When To Use Vinyl Or Canvas Tarps: Selecting The Right Tarp For Your Application


Choosing the right tarp for your needs can be tricky. There are many types out there, but two of the most common are vinyl and canvas tarps. Each has its own set of benefits, depending on what you’re looking for. Whether you need to cover something outdoors, protect items from the weather, or have a reliable cover for various projects, understanding the differences between these tarps can help you make the best choice.

In this article, we’ll discuss when it’s best to use a vinyl tarp and when a canvas tarp might be the better option. Let’s get started on figuring out the right tarp that will work best for your situation.

Understanding Tarps

Woods covered with blue tarp

Tarps, short for tarpaulins, are large sheets of strong, flexible, water-resistant, or waterproof material, often cloth such as canvas coated with plastic or latex or polyester coated with PVC. They are used in a variety of ways to protect against wind, rain, sunlight, and even prying eyes. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about tarps and their uses.

What Are Tarps Used For?

Tarps have a wide range of applications. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Protection: Tarps provide a protective layer for items against weather conditions, dust, and debris. This makes them ideal for outdoor storage, construction sites, and camping.
  • Covering: They are frequently used to cover vehicles, boats, and equipment, safeguarding them from the elements.
  • Collection: In certain scenarios, tarps are used to collect debris, leaves, or other materials for easy cleanup.
  • Shelter: Tarps can serve as temporary shelters or as part of a tent set up during camping trips.

Types of Tarps

While tarps come in various materials, here are the two main types we’re focusing on:

  • Vinyl Tarps: These are known for their durability and water resistance. Vinyl tarps are ideal for heavy-duty applications where strength and protection from moisture are necessary.
  • Canvas Tarps: Made from cotton or a cotton blend, canvas tarps are appreciated for their breathability and environmental friendliness. They’re best suited for situations where a less harsh protective layer is needed.

Each type of tarp serves different purposes and comes with its own set of advantages. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision based on your specific needs, whether it’s for home use, commercial applications, or recreational activities.

Characteristics of Vinyl Tarps

Area covered with a vinyl tarp

Vinyl tarps are a popular choice for many applications due to their robust characteristics. Made from synthetic materials, these tarps offer a variety of benefits that cater to needs ranging from simple coverings to industrial protection. Here’s what sets vinyl tarps apart:


  • Strong Material: Vinyl tarps are crafted from high-strength polyester fabric coated with PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), which makes them exceptionally durable and resistant to tears, punctures, and abrasions.
  • Long-Lasting: These tarps withstand harsh conditions, including extreme temperatures, making them suitable for long-term use in various settings.

Water Resistance

  • Waterproof: One of the standout features of vinyl tarps is their ability to completely repel water, thanks to the PVC coating. This makes them perfect for outdoor applications where moisture is a concern.
  • Mildew Resistant: In addition to being waterproof, vinyl tarps are treated to resist mildew, preventing damage and prolonging their lifespan.

Easy Maintenance

  • Simple to Clean: The smooth surface of vinyl tarps allows for easy cleaning. Dirt, grime, and other substances can be wiped off or hosed down without much effort.
  • Low Maintenance: Vinyl tarps require minimal maintenance. They do not need to be treated with waterproofing sprays or other protective coatings to maintain their resilience.


  • Variety of Uses: Thanks to their durability and water resistance, vinyl tarps are versatile. They’re used for covering trucks, as roofing material during construction, for outdoor storage, and even as protective floorings during painting or renovations.
  • Customizable: These tarps come in various sizes, colors, and thicknesses, making them adaptable to a wide range of needs.

Environmental Considerations

  • Chemical Resistance: Vinyl tarps are resistant to oils, acids, and greases, making them suitable for industrial and agricultural use.
  • UV Protection: Many vinyl tarps are treated to resist UV damage, which is essential for items exposed to direct sunlight.

Vinyl tarps stand out for their strength, water resistance, and ease of maintenance. They are an excellent choice for anyone in need of a reliable, long-lasting protective covering for industrial, agricultural, or recreational purposes.

