Painters’ Drop Cloths: Protect What You’re Not Painting

Painters’ drop cloths keep drips from becoming disasters. Here’s how to pick drop cloths wisely and use them correctly.

Professional painters know that drop cloths are as important to a painting job as brushes and rollers. Painters spread four types of drop cloths over furniture and floors -- canvas, plastic, paper, and a poly/paper blend.

Which type is right for your project? We’ll help you decide.


Canvas drop cloths are the choice of professionals because they are durable and thick enough to absorb paint drips. Some canvas drop cloths come with a rubberized butyl backing, which grips the floor and keeps paint spills from soaking through the cloth. They are virtually indestructible; buy them once, and they’ll last for many years.

Good thing, because they’re the most expensive drop cloth available. Canvas drop cloths come in different weights--the heavier, the better. Prices for a 9-by-12-foot cloth range from $15 for a 6-ounce canvas to about $30 for a 12-ounce canvas.

If you’re a messy painter, the heavier canvas will offer extra absorbency. It’s also woven more tightly so it’s more resistant to tearing. On the other hand, it’s heavier and bulkier to store and tote around.


Plastic painter drop cloths are available in a wide range of thicknesses, from .4 mill to 4 mill. Most jobs require a .6- to 1-mill plastic drop cloth ($1 for 9x12-feet): It’s about the thickness of a trash bag. 

Paint-proof and economical, lightweight plastic drop cloths are good furniture and cabinet covers. Heavy-duty plastic is resistant to rips and can be reused. 
Since plastic painters’ drop cloths are not absorbent, paint spills can run. And if you step in any spilled paint, it’s going with you.  

Use plastic drop cloths when painting outside to protect lawns and landscaping.


Paper drop cloths ($3 to $5) are an inexpensive way to cover furniture or windows for small, indoor jobs, such as touching up window trim. They’re absorbent and textured to hold paint. When you’re finished, you can just fold them up and throw them away.  

Paper painters’ drop cloths, however, are not the best option for floors because they rip easily.


Paper/poly drop cloths are the best of both paper and plastic--they’re low-cost and disposable. They absorb paint drips while providing more protection for what’s underneath. They also provide some protection from slipping. 

You can cut paper/poly drop cloths to fit the space. The drawback is that, like paper, these drop cloths tear. Tape edges to keep them from wandering.

Laying Drop Cloths

Vacuum floors before you spread drop cloths to prevent dirt and debris from becoming trapped underneath and scratching flooring. Plastic and paper drop cloths tend to slide when you walk on them, so tape edges to the floor. Use quick-release painter’s tape so you can safely paint down to the floor line. To make sure painters’ drop cloths stay draped over furniture, secure with masking tape.

Related: Remove Wall Stains Before You Paint

Storing Drop Cloths

Wait for the paint to dry on canvas or plastic drop cloths, fold and store in a clean, dry space. 

When they get filthy, wash canvas drop cloths in cold water. Let air dry.

Related: They'll Think You Cheated a Pro with These 5 Painting Hacks

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Pat Curry

Pat Curry is a former senior editor at "Builder," the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.