Canvas vs. Plastic Drop Cloth: What’s Better for Painting?

Canvas or Plastic Drop Cloth for Home Painting

The last thing you want when painting inside your home is to have splatters of paint where they are not supposed to be.

Those who are DIY painting their home for the first time will appreciate having the right type of drop cloth to protect their floors and items.

But remember, not all drop cloths are the same.

So, knowing what size, shape, and material to use will help you make the best-informed decision about what drop cloths to purchase.

Below we will look at the different types of tarp materials, their pros & cons, how to use them, and at the end, what you should look at when buying them for your house paint project.

So, let’s dive right in…

Canvas Tarps

You may notice that most professional painters use drop cloths made of canvas.

This is because the canvas is a tough, durable material made of heavy-duty cotton canvas fabric that can absorb paint drips without letting any paint through.

Some canvas drop cloths are backed by a rubberized butyl which helps them to grip the floor.

Another advantage is that canvas drop cloths backed by rubberized butyl are so durable that they will last for many years.

Of course, you pay for what you get. And canvas drop cloths are normally more expensive compared to other materials. But they are well worth the price.

A 9’ x 12’ canvas drop cloth generally costs about $15 for the 6 oz version and $30 for the 12 oz version.

If you have trouble keeping the mess to a minimum, then it is worth getting the 12 oz version.

The downside is that such drop cloths tend to be heavier.

This makes them more difficult to move around, but the advantages are considerable.

Canvas drop cloths work best for the following reasons.

  • Versatile: Works Indoors and Outdoors
  • Absorbs Better than Other Materials
  • Grips the Floor for Better Security
Canvas drop cloth

Plastic Drop Cloth

Plastic drop cloths are quite popular and for a good reason. You can purchase them in a wide range of thicknesses.

Although for most jobs, you’ll want a plastic drop cloth that is the thickness of a typical plastic trash bag.

The upside is that plastic drop cloths are cheaper and lightweight, and paint will not get through them.

However, on the downside, because they do not absorb paint it will sit on the surface.

So, if you step on some paint, it will go with you off the drop cloth.

  • Works Well Indoors or Outdoors
  • Protects Furniture, Walls, and Windows Quite Well
  • If You Can Keep Paint Spills to a Minimum

What About Paper & Poly?

If you need to purchase a lot of drop cloths and want to save money, the paper may be the best answer.

They cost a fraction compared to plastic or canvas drop cloths.

Plus, they cover windows, furniture, and walls quite well. But most importantly, they absorb the paint, so you do not track it onto the floor.

And when you are done with your painting project, you can simply toss the paper drop cloths away.

The downside is that paper drop cloths are not well suited for areas where you will walk.

This is because they can rip quite easily. You should choose paper drop cloths for the following reasons.

  • Indoors
  • Affordable
  • Cover Items 

The combination of paper and poly or plastic also offers the best of both worlds when it comes to these two materials.

They have a low cost, are disposable, and will stay in place, which means that you do not slip. You can also cut them into sizes to fit a particular area.

The downside is that even with the poly backing, they can still tear rather easily. Plus, you will need to tape the edges so they do not move.

The paper/poly combination works best under the following conditions.

  • Indoors
  • Absorbs Better than Paper
  • Inexpensive
using drop cloth to cover furniture and floors before painting
A lady putting up a drop cloth to cover floors before painting

How to Use Drop Cloths for Painting?

Irrespective of the material you choose, using the drop cloth appropriately while painting is crucial to protect your expensive carpets, flooring, furniture, or other surfaces well.

What follows are a few tips that will help you get the most out of the drop cloth that you purchase.

1- Size:

First and foremost, be sure to choose a drop cloth that covers the floor, furniture, and items you have not removed from the room.

The drop cloth should be larger than the space so that it covers everything.

2- Clean:

Once you have the suitable drop cloth, clean the floors and furniture before placing them.

Just a good vacuuming can be enough.

This will prevent any dirt or debris from scratching the floor when it is under the cloth.

