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14 Reasons to Keep Plastic Sheeting for Survival Uses

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If you’ve ever looked at a roll of plastic sheeting and thought, “There’s gotta be a way I could use that for prepping,” you would be right!

Many everyday objects around the house are helpful for prepping purposes. One such ordinary household item with an incredible number of uses is plastic sheeting, also known as Visqueen. If you don’t currently have plans to use plastic sheeting for survival reasons, you should reconsider.

Don’t believe me? I’ve got 14 reasons you should change your mind.

image: rolls of plastic sheeting

What is plastic sheeting?

Plastic sheeting is a polyethylene film. It’s available just about anywhere that sells hardware, as well as a few places you might not expect to find it, like fabric stores. Most commonly available in black and clear, it comes in different sizes and several thicknesses.

Why is plastic sheeting called Visqueen?

You may have heard of plastic sheeting also referred to as Visqueen. Visqueen is a registered trademark. Think of it like Ziploc. Ziploc is a registered trademark but is also commonly used to refer to any brand of resealable ziplock-style bags.

How thick is plastic sheeting?

Polyethylene film is available in different thicknesses. The thickness is usually rated in “mils,” which equals one-thousandth of an inch, or 0.001 inches. Three to six mils is fairly common; however, this may vary at your local stores.

Generally, you can consider four mil and below as “thin” and six mil and above as “thick,” though that is relatively speaking.

I mentioned that fabric stores sell it but generally only the thicker versions. However, they may have colors and even patterns available if you want to get fancy. Besides a morale boost for kids, I’m not sure why you’d want patterns or rainbow colors for prepping uses. Leave me a comment if you feel differently.

What sizes does it come in?

Because sheeting is available in many colors, widths, lengths, and thicknesses, knowing what you may want to do with it can help determine what size to get. Less cutting also means less potential for waste and easier for reuse.

Common sizes are 10 ft. x 25 ft. and 20 ft. x 25 ft., though it is available in many other sizes. It’s easy to cut, so err on the side of bigger if you’re not sure what size you will need.

One important factor to keep in mind when you purchase and use the plastic sheeting is that you won’t unfold it until AFTER you have cut it to the desired length. When rolled, it’s only about 16 inches high but unfolds to the width listed on the package. This makes for an easy-to-carry roll but also forces you to know how much you need before you make any cuts. Measure twice, cut once, applies here, too.

Looking at the rolls of plastic sheeting in the store, the packages may look nearly identical, so pay close attention to the description on the actual packaging. The same holds for the type sold at fabric stores. It has a narrower width since it’s on a roll in the upholstery section. (The length is whatever you request, as with any fabric.)

Depending on its intended use, some folks like to use transparent duct tape to piece it together if you do cut it too short. Your mileage may vary with such a repair.

What’s a good multi-purpose size to buy?

If you don’t know what you want to do with the plastic sheeting yet, but would like some of it on hand for those times when you suddenly need it, consider getting the following:

These four rolls will give you a good assortment of plastic sheeting, and they should be available at a store near you or through Amazon.

Is plastic sheeting food-grade?

Although it’s not listed as food-grade, it’s about staying alive and improving conditions during a survival scenario, right? So worrying about whether the plastic sheeting is rated as food grade when your family is dying of thirst is foolhardy.

Remember, we’re talking about emergency uses, not long-term applications.

Reasons to Store Plastic Sheeting for Emergencies

While their use is practically limitless, we’ll limit our list to ideas for using plastic sheeting for survival.

1. Making a Shelter, Tarp, and Ground Sheet

Plastic sheeting is not a great substitute for a tarp or groundsheet but can serve in that role. A couple of rolls of sheeting can make a quick expedient shelter for a large number of people or equipment. It’s not as good as a heavy-duty tarp or an actual tent, but much better than having nothing for protection against the elements of wind and precipitation.

One issue is securing the sheeting in place, as the sheets have no grommets or stake loops. If you pack tarp clips with your plastic sheeting, most of these will work well for providing tie-down locations. Rocks usually work well for keeping groundsheets in place.


  • You can easily pound a stake through the sheeting, but this may lead to tearing, so setting rocks on them is better.
  • Make sure to test your tarp clips with the thickness of sheeting you have to confirm it provides a secure hold.

2. Covering Large Containers, Wood Piles

Likewise, you can use sheeting to cover your water (or other) supplies to help keep them free from debris. Like when using as a tarp, you need to find a way to secure the sheeting so that it doesn’t blow away with the first wind. Similarly, you can use it in place of a tarp to keep dry wood that is being seasoned.

3. Waterproofing Large Containers

If you have a kiddie pool or other large container that leaks, you can line it with plastic sheeting and make it waterproof again. This container can then be used for water storage, a fish pool, or any number of uses. For this use, thicker sheeting will be more resistant to punctures. In addition, if you have two leaking containers and nest them together, you can sandwich the sheeting in between them. This stops the leak while better managing the flimsiness of the plastic sheet.

4. Collecting Rainwater

Though it may seem like I already covered this above when mentioning water storage, rainwater collection is something different. The best way to collect rain is with a large surface area. This allows you to collect as much as possible. You can use plastic sheeting for emergency rainwater collection.

While rainwater collected from rooftops is suitable for the garden, it’s not too suitable for drinking with all the bird feces and other contaminants present in roof runoff. At least, not without a lot of processing to make the water safe to drink.

