How to Find Blackout Curtains That Actually Work

Written by O'D McKewan of 3 Blind Mice Window Coverings
Updated June 15, 2021
Roman shades window treatments
Dark Roman shades can reduce outdoor light in bedrooms or media rooms you want to keep dark. (Photo courtesy of Blindsgalore)

Whether it's privacy or light control you're after, blackout curtains and room-darkening shades can help. But what's the difference? Which one is best for you?

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The range of window treatment options for light filtering and room darkening is huge. From sheer curtains to true blackout curtains, here's a breakdown of how to choose the best types of window treatments to reduce or eliminate light.

Limit light, add privacy

Privacy and light control can be the most important factors when deciding which new window treatments to purchase for your home. The need for blackout or room-darkening curtains depends on the location and exposure of your home, and the effect you want to achieve within a particular room.

Whether you’re looking to add privacy to a bedroom without sacrificing a view, or you work at night and need to sleep during the day so want to block out light, you can find stylish and functional window treatments.While all window coverings implicitly offer some level of privacy and light control, the degree to which a particular window treatment will block light and prevent prying eyes can vary greatly between different types of window coverings. Even the same types of window treatments provide different room darkening benefits depending on the style and fabric you choose.

There are three main options to compare when shopping for curtains that maximize privacy and light control: blackout curtains, light-filtering shades and room-darkening curtains.

Sheer curtains and light-filtering shades

At the sheerest end of the spectrum, light-filtering shades are perfect for rooms where you want some privacy while keeping the decor light and airy. Sheer curtains work great for setting the mood in your den, kitchen or living room. These window treatments come in a variety of fabrics, patterns, colors, shapes and sizes, making them a great way to compliment existing curtains and draperies.Different types of light-filtering window treatments include sheer curtains; horizontal blinds; solar-roller shades and screens; woven wood shades; cellular shades and some Roman shades.

Room-darkening shades

If you’re looking for something subtler than blackout curtains, there are many options to darken your room enough for a good nights’ sleep or to watch a movie.

Room-darkening curtains and blinds are most commonly used for bedrooms or living areas where light control is important. They’re typically a safer option to blackout curtains or shades, because the halo of ambient light from the sides helps you see your surroundings when navigating around the dark room.Options include room-darkening cellular shades, room-darkening sheer curtains, woven wood shades with room darkening privacy liners, blackout curtain liners, Roman shades and vertical blinds.

True blackout curtains

A true blackout window treatment block 100 percent of outside light. Blackout curtains are most often used in rooms such as nurseries, bedrooms, photographer dark rooms and movie/media rooms.

While many shades and window treatments tout themselves as blackout, the term is frequently misused to mean room-darkening shades, which still allow a halo of light around the edges of the window treatment.

drapes on tall window in living room
Drapes provide a dramatic look. (Photo courtesy of Blindsgalore)

The best blackout shades

So, how do you get blackout curtains that actually work and entirely block outside light?

Using roller shades with side channels is just one option to help you achieve a completely dark room. The side channel can come in aluminum, bronze or white, depending on how you want to match them to your home. These designer roller shades come in many different colors, fabrics and patterns, and they can either come motorized or manual depending on your preference for ease of use.If you’re looking to completely darken your room but maintain elegance in your decor, using motorized curtains with drapery tracks is a good option. Newer drapery tracks can curve around your curtains for an optimally dark room. And you have many options when it comes motorizing these treatments or setting up a manual pull system.

Multi-layer window treatments

One final way to eliminate the “halo” around the edges of an otherwise blackout window treatment is to create a multi-layer treatment that combines side panels and a valance or cornice box to stop the light at the edges and take your room’s decor to the next level.

Multi-layer treatments can take your windows from ordinary to extraordinary, while eliminating all light from your room. Combining a roller shade, with a patterned valance/top treatment, and patterned side panels is one of the many combinations you can use.

New innovations

The options for adding privacy or darkening your room are nearly limitless, but what about window treatments that do both? Stylish 2-in-1 window treatments are now available from brands including Hunter Douglas, Levolor and Coulisse.

Coulisse’s Dual Roller Shade allows you to control light similar to a wood blind or sheer shade while giving you the clean look of a roller shade.If you seek something on the sheer side, Hunter Douglas’ Silhouettes and Luminette Privacy Sheers are a soft drapery with an innovative design that rotates 180 degrees for light control and privacy. You can manually tilt the vanes to manage light control for your room. These are also safe for children, eliminating the need for cords.  And sheer curtains can be opened to allow light in and closed to completely darken your room, with a sheer front.

A version of this article originally appeared on the 3 Blind Mice Window Covering blog.

About this Experts Contributor: O'D McKewan is general manager of 3 Blind Mice Window Coverings in San Diego, California. As an industry leader in motorized blinds and shades, his expertise allows him to help with custom builds from inception to completion. You can follow this service provider on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

As of Feb. 7, 2016, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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