3- Place Against the Wall:

When you are spray painting walls or the ceiling, place the painter’s drop cloth against the wall for maximum protection of the floor.

Use masking tape to secure the painter’s tarps so they will not move around.

Masking tape is light enough not to cause a mess when pulled up.

4- Cover Switches, Doors, and Windows:

If possible, remove the switch plates and outlet covers with masking tape.

If not, you can cover only the switches, which will protect them from oversprays when spray painting.

If there are also windows and doors nearby in the room, protect them using a masking film and tape.

5- Same Side:

If you are reusing a drop cloth and did not wash it, keep the same side up to prevent any damage to your floor, furniture, and items underneath.

When the paint dries on the drop cloth, you can fold and store it in a clean, dry area. Wash drop cloths that get dirty.

selecting the best type of drop cloth

Choosing the Right Drop Cloth for Paint Project

Now that you know about the choices of materials for drop cloths and how to use them, the final step is knowing how to choose the right one for your specific needs.

What follows are the considerations you need to make to choose the right type of drop cloth.

a) Check the Size

The area that needs to be covered is the first consideration.

The drop cloth should be larger than the floor space and furniture you are protecting.

Most drop cloths are four or five feet wide and 12 to 20 feet in length.

However, you can find larger drop cloths that are 8, 9, 12, or even 14 feet wide and from 12 to 16 feet in length.

b) Pick the Right Thickness

The thicker the drop cloth, the more durable it will be. This means that thick canvas drop cloths will absorb more paint.

Thicker plastic drop cloths are less likely to tear.

The thickness of the drop cloth is generally indicated by its weight for canvas versions.

Most are 6, 8, or 10 oz. While plastic drop cloths are 1 or 2 mils in thickness.

c) Check the brand

If you need to get the best drop cloth for spray painting, it’s typically a canvas or plastic tarp manufactured by reputable brands.

A few names on the market that I trust include:

  • Sherwin-Williams drop cloth
  • Trimaco SuperTuff Canvas Drop Cloth
  • TopSoon Plastic Drop Cloth
  • T-Ware Thick Plastic Drop Cloth
  • CoverGrip Canvas Safety Drop Cloth
  • TUFFBOY Cotton Canvas All Purpose Drop Cloth

Related FAQs

Is canvas drop cloth waterproof?

No, the canvas isn’t completely waterproof.

And because it’s not waterproof, you may wind up with a lot of paint or other liquids seeping through and creating a major disaster if you’re not careful.

While waterproof canvas is available, it isn’t widespread.

If you really need to, you can also make your canvas drop cloth more water-resistant by using a waterproof spray or wax.

Are painters’ drop cloths washable?

Yes, canvas, plastic, and other quality tarps can be hosed off and laundered if needed.

You can even machine-wash some drop cloths, although it’s best to check the care instructions first.

Washing your drop cloths after completing your project will help to keep them clean and free of any potentially harmful chemicals or other substances that could be transferred to your surfaces.

And that way, you can use them in the future without having to worry about them being clean enough.

What can I use instead of a drop cloth?

If you don’t have a drop cloth or don’t want to use one, there are a few other alternative options you can use.

One is to lay down the pet covers made of plastic to protect your furniture.

These come in a variety of sizes, colors, and thicknesses, so you should be able to find one that will work well for your needs.

Another option is to use old towels, curtains, or bed sheets. This is a good choice if you’re working on a small project or don’t mind getting your fabric items dirty.

Lastly, you can always just use the newspaper. It’s not the most attractive option, but it will get the job done, and you can just throw it away when you’re finished.

The bottom line

While canvas will be the best choice for most home renovation jobs (thanks to its safety and absorbency), plastic, paper, and the poly/paper combination are also affordable, solid options for interior works like painting.

Paper alone tends to be better compared to plastic because of the enhanced safety.

While the paper/poly combination is better than plastic or paper alone.

However, plastic drop cloths have their uses when covering furniture, walls, windows, or any area that will not be stepped on.

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