Tarping up your truck is a necessity any time you’re hauling materials. Not just for highway safety, but also to protect the materials from UV rays and potential water damage.
Trucks tarps are mostly made of mesh, but you might find that other tarps come made of flame retardant materials, such as polyethylene, and sometimes PVC.
We’re going to go over the times that you actually need a tarp for your truck, and what size you should get (sometimes more than one tarp in different sizes) to secure whatever it is that you’re hauling.
Protecting your truck bed, driving with groceries in the back; whatever your reason, we’re going to find the right truck tarp for you.
What Size of Tarp do You Need for Your Truck?
To start, you need to know what the dimensions of your truck bed are, or at least be willing to go out and get them right now. Most standard truck beds are going to be between five feet, six inches and eight feet long.
These dimensions don’t always include the actual edges of the truck though, which is why it’s recommended to go out and get the dimensions on your own just to be sure. Get the interior dimensions, and then the dimensions with the edges.
Your tarp needs to cover the entire area to prevent rain and debris from entering, but you also want there to be enough space so that you can properly hook up bungee cables or ball bungees.
There needs to be enough tension on the bungees that they don’t slip (if you’re using cables with hooks on either end), and retain a solid level of tension the whole way through.
For a six foot long bed that measures about 80” wide (due to the sides), you would want a 92” or larger tarp. This gives you leeway to pull about six inches down on either side, and secure the grommets to the underside of the wheel area with bungee cables.
If you’re going to use a tarp just for the bottom of your bed, you need to do measurements differently. Hauling large items that could scratch up your otherwise pristine truck bed need to be handled specifically.
Measure the interior dimensions of the bed, the sides of the bed, and the space from the top of the sides to about six inches down the external sides of your truck.
Either way, you want to be able to secure them with bungee cables. This might seem like a lot of coverage to some people, but the goal is to protect your truck, and I can’t see why someone would want to do this halfway by just laying a tarp on the bed and calling it a day.
If your truck’s bed is 48” wide, with 20” up from the bottom of the bed to the top of the sides, and a 4” clearance on top, accounting for the slack to secure the bungees, that’s 108” of required width. That’s for it to sit comfortably without having too much additional tarp.
How do I Cover my Truck Bed With a Tarp?
If you just want to put your tarp on the bottom of the bed, that’s okay, just be knowledgeable of what you’re hauling so you can be sure it’s the right decision. To cover your truck bed, there are a few methods.
- Sandbags: Six strategically placed sandbags can be all that you really need. SOme ten pound sandbags should do the trick: in the far corners, in the corners of your tailgate, and up against the sides in the center area. This should hold the tarp down and not allow much wind to get underneath, helping with wind resistance and keeping your tarp where it belongs: in the truck.
- Grommets: If you’re just covering the bed, you might still have some utility areas in the bed of your truck that you could attach ball bungees or bungee cables to, and through the grommet on your tarp. This probably won’t make the tarp very taut, but it will keep it from fluttering away on the highway.
- Wrap Your Cargo: As an alternative, you can just wrap whatever it is you’re carrying in a thick tarp to prevent it from damaging your truck bed. If you’re transporting raw materials like dirt and rocks, this isn’t going to be a good idea, but if you’re just helping a buddy get a fridge to his new apartment, you could go with this option. It can save you a bit of time, but just keep in mind that if you have multiple items to ahul, you’re going to have to wrap each one of them.
Do I Need Bungee Cords or Ball Bungees for my Truck Tarp?
More often than not, but not always. If you’re trying to secure your tarp so that it doesn’t flutter in the breeze, then yes, you’re going to need bungee cords or maybe even ball bungees to secure it down.
Some truck beds come with small slats in the back specifically designed for hooking up bungee cables.
This gives you a non-invasive way of securing your tarp that doesn’t actually alter your truck in any way.
If you’re just laying a tarp down over the top of whatever you’re carrying, you still need bungee cords. You can use them to secure the tarp to the underside of your wheel area, and keep it in place while you’re driving.
It’s also a good idea to secure your tarp to the toolbox on the back of your truck if you end up doing this, just to cut down on wind resistance.
Overall, bungee cords and ball bungees are just great items to have in your truck. You never know when you’re going to need them. We have an entire guide dedicated to ball bungees and their unique utility.
How Long Does a Truck Tarp Last?
This is sort of a loaded question, because there are more variables at play than if you were using a tarp for something else. If you wanted to make a dog kennel or a canopy for your backyard, you can expect a few years on your tarp before it needs to be replaced.
But with truck tarps, we can’t possibly know how much wear and tear they’re going to go through.
But you know. If you’re looking for a truck tarp for a specific reason, factor that in. Are you hauling stones for a masonry job? Are they going to touch the tarp and scratch/tear it up?
That’s going to be a problem.
Another thing to consider is that if you leave your tarp in the truck all the time, it’s going to take a beating from the sun. Not right away, but over time. Even truck tarps with UV resistance ratings eventually phase out, and need to be reapplied to ensure the longevity of your tarp.
If you clean your truck tarp (which we’re going to cover in this guide), store it properly, and don’t leave it under intense UV rays on a constant basis, you could expect your truck tarp to last for about three to five years.
I say that because this isn’t something that’s used constantly or left out, like an awning or a canopy made from a tarp.
It’s all about how you care for it, and while you should do your best to take care of your tarp, they’re not wildly expensive. If you need to have a backup or just replace one that hasn’t received the best TLC, you can do that, too.
