Light Filtering vs. Room Darkening Window Treatments—Which Is Best For Your Home?

Stacy Sare Cohen
Written by Stacy Sare Cohen
Updated December 21, 2021
Light filtering blinds in classic living room
irina88w / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Choosing between light-filtering and room-darkening window treatments depends on how much you want to let the sunshine in

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We wear sunglasses to protect our eyes, sunscreen to protect our skin, and even put sun shades in our vehicles to shield the interior from sun damage and excessive heat. So, why wouldn’t we do the same for our homes?

Light-filtering and room-darkening window treatments not only add a finishing touch to your interior design but also protect your upholstery, artwork, and flooring from harmful UV rays. However, if you’re stuck between the two, we’ll help narrow down which is best for your home. 

The Key Difference Is in the Fabric’s Weave

The fabric’s weave determines a window treatment’s opacity––the ability to let in light. Opaque materials (thicker weaves, fibers, and yarn) block more light, while sheer, semi-opaque fabrics invite more light into your home. Generally, light-filtering window coverings will block less light than room-darkening treatments. Blackout curtains, on the other hand, are one of the best ways to blackout windows for sleeping, as they block out all the light completely.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Light-filtering window coverings: block 95% or less light

  • Room-darkening window coverings: block 96–99% light

  • Blackout window coverings: designed to block 100% of light

Light-Filtering Window Treatment Pros and Cons

When choosing between light-filtering and room-darkening window coverings, it’s helpful to know their benefits and drawbacks. Generally, light-filtering window coverings are best for rooms where you want to block some light but not make things cave-like. 

Advantages of Light-Filtering Coverings

  • Available in an array of styles, colors, and patterns

  • Offer some privacy

  • Complement your existing shades and drapes

  • Soften incoming direct light

  • Work well in living rooms, kitchens, and family rooms

  • Save energy by relying less on lighting fixtures

Drawbacks of Light-Filtering Coverings

  • Don’t block sound as much as room darkening window coverings

  • Provide a limited amount of privacy when used without other window coverings

  • Aren’t as suitable for bedrooms, nurseries, and media rooms

  • Don’t insulate rooms to extreme heat and cold

Room-Darkening Window Treatment Pros and Cons

Dark retro living room interior with dark blinds
Photographee.eu - stock.adobe.com

Room-darkening window treatments are most appropriate for bedrooms, nurseries, bathrooms, and home theaters because they’re designed to block out light.

Advantages of Room-Darkening Coverings

  • Block natural light in bedrooms and nurseries for a sound sleep

  • Keep glare and light away from media screens and TVs

  • Block out street lights, car headlights, and other light pollution from entering your home

  • Offer more privacy than sheer and light filtering shades, curtains, and blinds

  • Decrease heating and AC energy bills by blocking heat and cold

Drawbacks of Room-Darkening Coverings

  • May cause living rooms, kitchens, and family rooms to feel dark during the day

  • Make you rely on the use of artificial lighting like lamps and light fixtures

UV Light Protection

Just like you should always use sunscreen on the beach, you should protect your home from ultraviolet rays. They can weaken fabric fibers and bleach, fade, and discolor your favorite things in your home, including:

  • Furniture and upholstery

  • Artwork

  • Family photographs

  • Wood flooring and carpeting

  • The color from your walls

Best UV ray protection: room-darkening window treatments

Style and Appearance

Both light-filtering and room-darkening window treatments come in a wide array of stylish designs, fabrics, colors, and patterns, making them easy to complement many decor styles.

Whether you want a room-darkening roman shade to complement a modern living room or light-filtering lace curtains for your French country-inspired kitchen, you can find stylish window treatments in both opacities. 

Most stylish window treatment: tie

Light Control

The flexibility to adjust the amount of light that comes into a room makes your window treatment more versatile. 

Light-filtering shades, blinds, and curtains let you control the amount of light you want to let in, whether you want a soft, warm glow and less light. Room-darkening window treatments, in contrast, don’t allow you to vary the light.

Best light control: light-filtering window treatments

Glare Reduction

Reducing the amount of natural and artificial glare shining through your windows makes it easier on your eyes whether you’re sleeping in your bedroom, reading a novel, or watching TV.

Room-darkening roman shades, roller shades, solar shades, and cellular shades are the best options to minimize glare, although light-filtering treatments will also cut out a portion of the sun.

Best glare reduction: room-darkening window treatments

Privacy

Pretty bedroom with light-filtering blinds and curtains
Anatoli Igolkin / iStock /Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

While light-filtering blinds aren’t transparent, viewers passing by your window may be able to see your shadow as you move about the room. 

Room-darkening options provide better privacy for bedrooms and bathrooms. 

Most privacy: room-darkening window treatments

Insulation

The good news is window coverings generally reduce heating and cooling costs and save energy. According to the Department of Energy, 30% of heating energy escapes through windows.

An insulating window covering will keep the heat out in summer and keep the cold away in the winter. The amount of energy you’ll save comes down to the type of window treatments you get.

Room-darkening options insulate your home more efficiently because they’re made from heavier fabrics.

Best insulators: room-darkening window treatments

Cost

Window treatments come in a variety of price points, depending on their construction, customizations, and technology.

Room-darkening window coverings made from heavier fabrics tend to cost more than light-filtering coverings made from lighter fabrics.

Best price: light-filtering window treatments

Now that you have a better idea of which type of treatment is best for you, here’s how different styles break down so you can pick the perfect combination.  

Cellular honeycomb shades:

  • Constructed of pleats that fold like an accordion. 

  • Contains air pockets in honeycomb sections that trap air, acting as insulators and reducing heat conduction

  • Available in room-darkening and light-filtering opacity

Roller shades:

  • Designed in a wide selection of fabrics, colors, and patterns

  • Lower or raise from a roller bar positioned at the top of the window

  • Made for a variety of budgets

  • Available in light-filtering and room-darkening styles

Roman shades:

  • Designed in a wide variety of patterns and colors

  • Constructed of stacked folds that you can raise or lower to let in light

  • Includes options like cord, hand-operation, or motorized operating systems

  • Available in light-filtering and room-darkening styles

Shutters, wood blinds, and faux wood blinds

  • Shutters constructed from natural wood

  • Coordinate well with southern and traditional decor

  • Come in a variety of stains and painted finishes

  • Filters light when open; darkens room when closed

  • Available in room-darkening and light filtering styles

Curtains and draperies:

  • Come in panels

  • Insulation quality depends on their color, weight, and closed or open weave

  • Draperies with plastic linings can minimize heat by 33%

  • Operates with rods and drapery track systems

  • Available in room-darkening or light-filtering styles

Blinds:

  • Horizontal or vertical slats help vary light penetration

  • Provide excellent heat reduction in summer when closed

  • Easy to adjust the amount of incoming light

  • Don’t insulate well in winter

  • Light can enter between slats and on edges when closed

  • Available in light-filtering and room-darkening styles

  • Come in cord, chain, wand-control, and motorized options

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