Blackout Curtains vs Shades (Comparison Guide)

Here, we share a blackout curtains vs shades comparison guide, including the differences in benefits, types, pleats styles, fabrics, mounting tips, and ideas on how to get a total blockage from the sun.
Room with sofa, coffee table and blackout curtainsThere are two things we love to do in complete darkness: sleeping and watching movies, and what better way to achieve that total darkness than by using blackout window treatments?  [toc] 

Research from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program has found that people who have light exposure during sleep have about 10 minutes less sleep per night.

Fatigue, impaired function during the day, and excessive sleepiness are other serious effects for shift workers or those exposed to street lights. In short, the brighter the environment, the less sleep you get. 

Blackout curtains or shades are a simple yet efficient way to keep away light when not needed. Blackout window treatments are also important in creating an overall cinematic experience when watching movies or for nursery rooms and conference spaces.

Benefits of Fabric Drapes for Windows

  • Completely darken a room. 
  • Increase privacy. 
  • Dampen ambient noise. 
  • Provide insulation. 
  • Decrease UV damage. 
  • Lower energy bills

What Are Blackout Shades?

Grey armchairs, orange table in dark retro style with drapes and blindsBlackout Shades is a type of window treatment built of solid or opaque fabric such as PVC, flax fabric, or mylar, with its function being to block out light from entering an enclosed space. Organic materials such as bamboo, organic cotton, and hemp are popular choices for a more breathable fabric. 

There is a wide range of designs available. From fabric, color, thickness, and types to match your room aesthetic, window shape, and amount of light blocked. 

Types Of Blackout Shades 

You can either choose motorized blackout shades or manual blackout shades. There are motorized blackout shades where you can use your smartphone remote controller or are voice-controlled. 

Manual blackout shades have a continuous loop cord or pull chains that pull up or down to control your window treatment’s coverage. See different types of curtains here.

What Are Blackout Fabric Curtains?

Pinch pleated curtains with oblong center table and leather couchBlackout curtains are a type of window treatment that functions like blackout shades. They are made of loose fabric that freely drapes down across the window from the usual curtain rod. 

Unlike your ordinary curtains, blackout curtains have built-in fabric that can prevent light from coming through. It is naturally thicker than your typical curtain but lighter than drapes. 

The common fabrics used for blackout curtains are suede, polyester, cotton, mineral wool, and velvet. Microfibers and fiberglass are excellent fabric choices for blackout curtains as they double as noise-canceling window treatments but can be pricier than your typical fabrics. 

What to Choose: Blackout Curtains Versus Shades?

Blackout curtains and shades are both effective in blocking out light completely. But it has to have the correct installation and fabric choice. Determining which versions are better depends on your needs. Evaluate them by knowing these: 

Blackout Style Shades 

Bedroom with white subway tile accent wall, futon bed and blackout shadesThe clean and minimalist look of blackout shades makes it a suitable option for modern interiors. They also offer complete control with remote-controlled versions. Blackout shades completely cover your windows with the proper dimensions. 

Conversely, blackout curtains can have the potential of having light coming from the top, bottom, and sides as the fabric freely flows and does not flash completely with your window frames. Add a valance on top of your blackout curtain and have a lower hem to prevent lighting from seeping through the bottom edge. 

Best for Pet Owners. Get cordless versions or stick with Roman blackout shades to prevent your pet from getting tangled with the loose strings. Roman blackout shades have been flashed perfectly on your window opening and do not have slats that a cat may paw through. 

Best for Kids. It prevents your little ones from stumbling on curtain hems. 

Best for Ceiling to Floor Windows. If you have window glass covering most of your entire wall, blackout shades are a more efficient choice and modern looking. Read more about Should curtains touch the floor here.

It is also easier to control with remote controllers or via smart devices. These shades are installed even with a narrow gap between your top window sill and ceiling. 

Blackout Window Curtains 

The blackout curtains offer designs to choose from, unlike blackout shades, where occasionally, there are limited color selections for a particular fabric or design. 

Room with acqua blue accent chair, round table, grey are rug and sectionalBest for Showcasing Windows. When your windows are your focal points in a room, and you want to block out light when needed, these curtains are a better option since they have a grander and more formal look. 

You can add fabric layers since you can style your curtain fabric with pleats, adding volume to the look. 

Best for a Temperate Indoor Space. Most of these curtains are lighter with a single fabric layer, allowing the room to breathe, especially during the hot months. Blackout shades, meanwhile, tend to be heavier and thicker, which can obstruct the passive air from flowing through.  

What Pleat Style Is Best For Blackout Style Curtains & Shades? 

Making sure you’ve got a good-looking dim-out curtain while it efficiently blocks off light can be tricky. Know the best pleats to use and which to avoid. 

