Water Resistant vs. Waterproof Tarps

Have you ever wondered “What is the difference between water-resistant and waterproof tarp material?” This is a very common question, and it’s worth exploring closely. If you choose the wrong one, it may not be as useful as you’d hope.

Waterproof tarps offer complete protection from water or moisture. You can submerge them in a body of water and nothing changes. They will not absorb any moisture. Water-resistant tarps can only repel water for a limited amount of time. In a torrential downpour, the material will get wet and water will start to leak through the tarp. That’s the basic difference between the two.

Look at the difference between a pair of rubber boots and water-resistant leather work boots. Water is not going to get into the rubber boots unless you puncture them. Leather work boots that are treated with a water-resist spray will keep water out for a while. With continuous exposure to water, the leather will start to become saturated and water gets through. You also need to consider how your feet feel in that waterproof rubber boot. It will get sweaty as air doesn’t pass. Leather boots do breathe a little more, so feet don’t sweat quite as much. Tarps work the same way.

You’ll find that water-resistant tarps offer something that a waterproof cannot and vice versa. Knowing the intended usage, how to care for the tarps, and available tarp options is important when you’re deciding which type of tarp is best for you.

Your Best Options for Waterproof Tarps

Why choose waterproof tarps? The waterproof nature makes them appealing. Whatever is stored under the tarp is going to stay dry unless the tarp is damaged. In addition to being waterproof, they resist rips, tears, and abrasion. An added benefit is that many have UV protection. Excessive exposure to the sun will affect a tarp. With UV protection, the life of the tarp is extended. Water will not get through a waterproof vinyl tarp, which makes them ideal for:

  • Boat and car covers
  • Construction and industrial sites
  • Field covers
  • High-strength trucking usage
  • Roofing covers

In addition, these tarps also resist acid, dirt, grease/oil, and mildew. To clean them of grime, wipe the material, rinse it, and let it dry thoroughly before folding it. Waterproof tarps come in a variety of color options, which will matter if you’re looking to create an awning or canopy that matches your home or business’s exterior colors. Here’s a look at some of the waterproof tarps offered at Chicago Canvas.

#1 – Clear PVC Tarps

When you want the light to come through your waterproof tarp, a clear PVC tarp is ideal. They are perfect for covering window or door openings before windows and doors are installed. They make great temporary walls for covered decks/porches and on construction sites. They protect from rain and also block winds, so you’ll get more use from your deck, patio, gazebo, or porch during summer storms.

#2 – Iron Horse Polyester

Iron Horse tarps are tough. They’re twice as strong as cotton canvas tarps. Iron Horse tarps are waterproof and weigh 15 ounces per square yard, which makes them a top choice for awnings, boat covers, canopies, outdoor furniture covers, and shade tents. Choose from 7 colors.

#3 – Vinyl Laminated Polyester

Vinyl laminated waterproof tarps are 14 mils thick and weigh 13 ounces per square yard. If you want a waterproof tarp for a construction site, school gymnasium, theater, or warehouse, this one is flame retardant, which increases safety. They’re a popular choice for room dividers, salvage covers, and welding curtains. There are 9 color options available.

#4 – Vinyl Coated Polyester

At 20 mils thick and 18 ounces per square yard, a vinyl coated tarp is a heavier choice. It doesn’t have the flame retardant properties of a laminated tarp, however. You’ll find this is a great tarp for covering crops and hay, creating awnings or canopies, and putting in non-slip floor covers during construction or renovation projects. If you need covers on your farm or freight trucks, pick the vinyl-coated polyester tarp. There are 16 color options available.

That covers waterproof. One thing that most waterproof tarps don’t offer is breathability. If you need a tarp that allows air to pass through, water-resistant materials are the better option.

