Rows of plants covered in tarps

What Thickness Do Tarps Come In?

When you think about a tarp, you might think of the multi-purpose blue tarp that’s often sold in discount stores. The reality is there are more than a dozen different types of tarp materials, and their thickness is a key factor in what the tarp’s best use is. 

What thickness do tarps come in? It varies. Here’s what you should know about thickness, weave, and weight. 

Thickness Is Measured in Mils, But Weight and Weave Also Matter

A tarp’s thickness is measured in mils. A mil is equal to 1/1,000th of an inch. This is very thin. One mil is just about 25 microns, which is about half the thickness of a single hair. Ten mils is a little larger than the tip of a pencil or about three grains of sand.

When you’re shopping for a tarp, the thickness is one of the measurements you’ll find. You might also spot specifications like weight or weave. 

Weight is the weight of one square yard of that tarp. If a tarp is listed as 16 ounces, one square yard of that tarp would weigh a pound. Weight also plays a part in helping determine the best use and durability of that tarp.

Finally, you have the weave. A tarp is made by weaving threads of a material like plastic or cotton together. The weave is a measure of the number of threads woven together in one square inch of that tarp. If the thread count is 16, there are 16 threads per square inch. A higher weave count is more durable and is going to resist rips and tears.

Coatings Add Weight and Thickness

When you add coatings to a tarp, it adds weight and thickness. Some tarps are coated to protect against the UV rays from the sun. It helps protect the plastics in the tarp from breaking down. Tarps may also have a vinyl or poly coating to help make them waterproof or water-resistant. Any coating will add weight and even thickness to a tarp.

What else can add weight to a tarp? In addition to the tarp’s thickness and weave, you’ll have the components like grommets, seams, and hems that add weight. All of this helps with the durability, reliance, and overall use of a tarp.

Take a Closer Look at a Variety of Tarps

Tarps come in a variety of materials, colors, and sizes. As you narrow down your choices in terms of mils, weight, and thread count, you also need to consider the recommended use for them.

  1. Canvas

Canvas tarps come in 16-ounce and 18-ounce weights. Canvas tarps are the tarps you’d think of when camping. The material is breathable, which helps prevent the formation of condensation below the material. 

A treated 16-ounce canvas tarp repels water and resists mildew growth. They’re a good choice for protecting your fishing gear when you’re out camping. It’s a good choice for protecting wood shavings on a farm or ranch and building supplies on a construction site. The oil and wax treatment adds protection from the water, which makes treated canvas so popular.

Upgrade to an 18-ounce canvas tarp for extra thickness and resistance to rips and tears. Use them to cover cargo. If you get a tarp with a fire-retardant coating, you could use it near a campfire and not have to worry as much about a spark from a log.

There are also natural and colored 10-ounce canvas tarps available. They’re not intended for outdoor use. Instead, you’d use them as a drop cloth while painting or working on a home improvement project within your home to keep clean up to a minimum.

  1. Clear PVC

Clear PVC tarps are ideal for turning a covered patio or deck into a three-season porch. The clear tarp keeps out water while letting sunlight through. They’re used in construction sites to block out the wind without limiting natural light. 

How thick are they? Clear PVC is 20 mils thick and weighs 18 ounces per square yard. They’re heavy and strong, which helps them stand up to the wind. They’re also UV treated, so you could use them to create a three-season porch and not have to worry about getting a sunburn while you’re outside.

  1. Iron Horse

Waterproof Iron Horse tarps are thick and durable. They’re not incredibly heavy at 15 ounces per square yard, but they’re twice as strong as a cotton canvas, which makes them a smart choice for outdoor use.

Iron Horse tarps make ideal canopies or awnings. Use them to cover outdoor furnishings, boats, or vehicles. While a canvas tarp might have an oil and wax coating to help make it watertight, that coating can stain items. Iron Horse is treated with silicone and won’t stain or smell like chemicals.

  1. Poly Tarps

There are standard blue poly tarps, which are lightweight and commonly used to cover items like yard equipment or firewood. They are just 4 mils thick and weigh 3 ounces per square yard. Brown/Green poly tarps are the same thickness and weight. Both add UV protection to help make them less prone to damage from the sun.

If you need heavier tarps, a green/silver tarp is doubled in thickness at 8 mils. They weigh 6 ounces per square yard and have a 12 x 12 weave. White tarps and Silver UVR tarps are the same thickness and weight. White poly tarps are often chosen for outdoor skating rinks due to their snow-like color.

  1. Vinyl Tarps

Vinyl tarps weigh 18 ounces per square yard and are 20 mils. They’re popular for creating summer slip and slides. Stretch one out in a yard, add water, and it’s a popular activity. 

Because vinyl tarps are waterproof and stand up to abrasion and excessive use, they’re also great for canopies, awnings, and covers for everything from patio furniture to farm equipment. 

Vinyl tarps are also UV-treated, which protects them from damaging UVA and UVB rays. You can use them to create an outdoor skating rink in cold weather, or cover children’s playground equipment to boost sun protection all summer.

How Do You Know Which Tarp Is Best?

How do you choose the best tarp for your needs? While weight, thickness, and weave are important, they shouldn’t be the only considerations

Do you need a water-resistant tarp or does it have to be waterproof? A waterproof tarp is going to repel water week after week without fail. A water-resistant tarp is going to repel water for a while, but eventually, some water will seep in. 

What’s going to be under the tarp? If the tarp is covering a classic car for the winter, you want a tarp that isn’t going to allow condensation to form or leave oily stains. If you don’t care that the items below the tarp could be stained, you have more options.

Is the tarp being used in the sun? UV protection is important. Sun can quickly break down some materials, so the tarp won’t last long if it’s being used outside.

What if you’re not sure? Talk to the experts at Chicago Canvas about your tarp needs. Our team is here to help you determine the best sizes, colors, and tarp materials. With the right tarp, you’ll have years of trouble-free use, which also helps you save money by avoiding purchasing a new tarp every year. Reach our experts online through live chat or fill out the online form to get help.