Best Pleats

Window with grey and sheer curtainsPinch Pleat. Also known as French pleat, it is neat pleating that fits neatly above your upper window, giving an elegant, uniform, and classic look while giving full coverage. Though a variation of the pencil pleat, it has flat spaces between the pleats, which are a few millimeters apart. 

Use pin hooks instead of curtain rings if you have a tight space above your window sill. Variations are double pleats, Dutch pleats, or single pleats.

Inverted Pleat. This is formed by bringing together the two folded edges to the center point at the exterior of the material, which forms a box plot on the inside. The inverted pleat gives a contemporary look as the pleats neatly flatten against the top window sill. Typically, you will have a series of pleats with 5 inches in width.  

 Flat Panel Pleat. Also termed a flat drapery pleat, which is the most basic pleat where the hooks are installed at the back of the panel that attaches to the eyelets of the curtain rings. When fully stretched, the flat pleats neatly flash above the window sill. 

Pleats to Avoid: 

Wave heading curtainsPencil Pleat or A Wave Heading Curtains

Those with pencil pleats have an irregular and unstructured profile, which means there are spaces where light can seep through. 

Wave curtains give a softly curved profile. It gives a relaxed contemporary look but is not sufficient in preventing sunlight from passing through. 

Blackout Fabric To Choose

Types of Fabric

Most of these curtains are commonly infused with polyester or a combination of polyester and cotton. These are excellent types of fabric as they are durable and low-cost. They are also unlikely to shrink or wrinkle. 

Colorful flame retardant fabrics1. Best to Reduce Heat Transfer – Polyester and Cotton Based Fabrics. These are fabrics with the best thermal insulation properties, which means you get a room that keeps the heat off during the summer months and retains heat during the winter season. 

  • Europatex Style: Anopsia 
  • RocLon Blackout Drapery fabric 
  • AbbeyShea Style

2. 3-Pass Lining. Passes refer to the measurement of its ability to block light. These fabrics have a final white layer. Lining options include unlined, self-lined, which is two layers of the same fabric and 3-pass type. 

  • Minerva Crafts 3 Pass Blackout Thermal Curtain Lining Fabric Ivory
  • Hanes Drapery Lining
  • Eroica Blackout Drapery Fabric

3. Flame Retardant Fabric. Best fabric for dim-out curtains for media rooms, hospitals, or nurseries. This is a wise choice for homes as well. 

  • BS5867 for Flame Retardant fabrics
  • BEGOODTEX Flame Retardant Blackout Curtains

How To Get Total Blockage From The Sun? 

Room with cream sofa, wooden floors with rug and indoor plant

Consider having curtain header styles for curtains to prevent light from entering at the top window seal, especially for low-hanging rods.

Install a curtain pelmet on your top window sill. This serves as a barrier that prevents light and drafts. A pelmet can also contain hot air from transferring to the other parts of the room. 

Use at least a 3-pass dimout lining. A 3-pass fabric means it blocks light with a lining layer of white foam applied at the back of the fabric. The black layer prevents light and retains the heat from the outside. 

Consider overlapping double rods. Having a double coverage of curtains ensures you can close the middle area fully while the second layer prevents any leaks from passing through.

Although, this can increase heat build-up, especially in hot and humid locations. To mediate, you can install air conditioning. Double coverage is great for home theaters or media rooms. 

Use dim-out shades, or if opting for room-darkening curtains, use a valance to add coverage on the top sill. 

Mounting Tips

Proper installation will give you the full potential of your blackout curtains and shades. 

Neutral color themed room with furniture, modern chandekier and vaulted ceiling

Use the Inside Mount. Though not as common (and it will depend on the look you are going for), placing your curtain rods in the inside mount position provides the most light-blocking capability. It gives a streamlined appearance where the curtain is secured from the inside of your window frame.

Choose Curtain Rods with Protective Caps and Expandable Design. The inside mount rods with protective caps and extendable design will create a snug fit, preventing light through.

Add around 6” allowance. Whatever type of mounting you use (outside or inside), as a rule of thumb, measure a couple of inches beyond the window frame on all sides, as these window treatments will look better. Read more about our guide on how high to hang curtains here.

Measure twice cut once. Though it may be a worn-out adage, it’s wise to always measure twice and prevent any room for errors.

Best get your blackout curtains and shades customized. Ready-made curtains usually come with eyelet or pencil-pleat, which means you have spaces at the upper portion where the light will come through.

Hire a professional curtain maker. If you are draping a spacious window area, it is best to hire a professional curtain maker. This saves you more on time and lessens expenses due to errors.

Choose simple-fit pop-in shades. These can be installed in seconds by just pushing down on the end of the shade and removing the adhesive. The shades are locked into place just above your window sill.

However, there are still limited fabrics available for the no-drill blackout shades and they are mostly cellular shades in structure. 

For more related ideas, visit our drapes vs curtains design guide page.

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