tarps do we sell? We offer all of these, and many are available in custom sizes.

  • Canvas – Untreated for indoor use, treated and fire retardant are perfect for outdoor use, comes in a variety of colors
  • Clear PVC – Ideal waterproof tarp that doesn’t block light
  • Iron Horse – Our strongest tarp that’s waterproof and breathable
  • Mesh – Great for privacy fences and screened-in porches
  • Poly – Closest comparison to cheap box store tarps
  • Vinyl – The ideal tarp for summer slip and slides

The last thing you should do is waste money on a big box store tarp that won’t last. Talk to the experts at Chicago Canvas & Supply about your goals. We’ll help you find the right tarp for your needs at the best possible price. Our price match guarantee ensures you get the best price on your new tarp. Plus, we have many sales that beat the prices found at big box stores. Call us today.