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Drop Cloths and Tarps

Drop Cloths & Tarps If you have ever done any painting before, you know it is virtually impossible to avoid a few drips and splatters. Occasionally, those drips and splatters can become a flood in cases where an entire can of paint is accidentally overturned or tipped. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid splattering or spilling paint all over your beautiful hardwood floors or favorite bookcase. Drop cloths and tarps provide protection for a variety of painting and sanding tasks, whether you’re repainting your entire house inside and out, touching up a wall or redoing the ceiling of your porch.

Prior to beginning your next paint project, take a look at the available coverings and protective solutions, and keep the following questions in mind as you learn more about your options:
          • Will you be painting indoors or outdoors?
          • What materials can drop cloths and tarps be made from?
          • How can they be used to protect against paint spills?
          • What other applications can drop cloths and tarps be used for?
          • What features would you like to have?


Drop Cloths, Tarps and Applications

One of the first decisions you will need to make when searching for paint protection is just how much painting you plan to do and where you would  be doing it. Cloths and tarps can be made from different materials, each of which is better suited for certain situations than others. Some are disposable, making them ideal for quick, one-shot jobs while others will last for years, a perfect solution if you find yourself constantly touching up spots around the house.

Outdoor jobs will require stronger, more durable materials. Use drop cloths and tarps to protect walls, floors, furniture, sidewalks and any other exposed area. Nonabsorbent cloths and tarps will need to be handled carefully during cleanup to avoid spilling drops of paint onto the floors you have worked so hard to keep clean. Keep in mind that in addition to painting, tarps and drop cloths can be helpful in a number of other situations.

Drop Cloths and Plastic Sheeting

Drop cloths can be made from a range of materials, including canvas, plastic, paper and paper/poly. Plastic drop cloths are often referred to as plastic sheeting. Canvas is a woven fabric that is lightweight but durable and is often used by professional painters. Plastic sheeting is easy to tape to walls to cover paintings and other items you need to keep clean.

Which material you choose depends on whether or not you want to be able to reuse the cloth and whether you are working indoors or out. The chart below details some of the benefits and points to consider for each type of material.



Points To Consider 

Canvas • Absorbent
• Reusable
• Provides nonslip surface
• Resists tears and punctures
• Malleable
• Washable
• Butyl backing provides slip resistance and
• Made from recycled cotton fabrics
• Heavier weight and tighter weave provide greater
• Generally more expensive
Paper • Economical
• Disposable
• Absorbent
• Not suitable for multiple uses
• May tear or rip under harsh conditions
• Better for indoor use
Paper/Poly • Economical
• Disposable
• Absorbent
• More impenetrable than paper alone
• Not suitable for multiple uses
• May tear or rip under harsh conditions
• Better for indoor use
Plastic • Available in light, medium, heavy and
  extra-heavy weights
• Heavy-duty plastic is rip-resistant
• Waterproof
• Economical
• Ideal for covering furniture and oddly
  shaped objects
• Impenetrable
• Lightweight plastic is ideal for light, indoor
  painting projects
• Medium-weight plastic can be used indoors and
• Extra-heavy weight plastic protects against
  chemical solvents
• Doesn’t absorb paint
• Weigh down edges when working outside to avoid
  plastic blowing away
• May be cut or punctured
• Sheets with textured designs contain paint spills


Tarps are often constructed from heavy-gauge polyethylene and are both waterproof and weather-resistant. They generally feature grommets around the edges, which are little holes through which you can tie ropes or bungee cords to make using tarps for transporting items easier. Grommets also allow you to tie tarps to deck posts or patio furniture to avoid the wind picking them up and carrying them away when you are painting outside. If a tarp is made from canvas, look for double stitching at the hem and seams to ensure durability.

Tarps can range from fairly small (6’ x 8’) to large (20’ x 30’). Disposable plastic tarps cost less than reusable canvas tarps, but reusable tarps can come in handy for such a wide range of applications that it may make sense to spend a little extra money. Reinforced plastic tarps combine the impermeability of disposable plastic with the durability of canvas.

          • Textured surfaces minimize the danger of slipping
          • Polyethylene tarps are generally less expensive than canvas tarps
          • Look for grommets made from rust-proof brass or aluminum
          • Choose UV-resistant tarps if you plan to use them outdoors extensively
          • Reinforced corners provide additional resistance to tears
          • Duck canvas is waterproof and mildew-resistant

Other Applications

Protecting floors and furniture from paint spatters is far from the only helpful role drop cloths and tarps can play in your life. Heavy-duty plastic sheeting and tarps can be used to cover and protect lawn mowers, snow blowers, lawn care products and more. Large, extra-heavy plastic sheeting can be used to cover boats and trailers and for a variety of construction and landscaping applications. 

Mesh tarps can be used in situations where you need to provide equal amounts of shade and airflow and aren’t worried about waterproofing. Use tarps to keep firewood dry or even create canopies if bad weather strikes on the day you are planning to host a big backyard barbecue. They are also indispensable when it comes to yard work, enabling you to haul leaves and grass clippings out of your yard with ease.

          • Black plastic sheeting can be used as garden mulch or to provide the foundation for landscaping
          • Heavy-duty plastic sheeting can be used to create a vapor barrier
          • Canvas tarps are commonly used to cover boats and lawn equipment
          • Canvas can be used to create an umbrella canopy for lawn tractors
          • Large tarps can be used as fence screens or swimming pool covers
          • Vinyl-laminated mesh tarps use a PVC coating to provide strength


Water Resistance

While many drop cloth and tarp materials provide natural resistance to water, canvas may not. If you plan to use a canvas cloth outdoors or in conditions that may cause it to get wet, look for one that is treated to resist water. This treatment will also protect it from mildew and rot.

Flame Resistance

Canvas treated with flame-retardant chemicals gives you the ability to use it in situations where it might otherwise create a fire hazard. Fire-treated canvas can be used as a canopy in areas where there are strict fire regulations, such as local fairs.


For small jobs, rags provide the perfect complement to a drop cloth or canvas. Absorbent rags make it easy to wipe up drops of paint that somehow manage to evade the protection you have carefully laid down.

Butyl Backing

If you purchase a canvas drop cloth, look for one with butyl backing. This rubberized coating serves two important purposes. First, it makes the canvas nearly impenetrable, no matter how much paint gets spilled on it. Second, they minimize the chances of the drop cloth slipping out from underneath you when you are working on a smooth hardwood floor or carpeted stairs.

Pretaped Plastic Drop Cloths

If you want to save a few extra minutes, pick up some pretaped plastic drop cloths. Available in various lengths and widths, these handy cloths feature blue painter’s tape on the edge and roll dispensers that allow you to stick them to the wall in a matter of seconds.