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Selecting window treatments for your home largely comes down to your family’s lifestyle and personal needs. But did you know that your choice of curtains could also impact your home’s efficiency?
On the surface, the difference between blackout, room-darkening, and light-filtering curtains can be defined by how much light each one blocks.
Blackout curtains block nearly all light while room-darkening curtains let a very small amount through. Light-filtering curtains, on the other hand, diffuse direct sunlight to eliminate glare while still providing plenty of illumination.
When you look a little deeper, though, it becomes clear that these curtains offer a variety of potential benefits for your home and even the planet at large.
Blackout Curtains Overview
Blackout curtains are thick, heavy drapes that block around 99% of light as it passes through your home’s windows.
The main reason for hanging blackout curtains is to make a room as dark as possible. However, these curtains also offer maximum privacy when closed.
With blackout curtains, there is no in-between. So many people combine this type of curtain with other window treatments that allow a greater amount of light to pass through when total darkness isn’t desired.
What Are Blackout Curtains Made Of?
Blackout curtains utilize a combination of densely woven fabric and thick liners to block out all light. The typical blackout curtain contains two or more layers.
Some blackout curtains feature natural materials like cotton or wool as the room-facing layer. However, most (if not all) blackout curtains on the market contain some synthetic materials.
Particularly thick blackout curtains — these curtains are normally labeled as “insulating” — often have an additional layer of foam or felt between the outer layers.
There’s a common misconception that blackout curtains are only available in black (or similarly dark colors). While this was true in the past, it’s no longer the case. Blackout curtain manufacturers have perfected the use of light-blocking liners so that the room-facing side of the curtains can be any color without impacting efficiency.
Blackout curtains are a favorite among those who work late nights and must sleep during the day. Hanging blackout curtains in your or your child’s bedroom can make mid-day naps more comfortable.
While blackout curtains are most effective during the day, they can also be beneficial at night. For example, you can use blackout curtains to block out backlit signs, street lamps, traffic signals, and headlights if you live in the city.
Blackout curtains are the go-to solution for special-purpose spaces like media or dark rooms (for photography). High-quality blackout curtains are the easiest way to achieve the level of darkness required in these rooms.
Room-Darkening Curtains Overview
The difference between room-darkening vs blackout curtains might seem like semantics. But there is a very real difference!
Room-darkening curtains — sometimes called dimout curtains — are very, very similar to blackout curtains but allow a small amount of light to pass through. While most blackout curtains claim to block at least 99% of light, most room-darkening curtains block 95% or less.
If you don’t care about achieving total darkness, room-darkening curtains may be a more affordable alternative to blackout curtains.
What Are Room-Darkening Curtains Made Of?
Room-darkening curtains are constructed almost identically to blackout curtains. But to let some light through, fewer layers or thinner fabrics are used.
Room-darkening curtains made from particularly dense fabric may only have one layer. Others feature multiple layers of regular fabric. If a room-darkening curtain is advertised as insulated or thermal, it likely has a layer of felt sandwiched in the middle.
Because of the different materials used, room-darkening curtains tend to weigh less than blackout curtains on average. This can make mounting and general maintenance of the curtains a bit easier.
When properly installed, blackout curtains make it seem like a room is completely windowless. Room-darkening curtains offer a nice compromise for spaces like bedrooms, nurseries, and family rooms.
Children (and adults) who don’t enjoy total darkness will definitely prefer room-darkening curtains over blackout ones!
Room-darkening curtains may also be sufficient if you’re trying to block out something like a poorly placed streetlamp rather than the entire sun. While blackout curtains are practically a must for creating darkness during the day, room-darkening curtains offer similar results at night.
Light Filtering Curtains Overview
In contrast to blackout and room-darkening curtains, light-filtering curtains are actually designed to let light into the home.
So why would you spend money on light-filtering curtains instead of just leaving your windows bare?
