can you wash tarp in the washing machine

Can You Wash a Tarp in the Washing Machine?

Known for their durability and versatility, tarps, short for tarpaulins, are invaluable for a variety of tasks ranging from camping to painting to cover gardening equipment. No matter how resilient and strong tarps are, they are not immune to the usual build up of dirt and grime. So, when it’s time to clean a tarp, the washing machine looks appealing, but is up for the task.

Yes, some tarps can be washed in a washing machine, particularly small to medium-sized canvas and vinyl tarps. However, it’s important to use a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent, and always check the manufacturer’s care instructions before proceeding.

Let’s explore the best methods for cleaning tarps, and address some common questions on the topic.

Can You Wash a Tarp in the Washing Machine?

Machine washing a tarp largely depends on the tarp’s material and size. Here are some types of tarps that can generally be machine washed:

  1. Canvas Tarps: These tarps are typically made from natural fibers and can usually be machine washed. However, canvas tarps can shrink slightly, especially if washed in hot water or dried on a high heat setting. Always use cold water and a gentle cycle, and allow the tarp to air dry.
  2. Polyethylene Tarps: Small to medium-sized polyethylene tarps can sometimes be machine washed on a gentle cycle with cold water. However, the material might be prone to tearing, especially if the tarp has any existing damage or if the washing machine has a central agitator.
  3. Vinyl Tarps: Vinyl is a robust material that can often withstand machine washing. However, only small to medium-sized vinyl tarps should be washed in a machine, as larger ones could unbalance the machine during the wash cycle. It’s also worth noting that vinyl tarps should be washed with a mild detergent that doesn’t contain bleach or other harsh chemicals, which could degrade the material over time.

Always check the manufacturer’s specific care instructions to ensure that machine washing is suitable for your tarp. Each tarp is unique and may have specific care requirements based on its design and intended use.

Note that if your tarp has waterproofing, it can be weakened or damaged in a washing machine. If in doubt don’t use this method.

Does It Wash Team

Cleaning Tarp in Washing Machine

This method involves using your washing machine to clean the tarp. As discussed the material, size, and overall condition of the tarp will dicate if this method is possible. Keep in mind that not all tarps are suitable for machine wash, and the suitability largely depends on these factors.

  1. Inspect the Tarp’s Material and Size: Before starting, check the material and size of your tarp. Canvas, polyethylene, and small to medium vinyl tarps are often suitable for machine washing. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions if available.
  2. Prepare the Tarp: Start by removing any loose dirt, debris, or leaves from the tarp. If there are any stubborn stains, pre-treat them using a gentle stain remover or a mixture of baking soda and water. Brush the mixture lightly over the stains and let it sit for a few minutes.
  3. Set Up the Washing Machine: Place the tarp in the washing machine, ensuring it is evenly distributed to avoid unbalancing the machine during the wash cycle. Use a gentle, cold cycle to prevent any potential damage or shrinkage. Add a mild detergent, ensuring it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals or bleaching agents that could damage the tarp.
  4. Add a Softening Agent: If your tarp is of a material that tends to stiffen after washing, like canvas, consider adding a fabric softener during the rinse cycle to keep the material supple.
  5. Monitor the Wash Cycle: Keep an eye on the washing machine during the cycle, especially if this is your first time washing a tarp in it. Make sure the machine isn’t unbalanced or straining under the weight of the tarp.
  6. Dry the Tarp: Once the washing cycle is complete, remove the tarp from the machine. Do not wring it out, as this could cause the material to stretch or warp. Instead, hang it up and allow it to air-dry completely. Ensure it is thoroughly dry before folding and storing to prevent mold or mildew growth.

Remember, each tarp is unique and may require slightly different care. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and use another method. It’s easy to end up with a damaged tarp, which is probably less useful than a dirty tarp.

Hand Washing a Tarp

Hand washing a tarp can be a gentle yet effective method, especially for tarps that are not suitable for machine washing or are too large.

  1. Prepare the Tarp: Start by shaking off any loose dirt and debris from the tarp. If the tarp has been used outdoors, consider using a broom to brush off any caked-on mud or leaves. For stubborn stains, pre-treat them using a non-abrasive stain remover or a solution of mild soap and water.
  2. Prepare Your Cleaning Solution: Fill a large tub, basin, or even a kiddie pool with cool water. Add a mild, bleach-free detergent. The water-to-detergent ratio doesn’t need to be precise; you just want enough soap to create suds when you agitate the water.
  3. Clean the Tarp: Fully submerge the tarp in the cleaning solution, ensuring every part gets wet. Use a soft brush or sponge to gently scrub the tarp, paying extra attention to heavily soiled areas. Be mindful not to scrub too hard, as this could damage the material.
  4. Soak if Necessary: If the tarp is particularly dirty, let it soak in the soapy water for a few hours or even overnight. This gives the detergent time to penetrate deep stains and grime.
  5. Rinse the Tarp: Drain the soapy water and refill the tub or basin with clean water. Rinse the tarp thoroughly, ensuring all soap is removed. You may need to change the water and rinse multiple times if the tarp is very soapy.
  6. Dry the Tarp: Hang the tarp up to dry in a well-ventilated area. Avoid direct sunlight, as this could cause some tarp materials to fade or become brittle. Ensure the tarp is completely dry before storing to prevent mildew.