What is the Best Tarp Material for a Truck Tarp?
While every type of tarp has its own set of ups and downs, the most common type of tarp you’re going to see on trucks is vinyl. Because of its strength and wind resistance, vinyl is the clear choice, even if it does fall short of cotton canvas and polyethylene in some departments.
However, vinyl can be pricey when you’re shopping for tarps. Vinyl is excellent at handling high levels of wind when you’re barreling down the highway without warping, tearing, or stretching out, but other tarp materials might not be the same.
As one last testament to their strength, they don’t have weak grommets or eyelets. One of the biggest concerns about tarping a heavy load and driving with it on the highway is the bungee cables pulling and tugging on the tarp and tearing it from the grommet.
Vinyl is built tough, so as long as the grommets are installed properly in the tarp, you shouldn’t run into any problems.
Are Truck Tarps Fireproof?
Not inherently. Truck tarps are a broad term. Many truck tarps will be made out of a high quality mesh, such as truck covers that are used for transporting dirt, gravel, and rocks to or from a construction site.
These mesh tarps are not intended for full-on waterproofing, and not intended to be flame retardant. They might be treated with some chemicals that help with fire resistance, but if you search for flame retardant tarps, you’re not going to find much in the way of mesh.
One of the best flame retardant materials out there is polyethylene.
Flame retardant tarps are not fireproof, meaning that they can be set on fire, it just takes an insane amount of energy to make that happen. Polyethylene basically just hits a melting point where it might light on fire, but it mostly deforms like a melting plastic bottle.
There needs to be a constant source of heat with the intensity of fire right up against a polyethylene tarp for it to melt or catch fire in extreme circumstances.
Your concern with a truck tarp being fireproof or not likely comes down to how hot it can get when the sun is coming down on your truck, and you’re warranted in your suspicions.
Intense UV light can cause things, such as mulch, to light on fire; why wouldn’t that happen to a tarp as well?
Polyethylene tarps are treated and naturally flame retardant as well, so as long as your truck tarp is made from it, you’ll be good to go.
How to Clean Truck Tarps Effectively
It’s not quite as simple as you’d think. All it takes is a bit of moisture trapped in your tarp when you put it away, and all that cleaning will have been useless – bacteria can grow in the still water and potentially eat through your tarp, even if it’s a high-quality one.
Follow all these steps to ensure it’s cleaned effectively, and then stored properly to avoid mildew or mold growth.
1. Lay It Out
Any loose debris should be cleared out now to make it a little bit easier later on. You can use a broom or a long shop brush for this part.
You’re going to lay the tarp out completely so all debris will be visible and accessible, and so that when we go to the next steps, we have a clear view of what needs to be done. We want to perform each step one time so we aren’t taking too long on this.
2. Fire Up the Hose
Your tarp is designed to handle pressure and abrasions, so you’re going to put a fairly high pressure on your hose. If you don’t have a pressure gauge, just use a handle attachment that you can get from any hardware store, and it should do the trick just fine.
Spray down any problem areas that are immediately visible. This is going to include spots with caked-on debris if there’s mud, dried dirt that can’t be shaken loose, and anything else that’s stuck to it. Tarps go through a lot in nature.
Pay special attention to the grommets, and be sure to spray them down as well. By the end of this, you should see more than 90% of all debris has been removed. If that’s the case, move on to the next step.
3. Wipe Down the Tarp
You can use a cotton cloth for this if you wish and go over the whole thing, just be careful to not track anything on the tarp.
If need be, you can hang the tarp over a clothesline for this step to be sure you’ve gotten everything off. Any noticeable debris should be wiped down now. Bring a bucket of water with you so that you can rinse out your cloth frequently.
4. Rinse Cycle
Now it’s time to revisit that hose. ALl the debris has been swept off, hosed down, and wiped away.
If you haven’t already, prop your tarp on or over something so that you can clean it off properly. Hose down any remaining visible area just to be certain we’ve removed all traces of dirt. Now that it’s soaked, move on to the next step.
5. Air Drying and Grommet Care
Now that you’ve cleaned the tarp from top to bottom, you have to let the air dry it. This ensures all trapped water has evaporated by the time you want to package this and put it away. However, there is a nuance here – the grommet, or eyelets, depending on the tarp you have.
Water gets trapped underneath the rings on the edge, as well as in the center where your ball bungee cables or stakes would go. Take a dry cloth, and go over this area, running the tip of the cloth through each grommet, until you’re certain it’s all completely dry.
When water gets trapped under the grommet, it can grow a bacteria that eats through your tarps from the edges out.
This would render the grommet in question useless since it’s sitting on damaged tarp, and if you keep this in storage for a while, it could cause further damage throughout the entire tarp.
6. Fold and Stash
Just like folding a blanket or a sheet, you’re going to fold your tarp up. After every single fold, press it down and get all the air out, or you’re going to end up with a big ball of air-filled tarp at the end.
This part can take a while, but when all is said and done, your tarps will look like it just came out of the package, all folded, shiny, and new.
Tarping Your Truck the Right Way
Truck tarps have to meet the right specifications, and if they don’t, they’re just not going to be as useful. It depends on what you’re hauling, the quantity, and what type of truck you’re using to bring it out.
The material, thickness, and UV protection are all going to factor in. With all this knowledge of truck tarps at your disposal, it’s time to buy a new tarp truck: browse our selection of tarps to find the right one for your needs.