Updated: Jan 10
When you cover something valuable, you expect the tarp cover to hold up well. The last thing you want is for the tarp to fall apart unexpectedly. There are generally two options: buy cheap tarps and replace them frequently or invest in better tarps.
One significant advantage of going with a higher quality tarp is that it can be used and reused numerous times if it is handled properly.
If you want your tarp to last as long as it can, consider following these simple tips:
Avoiding Damage: Sunlight
The number one enemy of tarps, regardless of material, is UV light. The more sunlight your tarp receives, the quicker you will find yourself in need of a replacement. The closer you live to the equator, the more significant this factor will be in determining the longevity of your tarp. There are ways to mitigate this damage to the tarp:
When possible, put the tarp and the item(s) it is covering somewhere that does not get full sunlight all day. The more shade a tarp receives during the day, the longer it can last.
Purchase tarps that have UV inhibitor in the material. Look on the tarp's packaging for the specific percentage of UVI. It should range between 1% and 6%, which is the maximum that can be added to the material before it compromises the integrity of the polyethylene.
Purchase tarps made with virgin resins. A tarp may be more susceptible to UV if it isn't manufactured with only virgin resins. Unfortunately, this is a specification that manufacturers tend not to put on the packaging. The best way to gauge the quality of the plastic is sight and touch. Typically, virgin resins will make a tarp look shiny (not dull and matte) and feel slick, almost oily (not chalky).
Store the tarp when it isn't needed. The tendency for most people is to set up a tarp and then subsequently forget about it. But if a tarp is not needed for the summer months, taking it down and storing it will prevent it from taking unnecessary UV exposure.
Avoiding Mold & Mildew: Proper Storage
When storing your tarps, make sure that they are dry first. Air drying them is usually sufficient, but toweling them off will certainly do the trick. Most tarps are made to be mold- and mildew-resistant, either by nature of the material (like poly or vinyl tarps) or as a feature of the waterproofing treatment (for canvas tarps). However, putting them away wet can create exactly the environment that could encourage mold or mildew growth despite the resistance.
Avoiding Damage: Punctures
Some puncture damage can't be avoided. A windstorm brings down a branch from a nearby tree, which pierces the tarp as it crashes down. It's unfortunate, but you can't see it coming, nor could you stop it. However, there is another type of puncture that can be completely avoided if you follow one rule: "Never directly cover a sharp point or corner."
If you are covering an item that has sharp points or corners, you have two options: put some kind of padding over the points/corners before you secure the tarp over them or suspend the tarp above the item like a canopy using rubber tarp straps.