Tarpaulins are a great asset to any camping gear as they are great for protection from the elements. They are also used during construction, or after disasters to protect damaged structures, as well as to contain any potential debris. 

There are three main types of tarps: vinyl, polyethylene, and canvas. Essentially they all have different functions but are cleaned and maintained similarly. 

But, how can you waterproof your tarp?

Once people used tar, and today beeswax and silicone-based liquids for coating tarps are common solutions to making any tarp waterproof. Waterproofing methods may vary due to the difference in the material resistance and types of chemicals used on tarps.

Why Is It Important to Waterproof a Tarp?

Proper application of waterproof protection for tarps can prevent mold and mildew from forming on them. Any type of tarp, canvas or nylon, serves as a type of protection from the elements. Some are used to cover boats, lawnmowers, or other items left outdoors for a longer period. Also, some tarps are used to cover and store things in cool and damp places. 

When treated properly, the tarp will prevent moisture from entering the item(s) you have stored away. It will also keep the dirt and water, but without regular cleaning waterproofing treatments, they can penetrate the material and form mold which is unhealthy and might affect the stored item. 

Types of Tarps

There are many different tarps and materials used for tarping, however, you are probably curious about those that you can use on your next hiking adventure. In general, it can be said that if you need to cover something heavy, outside or in cold, damped storage, there is probably a specific tarp for that purpose. 

Now, when it comes to camping like we already mentioned, the practice has shown that there are three main types of tarps that have a wide application for outdoor activities: vinyl, canvas, and nylon tarps.  

Are Vinyl Tarps Waterproof?

The vinyl tarp is built to last because it features a 3-ply construction with a poly mesh scrim, and PVC vinyl coating on both sides. That means that any water will simply slide off. 

In addition to being completely waterproof, vinyl tarps are UV protected. When used, it can be trimmed with very little fraying, and the center mesh construction prevents ripping and tearing, as some tarps made out of weaker materials might do. 

This specific type of material has quite a wide range of environmental and application issues, and it is not possible to claim for how long it will serve its purpose properly. 

For example, these tarps are used on advertising billboards, and an average of months being exposed to all elements, traffic exhaust fumes, and other gasses. Other people use vinyl tarps for over a decade because vinyl is stronger than poly materials and will usually last longer. 

Canvas Tarps

The first tarp was used as a canvas covered with a coat of tar for waterproofing on ships. This piece of information also carries the story on the etymology of the tarp. 

The word tarpaulin was originally a compound of the words tar and palling. It referred to a tarred canvas that was used to cover objects on ships. This efficient waterproofing system was even used for sailors’ clothes, which is why they were known as ‘jack tars’. The application of this mid-19th century invention has widespread ever since. 

Canvas is a great material because it is coarse and highly breathable, and it will offer a degree of weather protection, even if it is left untreated. However, a treated canvas is better protected because it resists UV rays, mildew, and water. 

These tarps are used to flatbed any loads that include moisture-sensitive items but are also used with the ‘general public’ for both indoor and outdoor activities (for covering furniture, camping, hiking, or any other type of equipment, etc.)

How to Waterproof a Canvas Tarp?

There are many ways you can waterproof a canvas tarp. But before you do make sure you have everything ready. You will need a clean, dry area and a clean, dry canvas tarp. 

If there is dirt on your canvas tarp, follow these instructions first. 

  1. In a clean and dry area spread the canvas tarp, top side up. Make sure the surface on which you are spreading it can retain or absorb water, without causing any damage because you will be cleaning the tarp.
  2. Mix a small amount of dish detergent in a bucket of lukewarm water.
  3. Get a cotton rag and the mixture and clean the top of the tarp. Rinse out the detergent with fresh water until it stops foaming, then allow it to dry.
  4. Use fluoropolymer-based waterproofing spray horizontally across the tarp, from the top downward. Leave the product to sit on the tarp for the amount of time that the manufacturer recommended.
  5. Apply a second coat vertically across the tarp, working from left to right. You are creating an invisible checkerboard pattern as it assures that all points are covered. Allow it to dry completely before using.

Nylon Tarps

According to an average user, nylon tarts are the most common among campers as they are used in tents. Nylon was developed back in the 1930s and was used for parachute production during WWII. By nature, it became a standard for many outdoor products because of its ratio strength to weight, abrasion resistance, and affordability. 

Benefits of Nylon Tarps

When compared to polyester, it has a much better strength-to-wight ratio. Most of its attributes come from the stretchiness of the material, but if inexperienced, campers can see their worst camping nightmare coming to life.  

It can not be aesthetically as pleasing, and if it is used to the upper limit of its weight capability it can stay deformed. When it comes to water absorption, this material is prone to expansion and damage when exposed to moisture. 

However, this material provides more pros than cons altogether. In addition to being flexible and affordable, nylon is the most abrasion-resistant. It is a smart choice to consider having nylon tarps for parts of the tent that are most likely exposed to abrasion (such as floors, pole ends, and clips). If the fabrics weaken, these regions can become critical points that can leak water if it rains, and drain out any generated heat, keeping you colder at night. 

How to Enhance the Durability of a Nylon Tarp?

The coating can help mitigate the issue of water absorption. One of the best solutions is to look for both-sided silicone coated fabrics instead of PU. Regular maintenance may prolong the lifespan of nylon products, but you have to be aware that they do degrade over time. 

Usage will reduce their strength and performance. Manufacturers will provide guidelines on how to maintain any type of nylon equipment, as well as tell-tale signs on when it is time to retire them. However, there are no published estimates on performance or product strength loss over time. From a general user’s experience, a nylon tent or tarp can last up to 5 years with proper maintenance. 

Finally, once you are aware that your nylon tarp is ready to retire, don’t throw it away just yet. There are a number of ways you can use it, and make a summer water slide in your backyard or on a downhill terrain is very easy and fun as well!

Benefits of Using Waterproof Tarps When Camping

Tarp camping is a thing, and people who love to hike through and carry minimal luggage often opt for this type of camping. Tarps are ultralight and take up very little space in a backpack. It also provides versatility when it comes to creating a shelter.

Using proper and waterproof gear can save you from getting wet, but still allow a sense of open space, for true nature lovers that can even feel claustrophobic in a tent. Here is a list of reasons you might find tarp-camping appealing: 

  • Stargazing is another perk because you can see the night sky and the milky way. You just need to consider sleeping in full gear and next to a fire to stay warm, and enjoy the majestic night sky away from the city traffic lights.
  • Versatility should be a synonym for tarps, as there are some specific fabrics and shapes that allow you to make a roof, wall, or a poncho if necessary from a single piece of equipment.
  • It is a great experience for people who want to try something new and minimalist.
  • Some campers claim that having fire under a tarp keeps you nice and cozy.

So, How Do You Make a Tarp Waterproof?

First of all, learning about the tarp, its wide range of applications, and the material it is made of gives you an idea that some tarps come already waterproof and ready to use. Depending on its purpose it can last a few months, or be used over a decade. 

When it comes to camping tarps, there are different sprays created specifically for that purpose, as well as some DIY hacks that can provide some water resistance. The quality of the waterproof coating and the application will determine the durability of the tarp itself.