shade cloth vs tarp


When it comes to outdoor coverings, the debate between using a shade cloth and a tarp is an ongoing topic. These materials, widely used for various purposes, have distinct characteristics and benefits. This article aims to delve into a comprehensive 7-aspect comparison of shade cloth and tarp, shedding light on their differences, strengths, and limitations.

Our focus will be on their material composition, primary uses, advantages and disadvantages, UV protection, water resistance, durability, and cost considerations. By providing a clear and straightforward analysis, we aim to guide you in making an informed choice between a shade cloth and a tarp for your specific needs.

Aspect 1 – Material Composition

When comparing shade cloths and tarps, their material composition is a key differentiator.

  • Shade Cloth: Typically made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), shade cloths are designed for breathability while providing shade. Their knitted or woven structure allows for air and water permeability. This design reduces the ambient temperature underneath, making it ideal for applications like gardening, where light and air flow are crucial. Some shade cloths also incorporate UV-resistant additives to prolong their lifespan and effectiveness.

green shade net

  • Tarp (Tarpaulin): Tarps are generally made from heavy-duty materials such as polyethylene, or canvas. These materials are chosen for their strength and durability. Unlike shade cloths, tarps are designed to be water-resistant or waterproof, making them suitable for protecting objects from rain, wind, and sun. The material is more solid and less permeable, which means it does not allow for much air or water passage. Tarps often have reinforced grommets at the corners and along the sides to secure them in place.


In summary, while shade cloths are lighter, breathable, and designed primarily for providing shade with some airflow, tarps are heavier, more robust, and aimed at offering full protection against various elements, including water and wind. The choice between the two depends on the specific needs of the application.

Aspect 2 – Primary Uses and Applications

Shade cloths and tarps are widely used for different purposes due to their unique properties.

Shade Cloth Uses:

  • Gardening and Agriculture: Shade cloth is extensively used in gardens and agricultural fields. It provides a controlled environment for plants by reducing excessive sunlight and heat, thereby preventing plant stress and sunburn.
  • Outdoor Living Spaces: People often use shade cloths in patios, decks, and other outdoor living areas. It creates a cooler, shaded area for relaxation and protection against harsh sun rays.
  • Greenhouses: In greenhouses, shade cloth helps regulate temperature and light, which is vital for the growth of certain plants.
  • Playgrounds and Parks: To protect children and adults from direct sunlight in outdoor recreational areas, shade cloths are a popular choice.

Tarp Uses:

  • Construction Sites: Tarps are commonly used at construction sites for covering building materials, equipment, and unfinished structures to protect them from rain, dust, and debris.
  • Camping and Outdoor Activities: For camping, tarps are used as ground covers, makeshift shelters, or to cover equipment and supplies.
  • Transportation: In transportation, tarps are utilized to cover and secure cargo in trucks and trailers, safeguarding them from weather and road conditions.
  • Emergency Situations: During emergencies, like natural disasters, tarps are often used as temporary shelters or to cover damaged roofs and structures.

Both shade cloths and tarps have their specific applications based on their material properties and functional design. Shade cloths are more suitable for scenarios where sunlight control is needed, while tarps are ideal for robust protection against various environmental elements.

Aspect 3 – Advantages and Disadvantages

Shade Cloth Advantages:

  • Breathability: Shade cloths allow air to circulate, reducing heat buildup and creating a cooler area beneath.
  • Customizable Light Filtering: They can filter varying percentages of sunlight, which is ideal for protecting plants that need partial sunlight.
  • Lightweight: These cloths are usually lighter, making them easier to handle and install.

Shade Cloth Disadvantages:

  • Lower Water Resistance: Unlike tarps, shade cloths are not designed to be waterproof, making them less suitable for rain protection.
  • Limited Durability: They may wear out faster than tarps, especially in harsh weather conditions.

Tarp Advantages:

  • High Water Resistance: Tarps are designed to be waterproof, making them excellent for protecting against rain and moisture.
  • Durability: They are generally more robust and better suited for harsh conditions, including heavy rain and strong winds.
  • Versatility: Tarps can be used for a wide range of purposes, from covering vehicles to creating emergency shelters.

Tarp Disadvantages:

  • Poor Air Circulation: Being less breathable, tarps can trap heat, making the area beneath them hotter.
  • Heavier: Tarps are often heavier and more cumbersome to handle and install compared to shade cloths.
  • Blocks All Light: Unlike shade cloths, tarps block out all light, which can be a disadvantage in situations where light filtering is needed.

In summary, the choice between shade cloth and tarp largely depends on the specific requirements like light filtration, water resistance, and the environment where they will be used.

Aspect 4 – UV Protection Capabilities

  • Shade Cloth: Shade cloth is specifically designed to offer UV protection. Its unique fabric allows it to block a significant percentage of harmful UV rays. This makes it a preferred choice for gardens, nurseries, and outdoor leisure areas where sun protection is crucial.The effectiveness of a shade cloth in UV protection can vary based on its density and color; darker and denser cloths typically offer better UV blockage. It’s ideal for safeguarding plants from sunburn and for providing a cooler, shaded environment for people.

Shade Cloth

  • Tarp: On the other hand, tarps, while they can provide shade, are not primarily designed for UV protection. Most tarps are made to be waterproof and durable, and their ability to block UV rays is often a secondary consideration. This means that while a tarp can reduce the intensity of sunlight, it may not be as effective as shade cloth in blocking UV rays. However, some tarps are treated with UV-resistant coatings, enhancing their ability to protect against sun damage.