Your Best Options for Water Resistant Tarps

For water-resistant tarps, you also have plenty of options. They come in a variety of colors and sizes and include materials like canvas and poly. Water-resistant tarps offer a bit more breathability, which can help prevent condensation from building up under the tarp. If that happens, items exposed to the condensation could get wet. Ideally, water-resistant tarps are meant for conditions where there may be exposure to light rain but not regular downpours. What are the best uses for water-resistant tarps?

  • Camping
  • Covering firewood and lumber
  • Equipment covers
  • Light trucking
  • Privacy screens
  • Protecting supplies and equipment in light rain

When you need to focus on the prevention of condensation under the tarp, water resistance is best. You have three types of water-resistant tarps to consider. Take a closer look at them.

#1 – Canvas Tarps

Canvas tarps are water-resistant due to their oil and wax coating. This helps them resist water and mildew growth, but they’re breathable and help avoid condensation. Water runs right off the canvas tarp thanks to this coating, but it can stain items if water pools and soaks through. They are not good for covering boats or vehicles for that reason.

The coating also has an odor, so it’s not good for indoor use. They’re strong but rip and tear more easily than other tarps. If you’re interested in water-resistant canvas tarps, look at them for covering camping supplies, equipment covers, light trucking, and covering firewood.

When choosing a canvas tarp, there are 16-ounce, 16-ounce fire retardant, and 18-ounce weights. The 16-ounce tarps come in 6 colors, while the 18-ounce canvas tarps come in 2 colors. If you want the protection of flame/fire retardant tarps, the 16-ounce fire retardant canvas tarp only comes in olive drab.

#2 – Heavy-Duty UVR Poly Tarps

These all-purpose UVR poly tarps are designed for heavy use but are relatively lightweight at 7 ounces per square yard and 12 mils thick. They come in two reversible colors (black/silver or white/silver) that reflect UV rays. The water-resistant tarp is a good choice for covering firewood, adding privacy screens, or covering machinery.

#3 – Heavy-Duty Poly Tarps

You can also get heavy-duty poly tarps in several colors that are UV treated. The white, brown/green, or green/silver poly tarps are 8 mils thick and weigh 6 ounces per square yard. Grommets on these tarps increase to 18 inches apart instead of 2 feet. These tarps are regularly used as covers for equipment, firewood, and machinery. They’re also good picnic mats and lawn protectors when landscaping materials like mulch or compost are delivered.

Proper Tarp Care

Whether you need a waterproof or water-resistant tarp, proper care is essential. Make sure the tarp is secured on windy days. You don’t want the wind blowing it around into objects where it could rip the tarp or have a grommet or bungee cord hook hit a window and chip or crack it. With the well-spaced grommets on Chicago Canvas tarps, it’s easy to tie down tarps with rope or cord.

When the tarp isn’t being used, make sure it is stored properly. Use a sponge to scrub stuck-on dirt or grime. Rinse it fully with a hose and hang to dry. Once it’s fully dry, fold it and store it in a container that mice cannot get into. A plastic tub with a lid is one of the best ways to keep the tarp away from mice. It’s important to store it when dry or you could end up with mold growth.

A canvas tarp is treated with oil and wax. It’s important that you do not wash it in a washing machine as that could remove the water-resistant coating. If the water-resistant properties diminish on a canvas tarp, canvas refinishing compounds can extend the life of a water-resistant canvas tarp.

Use the tarp for the reason it’s intended. If you’re covering a load of gravel in a dump truck, a lightweight tarp is not going to stand up to the winds that occur during the trip. Look for a heavy-duty tarp instead. If you’re covering firewood and live in an area where there’s a lot of ice and snow, a heavy-duty tarp is going to last longer than a medium-weight tarp.

Chicago Canvas & Supply carries a wide range of waterproof tarps and water-resistant tarps. Choose from a selection of weights/thicknesses, colors, sizes, and textures. Our tarps have triple-thick hems and brass grommets are placed every two feet on all sides. If you have questions on which tarp is best suited for your specific application, reach us via email (email@chicagocanvas.com), call us at 1-866-389-2218, or talk to us via live chat.