How to Use Drop Cloths for Painting

various types of drop cloths under a ladder with painting supplies around

Painting is messy, even for careful painters, so it’s important to know how to use drop cloths when you’re doing a home improvement project. One of the keys to anxiety-free painting is knowing what drop cloths to use and how to use them.

In this article, we’ll cover the types of drop cloths, tips and tricks for using drop cloths, and we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about drop cloths.

Types of Drop Cloths


a canvas drop cloth, paint bucket, and paint brush under a ladder
Photo Credit: fstop123 / Canva Pro / License

Canvas drop cloths are the top choice among professionals. They are durable, reusable, and thick enough to absorb paint. Some have a rubberized backing to let them grip the floor, preventing them from slipping and keeping paint spills from bleeding through.

Canvas cloths come in different weights; the heavier, the better. Heavier cloth is more absorbent and tear-resistant but more expensive and harder to move around.

Best for: anyone who wants an absorbent drop cloth that sticks to the floor.


A plastic drop cloth, ladder, and paint buckets in a white room
Photo Credit: studioroman / Canva Pro / License

Plastic drop cloths are generally disposable and come in different thicknesses: lightweight and heavy-duty. Both cover furniture and cabinets, and their resistance to the elements makes them suitable for outdoor painting projects.

Unlike canvas, plastic cloths rip easily and slip on hardwood and carpeted floors. Also, paint spills will pool and run on a slick plastic surface, and if you spill paint on a drop cloth and get stuck in it, you’ll track it around. While you can clean paint spills, it can be tricky and time-consuming.

Best for: upper cabinets, light fixtures, furniture, and outdoor painting projects.


Paper drop cloths covering the floor of a room
Photo Credit: alfernec / Canva Pro / License

Paper drop cloths are absorbent and designed to hold paint. They’re inexpensive and work best for small indoor jobs like covering furniture or touching up window trim. However, they’re unsuitable for floors because they rip easily. Paper drop cloths also slide around easily, so you’ll need to tape them down to keep them in place.

Best for: covering furniture, touching up window trim, and working indoors.


A painter kneels on a drop cloth to paint a white wall
Photo Credit: welcomia / Canva Pro / License

Paper/poly drop cloths take the best aspects of paper and plastic and combine them into one. Inexpensive and disposable, Paper/poly drop cloths protect from slipping and absorb paint drips to protect what’s underneath. However, like paper, they tear easily and need tape to stay in place.

Best for: people who want the same perks of paper and plastic.

Sizes and Shapes of Drop Cloths

Picking a drop cloth with the right size and shape will enhance protection and minimize waste. Your drop cloth should be large enough to cover the entire floor, furniture, etc., regardless of shape. Below are the different shapes and the parts of the house they’re best suited for:

  1. Rectangular: Standard-sized rooms
  2. Square: Symmetrical areas or central surfaces
  3. Runner: Hallways, stairs, and narrow pathways
  4. Circular: Rounded surfaces (e.g., dining room tables).

Pro Tip: Some drop cloths come in long strips or rolls that you can cut to fit what you want to cover.

Tips and Tricks When Using Drop Cloths

Here are some pro tips to get the most out of your drop cloths:

How to Lay Down Drop Cloths

  1. Wash or vacuum the floors before laying down your drop cloths to keep dirt and debris from scratching surfaces.
  2. Tape paper and plastic cloths to the floor with painter’s tape to keep them from moving around while you work.
  3. Tape drop cloths to your furniture with masking tape to keep them in place.
  4. Place your drop cloth against the wall to maximize protection when working on the ceiling or walls.
  5. When you lay your drop cloth multiple times, ensure the same side is facing up each time to avoid getting paint on the items or surfaces you’re trying to protect.
  6. Put your paint buckets and pans on top of the drop cloth as they drip.

How to Store Drop Cloths

Here’s how to store your drop cloth if you plan on using it again:

  1. Wait for the paint to dry.
  2. Fold it and store it in a clean, dry space.
  3. If your canvas gets dirty, wash it in cold water and let it air dry.

FAQ About Drop Cloths and How to Use Them

Are there other DIY projects I can use drop cloths for?

Yes. Any project that is potentially messy can benefit from a drop cloth.

Are drop cloths waterproof?

No, they are not. Some canvas drop cloths are treated with a waterproof coating that wears off over time.

Is a tarp better than drop cloth for painting?

Though a tarp can be used for painting, drop cloths absorb paint more effectively, making them the better choice.

When to Hire a Painting Pro

Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and drop cloths are proof of that. Picking one will keep your home from avoidable messes and make cleanup a breeze. If you don’t know which drop cloths to pick or don’t want to buy one, contact a painting pro, and they’ll handle the painting and the mess.

Main Photo Credit: Blue Bird from Pexels / Canva Pro / License

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner is a writer and aspiring product designer based in New York City. When he isn’t writing about home improvement projects, Stuart enjoys heavy metal music, exercise, and trying new food and drinks.