Comparative Effectiveness:

When comparing the two in terms of UV protection, shade cloth generally comes out ahead. Its material composition and design focus on blocking UV rays make it more effective for prolonged exposure to the sun. Tarps can provide temporary relief from direct sunlight, but for consistent and reliable UV protection, especially in settings like gardens or outdoor living spaces, shade cloth is the more suitable option.

Aspect 5 – Water Resistance Levels

When comparing shade cloths and tarps, a key aspect to consider is their water resistance. This characteristic is vital for applications where protection from rain or moisture is essential.

  • Shade Cloth: Typically, shade cloths are designed to provide sun protection rather than being water-resistant. Made from a mesh-like fabric, they allow air and a certain amount of moisture to pass through. This design is ideal for areas needing ventilation and light filtration, but not for waterproofing. Some shade cloths might offer minimal water resistance, but they are not the go-to choice for complete water protection.
  • Tarp: On the other hand, tarps are renowned for their water-resistant qualities. Tarps are designed to repel water. They are a popular choice for covering and protecting items from rain or moisture. Whether used for outdoor storage, as a cover during camping, or in construction, tarps provide a reliable barrier against water.


In summary, if your primary concern is water resistance, tarps are the superior choice over shade cloths. They offer robust protection against moisture, making them ideal for a wide range of wet conditions. Shade cloths, while excellent for sun protection, fall short in terms of water resistance.

Aspect 6 – Durability and Longevity

When comparing the durability and longevity of shade cloth and tarp, it’s essential to consider their material properties and typical use environments.

  • Shade Cloth: Shade cloths are primarily made from woven or knitted polyethylene. This construction allows them to breathe, reducing the risk of wear and tear from wind. They’re designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the sun, making them resistant to UV degradation. However, they are not typically as robust as tarps when facing mechanical damage like cuts or punctures.
  • Tarp: Tarps, often made from heavy-duty polyethylene, or canvas, are built to endure harsh conditions. They are thicker and have a higher resistance to abrasions and punctures compared to shade cloths. Tarps are also treated to be water-resistant and, in some cases, UV-resistant. However, constant exposure to sunlight can eventually degrade the material, especially if it’s not specifically treated for UV resistance.

In terms of longevity, both materials have good lifespans but serve different purposes. Shade cloths are more suitable for long-term sun protection with moderate weather exposure, maintaining their integrity over several years. Tarps, on the other hand, offer excellent short-term protection against various elements, including rain, wind, and sun, but may degrade faster in constant, harsh conditions.

Aspect 7 – Cost Considerations

When comparing shade cloths and tarps in terms of cost, it’s crucial to consider both initial expenses and long-term value.

Shade Cloth Cost:

  • Initial Cost: Shade cloths are generally more affordable initially. Their pricing varies based on material quality and density.
  • Size Variability: The cost can increase with size and UV protection level. However, they are often less expensive than heavy-duty tarps.
  • Replacement Frequency: These cloths are designed for specific purposes like gardening or patio shading, which may require replacement less frequently depending on usage.

Tarp Cost:

  • Initial Investment: Tarps, especially heavy-duty ones, can be more expensive upfront. They are made from stronger materials like polyethylene or canvas.
  • Versatility and Durability: This higher cost often comes with increased versatility and durability, making them a good long-term investment.
  • Maintenance and Replacement: Tarps used for rigorous activities or in harsh weather conditions may require more frequent replacement or repair, which adds to the overall cost.

In conclusion, shade cloths often present a more affordable option for specific uses like shading, while tarps offer a durable, versatile solution at a higher initial cost. The decision should be guided by the intended use, expected longevity, and available budget.


In summary, when deciding between shade cloth and tarp for your needs, it’s essential to consider their respective materials, uses, advantages, UV protection, water resistance, durability, longevity, and cost. Shade cloths offer breathable, light-filtering solutions ideal for agricultural or garden settings, while tarps provide robust, water-resistant coverage, suitable for heavy-duty applications like construction or outdoor storage. Your choice should align with your specific requirements in terms of protection and longevity.

If you’re looking for an effective shade solution, QiBang Netting offers a range of high-quality shade cloths tailored to meet diverse needs. Reach out to us for personalized advice and premium products that promise durability and efficiency. Remember, the right choice will not only meet your immediate needs but also provide lasting value and protection.

FAQs about Shade Cloth And Tarps

1. Can you use a tarp as shade cloth for plants?

Using a tarp as a shade cloth for plants is not recommended. Tarps are designed to be waterproof and can block airflow and light more than is beneficial for plant health. Shade cloth are specifically made to allow through the right amount of light and air plants need to thrive.

2. What are the main differences between shade cloth and tarps?

Shade cloth is designed to provide protection from the sun by allowing air and a little light to pass through, whereas tarps are more about waterproofing and providing a solid barrier against various elements including rain, wind, and sunlight.

3. Can shade cloth be used for waterproofing purposes like tarps?

No, shade cloth is primarily designed to offer protection from the sun and are not waterproof, unlike tarps which are made to resist water and provide a dry cover.

4. Are tarps or shade cloth more durable?

Durability depends on the material and quality of the product. Heavy-duty tarps are generally more resistant to tears and punctures than shade cloth, but high-quality shade cloth can last many years if properly maintained.

5. How do I choose between a shade cloth and a tarp for my garden?

Consider what you need most: if you’re looking to protect plants from intense sunlight while allowing air and rain through, a shade cloth is ideal. If you need to cover equipment or create a waterproof area, a tarp would be better.

6. What maintenance is required for shade cloth and tarps?

Regularly check for wear and tear, clean with mild soap and water as needed, and ensure they’re dry before storing to avoid mold and mildew. Tarps may require more frequent checks for holes or tears due to their exposure to harsher conditions.