Water Resistant vs. Waterproof Tarps

Water Resistant vs. Waterproof ...

Water Resistant vs. Waterproof Tarps-Knowing the Difference

Water resistant and waterproof are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean two very different things. Each provides different levels of protection and responds differently to water.

When it comes to choosing a tarp, it’s important to know whether a waterproof or water resistant one is right for the job. What makes them different? And which should you choose? Let’s find out.

Water Resistant Tarp

Water resistant material does exactly what it says it does. It resists water but it’s not impervious. That means that it can handle a good amount of rain, but, eventually, the material will become saturated and water will start to leak in. Water resistant tarps can handle a good amount of rain, but will start to absorb it eventually. 

One of the factors that contribute to water resistance is the material itself. Water-resistant fabric is usually made of nylon or polyester. The tighter the weave and the denser the fabric, the more water resistance the material has.

Water resistant is differed from water repellant, though the two are very much related. Water repellent means that the material has been treated with something to make it more resistant to water. Canvas tarps are a good example of this. Untreated, canvas and all cotton materials soak up water like a sponge. When treated with oil or wax, they are able to repel water. Sometimes this makes the material waterproof but it’s more commonly classified as water resisted, hydrophobic, or water repellant. 

Something to keep in mind is that whatever treatment or coating has been applied to make a material water repellant will wear off eventually. Over time it cracks, erodes, and rubs away. Water resistant material is different. Because the water resistance comes from the makeup and density of the material itself, it usually lasts a really long time.

Waterproof Tarp

Waterproof tarps are usually treated with something that makes them completely impervious to water. These materials can be soaked in rain or help underwater and water will bead and pour indefinitely.

Of course, waterproofing is ideal for keeping things dry. But this protection provides a lot of other great qualities, too. For example, polyethylene tarps are not only waterproof, but they’re also rot, mildew, acid, and tear resistant. 

While this doesn’t apply to most tarps, if you’re looking at something like a waterproof tent, bag, or jacket, make sure the seams are sealed. If they’re not, water can easily get in which means they’re not really waterproof.


Portable RV Canopy

Mesh tarps are great for providing shade or protection but they do let water through. While the material itself won’t absorb water, the weave isn’t tight enough to prevent it from leaking through. This is actually a good way to understand water resistance–the material itself naturally resists water, but because mesh isn’t dense and doesn’t have a tight weave, it can’t be considered water resistant.

So, Which Should You Choose?

There are a few things to consider when deciding between a waterproof or water resistant tarp. First, how much protection do you need? Is it essential to keep every drop of moisture out? While you may not live in an area where it rains a lot, are you going to be using the tarp in an area where it’s exposed to water regularly, like near a lake or swimming pool? 

Breath ability is another factor. Generally, waterproof tarps don’t let any air through. This makes sense because anywhere air can permeate the tarp, water will eventually be able to as well. Water resistant tarps can be a little more breathable. 

If you’re going to be using the tarp in an area that’s usually pretty dry but is occasionally exposed to water splashes or bad weather, water-resistant tarps can do the job. They’re a good choice when it comes to protecting furniture and floors when painting. 

Waterproof tarps are a better choice when what you’re covering absolutely has to stay dry. They’re great for vehicle covers, construction and industrial applications, and roofing.

Care and Maintenance

Whether it’s waterproof or water resistant, the only way to make sure a tarp continues to protect against water is to take proper care of it. As mentioned, any coatings added to prevent water from seeping in will wear off eventually. Taking good care of your top can make it last longer. Here are some tips for care and maintenance:

  • Don’t put the tarp away if it’s wet. Folding up a wet tarp can encourage mildew or mold to grow and can affect the integrity of the waterproof coating.
  • Clean it regularly, especially if you notice any odor or visible dirt. Lay the tarp out flat in your yard or driveway. You can use a cleaner especially made for tarp cleaning, or use mild dish soap. Apply the cleaner to any stuck on dirt and let sit for about ten minutes. Then, start scrubbing. You can use a sponge or scrub brush or, for very large tarps, use a clean push broom with stiff bristles. Rinse and allow to dry.
  • Repair tears or weak spots as soon as you notice them. A small tear or thin spot doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a whole new tarp. Repair kits are available to reinforce weaknesses or patch any holes.

The Right Tarp for the Job

Understanding the difference between water resistant and waterproof can help you get the right protection you need for your RV, car, plants, or outdoor furniture. Bear in mind, whichever you choose, taking care of your tarp is key to making the water protection last. All coatings wear off eventually and when it goes, so does the protection.