Suspending plastic sheeting horizontally, with one corner lower than the others, will allow you to collect rainwater efficiently. The hard part (hopefully) will be having enough container space to store all the water you’re collecting. The Survival Mom has five 55-gallon drums to collect and hold water--1 per person and an extra barrel for pets and watering a few food-producing plants. Rather than purchasing them new, search Craigslist or eBay for local sources. A cleaned-out, pre-used 55-gallon drum shouldn’t cost more than $20 or so.

Be sure to stock up on bleach, perhaps calcium hypochlorite, and other supplies and equipment to purify any rainwater collected.

5. Winterizing Windows And Doors & Closing Off Rooms

This common, everyday use of plastic sheeting can also be important during a survival scenario such as a winter storm power outage or even a furnace breaking down. If you’re relying on an alternative heating source, perhaps a kerosene heater or small fireplace, you’ll want to make that room as small as possible and block drafts from doors and windows.

With the open floor plans of today’s newer homes, closing off a room may not be as easy as closing a door. You can, however, make the room smaller by hanging plastic sheeting. While not thermally efficient (meaning insulative), it does limit the airflow, which keeps the warmer air in the room (similar to using a tent inside) and not escaping to the rest of the house.Who knew plastic sheeting, aka Visqueen, could be so versatile? Read more! Click To Tweet

6. Making Temporary Home Repairs

In addition to creating expedient shelter, it can also be used to make temporary repairs to your home. Roofs and windows broken from storm damage let the rainwater in, adding to the overall damage. Quickly tacking up some plastic sheeting can limit the total damage to your home.

From my book, Survival Mom:

Keeping the icy wind out of your home is essential. Try covering
the side of the house facing the wind with clear Visqueen, a
plastic sheeting readily available from home improvement stores.
Bales of hay piled against the house and even snow shoveled
around the foundation and up against the outer walls act as
insulators and will help anchor the visqueen.

7. Diverting Water

In a similar vein, sheeting can be combined with large rocks or sandbags to divert high water away from a structure. Using it to redirect water to prevent a landslide/mudslide because of saturated ground prevents an emergency before it happens. If your home is on or near a hillside, this is a use you should consider!

8. Protecting the Floor for an Indoor Pet Potty

Even if you have a kiddie pool for this purpose, you should store some plastic sheeting, just in case. Not all animals will take to using the pool. For those, lining the floor with plastic and spreading on top newspapers or other material can go a long way to avoid the unpleasantness of indoor “doggie doodie.”

9. Providing Privacy for Showers

Privacy is important to us, particularly when we’re naked in the shower. Your whiz-bang shower will make more of an impression if it also includes a shower curtain. Clear thick plastic sheeting is usually cloudy enough to occlude seeing through it, but there’s always black for those that demand complete opaqueness. Your neighbors might appreciate it, too!

10. Blacking-out Light for Protection and Privacy

Speaking of complete opaqueness, black plastic sheeting is a great, cheap solution for blacking out your windows. When the power is out in the entire area, the last thing you want is to advertise you have light, whether from emergency candles, lanterns, or solar-powered lighting. The less people know about your preparedness activities, the better, including during and after a critical event.

11. Building a Solar Still

The article 15 Preparedness Uses for Kiddie Pools suggested using two nested pools for a large solar distiller (or a pool with an inner catch container). This is the plastic you use to create that. Either the clear or black plastic would work well for this.

12. Protecting Air Quality/Creating an Isolation Area

During a pandemic, from influenza to Ebola, you may need to create a safe room or isolation room to protect yourself and your family. Additionally, suppose you have people show up at your house after the pandemic has taken hold in your area. In that case, you will need to isolate them until the incubation period is over.

The only way to do this effectively is with plastic sheeting. Please note that safe room operations require more than just a roll of plastic, but it’s an important component.

Making a safe or isolated room with plastic sheeting typically requires you to overlap the layers to create an entrance portal. However, there is a product that makes creating a door in plastic sheeting, or even tarps, much easier. It’s called a Tarp Zipper Door. The Homax brand is available at most hardware stores.

To use, apply with the adhesive backing, unzip, and cut a slit where the zipper is open. Instant door! You might also want to buy a roll or two of transparent duct tape in case you need to attach one panel to the other.

13. Managing the Dead

In any emergency, sanitation and hygiene are always huge concerns, and managing the dead could be a necessary function under that umbrella. In the unfortunate event that someone dies, you must be able to handle the body in a safe manner. Plastic sheeting allows you to wrap the body to protect it (and you) and carry it to a suitable location for burial.

14. Extending the Growing Season

Plastic sheeting can be used to create a greenhouse to increase your growing season. However, you need to ensure the plants are getting enough UV light. The brand of plastic sheeting you’re using may block it.

Even so, extending the growing season by keeping the plants warmer overnight and exposing them to sunlight during the day has definite advantages. You could even use the tarp zipper door trick from above and create roll-up sides for your greenhouse.


With the many uses for plastic sheeting, for everyday and preparedness use, stock up on them now while they’re readily available.

Do you store plastic sheeting for emergencies?

The article was originally published on August 31, 2014, and has been updated.

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Rob Hanus is the author of several books, including, “The Preparedness Capability Checklist” and “Surviving EMP.” He is also founder and host of the

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