Characteristics of Canvas Tarps

A canvas tarp for boats

Canvas tarps, made from natural cotton fibers or a blend of cotton and synthetic materials, offer a unique set of characteristics that distinguish them from their vinyl counterparts. Known for their breathability and eco-friendly nature, canvas tarps are preferred for applications where these qualities are paramount. Here’s a closer look at what makes canvas tarps special:


  • Air Circulation: Unlike synthetic materials, canvas allows air to circulate through the fabric. This prevents condensation buildup under the tarp, protecting the covered items from moisture-related damages such as mold and mildew.
  • Temperature Regulation: The breathable nature of canvas helps in maintaining a more stable temperature under the tarp, making it suitable for covering sensitive materials and equipment.

Environmental Friendliness

  • Biodegradable: Canvas tarps are made from natural fibers. They pose less environmental risk at the end of their life cycle compared to tarps made from synthetic materials.
  • Sustainable: Canvas is often sourced from renewable materials, adding an extra layer of sustainability to its production and use.

Durability and Strength

  • Tough Fabric: While canvas is not as resistant to tearing as vinyl, it is still quite durable and capable of withstanding significant wear and tear, making it suitable for many protective applications.
  • Reinforcement: Many canvas tarps come with reinforced edges and corners, adding to their overall strength and durability.

Water Resistance

  • Naturally Water-Resistant: Canvas tarps are treated to be water-resistant, allowing them to repel water to a certain extent. However, they are not waterproof and may become saturated in prolonged exposure to water.
  • Ideal for Dry Conditions: Their water resistance makes them suitable for use in dry conditions or in applications where complete waterproofing is not critical.


  • Multipurpose Use: Canvas tarps are used in a variety of settings, including as protective coverings in agriculture, at construction sites, for outdoor storage, and even as painting drop cloths due to their absorbent properties.
  • Customizable: Like vinyl tarps, canvas tarps are available in various sizes and weights to suit different needs.


Canvas tarps require more maintenance than vinyl. They need to be dried out before storage to prevent mold and mildew growth and may need to be retreated with water-resistant coatings over time.

Aesthetic Appeal

The natural fibers give canvas tarps a more traditional look and feel, which is often preferred for aesthetic reasons in settings like camping, outdoor events, and even home and garden use.

Canvas tarps offer a combination of breathability, environmental friendliness, and durability, making them an excellent choice for a wide range of applications. Their natural fibers provide a unique advantage in situations where ventilation is key, and their eco-friendly nature appeals to those looking to minimize their environmental footprint.

Comparing Vinyl and Canvas Tarps

Tarps covering outdoor furniture pieces

When deciding between vinyl and canvas tarps, understanding their differences is crucial to selecting the right one for your needs. Each type of tarp serves distinct purposes and offers unique advantages. Here’s a comparative analysis to help you make an informed decision:

Durability and Strength

  • Vinyl Tarps: These are known for their exceptional durability and strength. They resist tearing, punctures, and abrasions very well, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications.
  • Canvas Tarps: While durable, canvas tarps are not as resistant to tears and punctures as vinyl. However, they are still strong enough for many applications, particularly where a softer, more breathable fabric is desired.

Water Resistance

  • Vinyl Tarps: These offer excellent waterproof qualities, making them ideal for applications that require complete moisture protection.
  • Canvas Tarps: These are water-resistant but not waterproof. They can repel water to some extent but may become saturated during prolonged exposure to heavy rain.


  • Vinyl Tarps: They are not breathable, which means they can trap moisture and air, potentially leading to condensation and moisture-related issues under the tarp.
  • Canvas Tarps: They are highly breathable, allowing air to circulate and minimizing the risk of condensation. This makes them better for covering materials that need to “breathe.”

Environmental Impact

  • Vinyl Tarps: Being made from synthetic materials, they are less environmentally friendly than canvas tarps. They are not biodegradable and can be more challenging to dispose of responsibly.
  • Canvas Tarps: Made from natural fibers, they are more eco-friendly. They are biodegradable and have a smaller environmental footprint over their lifecycle.

