Tarpaulin Maintenance Tips to Maximize Useful Life

Tarpaulin Maintenance Tips to Maximize Useful Life

Choosing the Right Tarpaulin Material

There are several key factors to consider when choosing a tarpaulin material. Tarpaulins primarily come in three materials: polyethylene, vinyl, and polyester.

Polyethylene Tarps:

Polyethylene Tarpaulins are very affordable and water resistant, making them a good basic option. However, polyethylene is less durable compared to other materials and can tear more easily. It is not as strong in high wind conditions.

Vinyl Tarps:

Vinyl tarps are more heavy-duty and puncture-resistant than polyethylene. They withstand weathering very well and are extremely waterproof. However, vinyl is less flexible in cold temperatures compared to other materials. It is also more expensive.


Polyester is an exceptional material for Heavy Duty Tarpaulin. It is extremely strong and tear-resistant, while still being lightweight. Polyester holds up well to prolonged sun exposure without fading or cracking. It is also more flexible than vinyl in all temperatures. However, polyester does not have quite the same waterproof rating as vinyl. It is also more expensive than polyethylene or vinyl.

Inspecting for Damage Regularly

Regular inspections play a key role in maximizing the longevity of your tarpaulin. Small issues, if left unaddressed, can propagate into larger problems over time. It is recommended to thoroughly inspect your tarpaulin at least once per month and after any major weather events like heavy wind or rain storms.


Look for any punctures, cuts, or rips in the fabric. Pay close attention to places that see a lot of use like entryways.


Inspect for holes caused by sharp objects like sticks, stones, nails, etc. These allow water penetration if not patched.

Fraying or Unravelling

Edges and seams should be intact without loose or broken stitching.

Stains or Discoloration

Identify any abnormal discoloration that could indicate a material breakdown.


In rainy conditions, check for any spots where water is seeping or pooling through the fabric.

Cleaning and Drying Thoroughly

Just like other materials exposed to the elements, tarpaulins benefit from regular cleaning to remove dirt, grime, and other contaminants that can reduce the lifespan if allowed to build up. The following cleaning method is effective and gentle on tarpaulin materials:

Cleaning Solution:

Mix a mild dish soap (avoid harsh degreasers or solvents) with lukewarm water in a low-pressure spray bottle.

Liberally Spray

Liberally spray the soapy solution onto the tarpaulin surface and edges. Avoid high-pressure sprays which could damage the material.

Gently Scrub

Gently scrub any dirty or stained areas with a soft brush or cloth. Be careful not to scrub so hard it could cause abrasion.

Repairing Promptly

Even with careful maintenance, tarpaulins can experience small cuts, punctures, or other damage over time. These issues must be addressed through repair promptly before they are able to spread further. Some effective repair methods include:


Small holes or tears less than 4 inches can often be patched using vinyl patch kits. Scrub the area clean and dry before applying the patch according to instructions.


For longer tears, holes, or damaged edges, sew a patch that overlaps the damaged area by 1-2 inches on all sides using a material-matched thread in a seaming stitch.


Prevent future tears by adding a seamed triangular reinforcing patch to areas that experience high stress, like grommet holes and corners.


Thin cracks or seams can be sealed with waterproof sealing tape made for tarps or a silicone sealant. Clean and dry the area first.


For punctures larger than a nickel or leaks that can’t be stopped, cut out the damaged portion and replace it with a rectangular section seamed in place.

Steps for Storing Tarps Properly

How tarps are stored between uses greatly impacts how long they will last. Proper storage helps prevent unnecessary wear and exposure that can shorten a tarp’s lifespan.

Folding and Storing Tarps

There are pros and cons to both rolling and folding tarps for storage. In general, folding poses less risk of creasing but is bulkier, while rolling can allow for smaller and more compact storage but repeated tight rolls can cause creases over time.

Storage Location

Ideally, store tarps in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight like a garage or shed. High-traffic areas with dirt and moisture should be avoided. If storage outside cannot be helped, at least prepare the tarp by folding it, wrapping it in plastic, and elevating it off the ground before exposing it to the elements.

Cleaning and Repairing Tarps

Regular cleaning and minor repairs are important aspects of tarp maintenance that can significantly extend a tarp’s usable lifetime.

Cleaning Tarpaulins

Over time, tarps accumulate dirt, grime, and debris that degrades protective coatings if left unchecked. Removing built-up contaminants through periodic cleaning helps tarps better resist UV exposure and prevents coatings from peeling.

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Minor Repairs

Rather than replacing a tarp with small punctures or tears, simple repairs can cost-effectively restore waterproofing. For holes less than 1″, use vinyl repair tape on both sides of the tarp to prevent future ripping. Liquid vinyl sealants can also mend splits and cracks less than 1/4″ when applied and smoothed per the manufacturer’s directions.

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