How to Soften Canvas Tarp

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Your canvas tarp longevity depends on the care and maintenance you give to it. Keeping your canvas dirty and wet will make it wear out quickly. 

While the durability of a tarp depends on its type and how it’s being used, proper maintenance can lead to more life and usability. 

Nonetheless, canvas is a natural fiber, and tarps made from this military-grade fabric are usually strong to ensure that they last for many years. 

If you have used both untreated and fire retardant canvas tarps, you might have realized that the treated one is stiff and heavier than the untreated one. 

The extra weight and stiffness usually result from the waxing and other chemicals applied to make the tarp water-resistant. 

Generally, canvas tarps require regular cleaning and softening as they can sometimes be challenging to pack for bushcraft.  

So, how do you soften a canvas tarp without much trouble? If this is what you are still wondering, continue reading to learn effective ways to soften your canvas tarp and keep it clean.  

How to Soften Canvas Tarp

Canvas tarps, especially the treated ones, are usually stiff, but the good news is that they soften on their own after a period of use. 

If your canvas tarp is untreated, you can toss it in the laundry machine to clean or wash it by hand regularly. 

Most manufacturers, however, do not recommend putting a canvas tarp in a washer as it could destroy the tarp or your washing machine. 

The best way to soften your canvas tarp is by using it regularly and keeping it clean to prevent dirt and debris build-up. 

And while you could effortlessly soften your treated canvas tarp by putting it in a washing machine to soak for a few hours, doing so will break down the waxing. 

The wax coating used on your canvas tarp is essential for making it water-resistant and durable. You don’t want to compromise these properties. 

So, if you just bought a canvas tarp that feels stiff, you don’t have to worry about it. Just clean it with soapy water, and you’ll see it soften after using it for a while. 

You may also want to retreat your canvas tarp after using it for several years as the wax treatment may rub off. 

Depending on how you use the tarp, it’s important to add other chemical treatments like Canvak after retreating it. 

Canvak will make the tarp more resistant and ensure that the waxing lasts for a long time. 

How to Clean a Canvas Tarp

Canvas tarps often get dirty due to their constant exposure to the ground and outdoor elements. So, they need regular cleaning for easy maintenance.  

There are various ways to clean a canvas tarp, and the best method for you depends on the type of your tarp. 

Here is how to clean an untreated canvas tarp and a fire retardant or treated canvas tarp:

Untreated Canvas Tarp

It’s easy to clean untreated canvas tarp, as you can wash it by hand, especially the small ones, or clean it in the washing machine. 

You can follow these instructions to clean your untreated canvas tarp:

  • Put your untreated canvas tarp into a washing machine. 
  • Add a soft laundry detergent or any mild soap in small amounts. You can use one teaspoon of gentle detergent for every two cups of water. 
  • Start the machine and let it do the washing for about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the option you chose and the size of the tarp. 
  • Once the canvas tarp is clean, dry it on a laundry line or in the clothes drier. 
  • Fold the canvas tarp and store it when dry. However, you need to ensure that it’s completely dry before folding it to prevent mildew growth. 

If you don’t want to use a machine washer to clean your untreated canvas tarp, you can simple hand-wash it in a large basin with soapy water. 

Fire Retardant Canvas Tarp 

You should never use bleach, fabric softeners, or starch to clean your treated canvas tarp, as doing so may ruin the treatment. 

If you want to clean your treated canvas tarp, you can follow these steps: 

  • Pour soft and clean water into a basin and add gentle, fragrance-free detergent to help remove dirt from the tarp. Don’t use hard water as it will lead to mineral build-up. 
  • Wash the canvas tarp carefully with the soapy water and a soft-bristled brush until it’s clean. The water must also be cold or warm, but not hot. If the tarp is large and can’t fit in a basin, spread it outside to scrub with a sponge or dishcloth. 
  • Rinse both sides with clean water to remove all the soap and dirty water. 
  • Once your tarp is clean, hang it in the clothesline to dry completely before folding and storing it. Don’t use your laundry dryer as the tarp may stain it. 

While you can put your untreated canvas tarp in a machine washer, you cannot do the same for fire retardant canvas tarps as they will stain the machine. 

You should also talk to distributors about the best detergents for treated canvas tarps to ensure that you don’t harm the coating during the cleaning process. 

Final Thoughts 

Canvas tarp is an essential bushcraft gear that every survivalist need. It allows you to shelter at night and keeps you dry and warm when it rains. 

If you want to soften your stiff canvas tarp, you will want to do it carefully to ensure that you don’t jeopardize its waterproofing. 

You can use the above guidelines to soften your canvas tarp and keep it clean for longer service life. 

But if you have a new canvas tarp and it’s a little bit stiff, you don’t have to worry about it, as the more you use it, the softer it will get. 


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