The most common reason for using this type of curtain is to increase privacy. Even when light-filtering curtains let in a significant amount of light, they still obscure the view of your home from outside.
Another benefit of light-filtering curtains is that they can turn harsh, direct sunlight into a diffused glow. (We’ve all experienced that annoying glare on our TV or computer screens at some point!)
What Are Light-Filtering Curtains Made Of?
Light-filtering curtains are made with thin, loosely woven fabric that lets in a significant amount of light. This fabric may be natural or synthetic.
In terms of construction, the biggest difference between light-filtering curtains and the other types we’ve discussed is that you’ll hardly ever see light-filtering curtains with more than one layer.
You can purchase light-filtering curtains in a variety of colors. Unlike modern blackout and room-darkening drapes, however, fabric color can have a noticeable impact on how much light passes through the curtain.
Obviously, curtains excel at blocking sunlight and providing privacy. But there are many scenarios when you might want to allow natural light into your home while still blocking the line of sight of neighbors and random passersby. In such cases, light-filtering curtains far outperform blackout and room-darkening options.
Personally, I use light-filtering curtains in my home office space to block out direct sunlight without making the room feel like a dungeon. Sheer curtains cut through the glare without blocking natural light as a whole. It’s much easier on the eyes than the alternative, especially when staring at a computer screen for long stretches of time!
If you opt to hang light-filtering curtains in a bedroom or somewhere similar, you may want to consider using blinds as well.
Which Curtains Are The Most Eco-Friendly?
According to a study from the UK Energy House project, closing curtains of any kind can cut energy loss from household windows by up to 17%. The insulating properties of blackout curtains and some room-darkening curtains could cut these losses even more.
Blackout and room-darkening curtains can also save energy just by blocking the sun. Sunlight passing through windows contributes a surprising amount to the temperature of our homes. During the summer, this excess heat can kick the A/C into high gear.
Blackout and room-darkening curtains let you stop the sun’s rays in their tracks, maintaining the temperature of your home. Hang these curtains over windows that receive direct sunlight for the best results.
In some cases, light-filtering curtains can help cut down on electricity consumption.
For example, imagine that you want to use curtains to add privacy to your street-facing living room. If you hang blackout or room-darkening curtains, you’ll need to turn on the lights whenever the drapes are closed (even if it’s the middle of the day!). But if you hang light-filtering curtains, your living room will still receive enough natural light to see by — no need to switch on every lamp in the middle of the afternoon!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type Of Curtains Block Noise?
There are window treatments out there specifically designed to block outside noise. However, most insulated curtains will do the trick.
Blackout curtains with multiple thick layers will make a noticeable difference to ambient noise entering through your home’s windows. Room-darkening curtains may offer some noise insulation but won’t come close to the dampening of heavy blackout curtains.
Can You See Through Light-Filtering Curtains At Night?
Yes, passersby can see through light-filtering curtains at night when there are lights on in the home.
This is definitely something to take into consideration if you’re looking to maximize privacy with your new window treatments. In most rooms, light-filtering curtains are best paired with traditional blinds or shades so that you can customize the window covering to suit your needs throughout the day (and night!).
Can You See Through Blackout Curtains At Night?
No, you won’t be able to see through blackout curtains at night. The material is thick enough and the lack of natural light will make sure no light comes through.
What Is The Difference Between Light-Filtering And Sheer Curtains?
Most curtain manufacturers differentiate light-filtering and sheer curtains by the amount of light that passes through. Sheer curtains tend to be even thinner than light-filtering curtains, allowing almost as much light to pass through as no curtains at all.
Note that these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. When comparing curtains, it’s best to compare materials side-by-side whenever possible to find the best solution for your home.
What Percent Of Light Do Blackout Curtains Filter?
Most blackout curtains block 99% or more light. Keep in mind that this is the amount of light that passes through the fabric itself. If you want to achieve complete darkness, you’ll need to prevent light from seeping past the curtains’ edges as well!