Maintenance and Care

  • Vinyl Tarps: These are easy to clean and require minimal maintenance. They can be wiped or hosed down without needing special treatments.
  • Canvas Tarps: Require more care, especially if they get wet. They need to be completely dried before storage to prevent mold and mildew growth and may need periodic re-treatment to maintain their water resistance.

Aesthetic and Texture

  • Vinyl Tarps: They have a slick, plastic-like feel and a shiny appearance. They come in various colors, which can be an advantage for visibility or matching aesthetics.
  • Canvas Tarps: Offer a more natural, fabric-like texture and appearance. They are often preferred for settings where a traditional or less industrial look is desired.


  • Vinyl Tarps: The cost can vary depending on the quality and specific features (like UV protection), but they are generally more expensive than canvas tarps due to their durability and waterproof qualities.
  • Canvas Tarps: They tend to be less expensive than high-quality vinyl tarps, but the cost can increase for heavier, more durable grades or when special treatments are applied.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Tarp

Folded orange tarpaulins

Selecting the right tarp for your application involves more than just deciding between materials like vinyl and canvas. Several factors need to be taken into account to ensure you get a tarp that meets your needs effectively. Here’s what you should consider:

  • Protection Needs: Determine what you need the tarp to do. Is it for waterproofing, shade, privacy, or dust protection? The primary purpose will guide your material choice.
  • Conditions of Use: Consider the environmental conditions the tarp will face. Will it be exposed to heavy rain, strong winds, prolonged sunlight, or extreme temperatures?
  • Durability: Look for a tarp made from durable materials if you need it for heavy-duty applications or long-term use.
  • Water Resistance vs. Waterproof: Decide whether you need a tarp that’s merely resistant to water or one that is entirely waterproof.
  • Breathability: For applications where condensation could be an issue, such as covering vehicles or equipment, a breathable material like canvas might be preferable.
  • UV Resistance: If the tarp is used outdoors for extended periods, UV resistance is crucial to prevent sun degradation.
  • Area to Cover: Measure the area or items you need to cover accurately to ensure you get a tarp that fits. It’s often better to choose a slightly larger size than you think you need.
  • Grommet Spacing: Consider how you’ll secure the tarp. Tarps with more frequent grommet spacing offer more tie-down points and can be secured more tightly.
  • Weight of the Tarp: Heavier tarps are typically more durable and better for long-term use, but they can be more challenging to handle and transport.
  • Tear Strength: This is especially important in windy conditions or when the tarp will bear loads, such as snow or debris.
  • Eco-Friendliness: Consider the environmental impact of the tarp material, especially if sustainability is a priority for you.
  • Color and Look: For some applications, the look of the tarp can be important. Consider where it will be used and whether the tarp’s appearance will matter.
  • Ease of Cleaning: Some tarps are easier to clean than others. Consider how often the tarp will need cleaning, and choose a material that suits your maintenance capacity.
  • Care Requirements: Beyond cleaning, some tarps may require special care, like drying before storage or applying protective treatments periodically.
  • Cost: The price can vary significantly based on material, size, and features. While it’s important to get a tarp that meets your needs, consider how the cost fits into your budget.

By carefully considering these factors, you can choose a tarp that not only serves your immediate needs but also offers durability and functionality in the long run. Whether for personal, commercial, or industrial use, the right tarp can provide reliable protection and versatility for a wide range of applications.


Choosing the right tarp, whether it’s vinyl or canvas, comes down to understanding what you need it for. Think about where you’ll use it, what kind of weather it needs to withstand, and how long you want it to last. Remember, vinyl tarps are great for heavy-duty tasks and keeping things dry, while canvas tarps are better for breathable coverage and a more natural look.

Take your time to consider the factors we’ve discussed, like size, durability, and your budget, to make sure you pick the perfect tarp for your situation. With the right tarp in hand, you’ll be ready to tackle your project with confidence.

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