Hand washing a tarp may take a bit more time and effort compared to machine washing. But it’s worth the effort as it can extend the lifespan of your tarp.

Pressure Washing a Tarp

For large, heavy-duty tarps that are not suitable for machine washing, pressure washing can be an excellent solution. This method is also beneficial for outdoor tarps exposed to harsh elements that have resulted in significant grime or algae build-up.

  1. Prepare the Tarp: Begin by removing any loose debris from the tarp. Lay the tarp flat on a clean, hard surface like a driveway or patio. Anchor the corners with heavy objects to prevent the tarp from moving during the cleaning process.
  2. Pretreat the Tarp: If there are areas with heavy soiling or mildew, consider pretreating these areas with a suitable cleaner. Apply to the stains and leave to soak for a few minutes, not letting it dry out.
  3. Prepare the Pressure Washer: Start with a low pressure setting to avoid inadvertently damaging the tarp. Always use a wide spray pattern initially, and never use a narrow, high-pressure jet setting, which could puncture or tear the material.
  4. Clean the Tarp: Begin washing at the top of the tarp and work your way down, maintaining a consistent distance between the spray nozzle and the tarp. Be sure to overlap your strokes to ensure no areas are missed. Remember, consistent, even strokes are key, and avoid dwelling too long on one spot.
  5. Flip and Repeat: Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned one side, turn the tarp over to the other side and repeat the process.
  6. Rinse and Inspect: Rinse the tarp thoroughly with clean water to remove any loosened grime and residual detergent. Inspect the tarp for any remaining dirt or stains. If needed, repeat the pressure washing process.
  7. Dry the Tarp: Once clean, allow the tarp to air dry completely before folding or storing. Hang it up or lay it flat to dry, avoiding direct sunlight if possible.

Remember, pressure washing can be tough on certain materials, so it’s always best to test a small, inconspicuous area of your tarp first. This method should bring your weathered tarp back to life, ensuring it continues to provide reliable protection.


What materials are tarps typically made of?

Tarps are most commonly made from canvas, polyethylene, or vinyl. Canvas tarps are made from natural fibers, are breathable, and are often used for outdoor activities, like camping. They’re eco-friendly but less resistant to water compared to other types.

Polyethylene tarps are lightweight and water-resistant, making them ideal for temporary applications, like coverings in case of a storm or temporary roof repair. Vinyl tarps are the most robust and durable. They’re also water-resistant, and because of their strength, they’re used for heavy-duty applications such as truck covers or industrial curtains.

How often should you clean a tarp?

The cleaning frequency of a tarp depends heavily on its use and exposure. If your tarp is regularly exposed to all the elements and accumulates all that dirt and grime quickly, then it’s advisable to clean it at least once a month.

However, if the tarp is used less frequently or in cleaner environments, washing it every three to four months should be enough. If the tarp has been exposed to chemicals, paints, or other substances, it’s essential to clean as soon as possible. This is because those substances could deteriorate the material over time.

Will washing a tarp in a washing machine damage the machine?

While it’s generally safe to wash a small to medium-sized, lightweight tarp in a washing machine, there are potential risks. Large or heavy tarps can unbalance the machine during the spin cycle, causing excessive vibration, and potentially shortening the life of the machine. Additionally, if the tarp has metal grommets or sharp edges, it could damage the drum of the machine. Always evaluate the tarp and the washing machine’s capacity before choosing this method.

Will washing a tarp in a washing machine shrink it?

When washed properly, most tarps should not shrink significantly. To avoid shrinkage, use cold water and a gentle wash cycle. This is particularly important for canvas tarps, which are more susceptible to shrinkage than synthetic ones. However, excessive heat, such as that from a hot dryer or direct sunlight, can potentially cause a tarp, especially plastic-based tarps, to shrink or warp.

Can you put a tarp in the dryer after washing it?

Tarps, regardless of material, are generally not suitable for machine drying. The high heat from a dryer can cause the tarp to shrink or warp. Additionally, tarps with metal grommets can damage the dryer drum. Instead, it’s best to allow tarps to air dry. Hang the tarp in a well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight, until it is completely dry. Make sure to stretch out the tarp as much as possible to prevent creasing or warping as it dries.


Cleaning a tarp doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. Whether you’re using a washing machine, opting for hand washing, or going for a pressure wash, keeping your tarp clean extends its lifespan and effectiveness. Remember, it’s essential to consider the material and size of your tarp before deciding on a cleaning method. Above all, make sure to air dry your tarp to prevent any potential heat damage.