How Come My Canvas Tarp Smells Funny?

An unpleasant smell in a canvas tarp from Canopies and Tarps can easily be dealt with.

Some people prefer to use a canvas tarp instead of a polyethylene or vinyl tarp, based on the application. Canvas tarps are heavier, yet breathable, which make them good for use in shelters, because they don't trap heat. They are also more environmentally friendly, and have the matte finish of cloth, not the rubbery shine of vinyl.

If you've never owned one before, you'll love how surprisingly rugged it is. Our canvas tarps at Canopies and Tarps are made from military-grade materials for extra durability and strength.

They can also have a powerful smell. You may not think they smell bad, but a time may come when you'll notice a strange odor, and think to yourself, "Why does my canvas tarp smell funny?"

Out of the Box Odor

If you're noticing the smell before you have used it, then don't worry. The smell is from the petroleum byproducts used to make the tarp water repellent. There's nothing harmful about that odor, and it will fade as you use it.

If you're not a fan, then all it takes to get rid of it is to use it. Spread it out, and air it out. The more time it gets under the sun and out in the open, the quicker that new-tarp smell will fade.

Storage Smell

If your tarp has been stored for a while, it may have a dusty, musty odor. That's natural, as well, but it's a bit more important to deal with. The solution is the same, however: air it out. A few flaps in the breeze should get that dust right out.

Something Smellier

If you smell something worse on your tarp, however, you may have gotten something on it while in use that is lingering. Maybe it picked up a splash of stagnant water. Maybe a passing animal marked it. Or maybe some of the dirt, grime and other muck you marched it through wasn't exactly sanitary.

In all these cases, cleaning your canvas tarp should get rid of the smell. Fortunately, that's an easy process, although it might take some elbow grease and some extra time for drying:

  • Prepare a solution of dish washing soap and warm water in a bucket.
  • Spread the tarp outside on the ground or along some sort of incline. The key is to get it smooth enough for you to scrub it.
  • Start scrubbing! Dunk a dishcloth or sponge in the water and clean the surface of the tarp. If you must use a brush, find the softest bristles possible. Stiff ones will snag the threads and cause a lot of premature wear.
  • Rinse the soap off that side, then allow it to dry a bit by stretching it across a clothesline or two.
  • Once it's dry, repeat the process on the other side. When finished, hang it out to dry again.
  • Avoid using a dryer. The excess heat will cause damage. Air drying is sufficient.

By following your nose and following these tips, you'll keep your canvas tarp from Canopies and Tarps in service for season after season.