Buying Guide – Shopping for the The Best Blackout Curtains
Blackout curtains are used to shield bedrooms from outside light, which can interfere with the circadian cycle and negatively affect sleep quality. They are an essential component for people who need to sleep during daylight hours, including shift workers and small children, as well as people with disorders like insomnia that affect sleep onset and/or maintenance. In addition to blocking light, blackout curtains improve temperature insulation by keeping bedrooms cool during the hot months and warm when it’s cold outside. They may dampen outside noise to create a quieter sleep environment, as well.
This guide will explore the functions of blackout curtains and their benefits for sleepers, as well as buying tips for first-time buyers and our picks for the best blackout curtains based on owner experiences.
What Are Blackout Curtains and Why Are They Helpful?
Let’s begin by discussing the key differences between curtains, drapes, shades, and blinds.
- Curtains are single-layer fabric panels that are attached to a top rod using rings, grommets, or small openings known as ‘rod pockets’. The rod mechanism allows the curtains to be closed or opened easily. Curtains are usually made from crisp, lightweight fabrics like polyester or cotton.
- Drapes are similar to curtains in terms of functionality and installation, but they feature an extra panel that acts as a liner. They are often made from heavier fabrics like velvet, wool, or canvas.
- Shades are single fabric panels that can be lowered or raised using a cord or roller. The fabric bunches at the top rod when raised.
- Blinds are not made from fabric, but harder materials like wood or plastic. They feature slats that can be opened or closed individually, but the blinds as a whole cannot be raised or lowered.
For the purposes of this guide, the catch-all term ‘blackout curtains’ refers to any curtains, drapes, shades, or blinds that are designed to block outside light, reduce noise, and improve insulation. ‘Blackout’ is a specific manufacturing process, during which foam layers are applied to raw fabric — usually polyester or microfiber — in order to increase the density and opacity of the material. The foam layers are known as ‘passes,’ and most blackout curtains sold today fall into one of the following two categories:
- Two-pass: Features one layer of black foam applied directly to the fabric and a second white foam layer applied to the other side of the black foam. The black foam is often visible through the white foam layer, giving the curtains a shadowy, uneven look; many owners use a liner to give their curtains a more uniform appearance.
- Three-pass: Features two layers of white foam with a third layer of black foam sandwiched between them. Three-pass curtains are more decorative and aesthetically-pleasing than two-pass curtains, and a liner may not be needed. These are sometimes sold as ‘three-in-one’ blackout curtains.
Blackout liners are sold separately and also widely available. They have two sides: a lighter fabric side and a darker, sleeker side. Additionally, some ‘three-pass’ liners have a middle layer of foam or fabric. Some liners are sold by the foot or yard and cut to order. Others are sold in large sections, and require owners to cut the material to length themselves. Most can be installed on existing curtains using drapery hooks or grommets, and they may be hemmed to the curtain as well. In addition to blackout liners, blackout window covers are installed over the window opening using clips or hook-and-loop fasteners.
Blackout curtains are useful for sleep because our natural sleep cycle depends on exposure to natural light. Our internal alarm clock — known as the circadian rhythm — is programmed to make us feel tired at night when the sun goes down, and to wake up in the morning after the sun reappears. People tend to have healthy circadian rhythms in ideal sleep settings, but many have jobs or commitments that require them to be awake when they should be asleep and vice versa. These individuals include:
- Shift workers, defined as anyone who works outside the standard schedule of 9am to 5pm. These employees often sleep during the day in order to prepare for their shift ahead, and may choose to follow the same routine on their days off for a smoother transition when their work week begins again.
- Newborns, infants, toddlers, and other children who nap during the daylight hours.
- People with sleep-onset insomnia, which causes difficulty falling asleep, and/or sleep-maintenance insomnia, which affects how long the individual remains asleep without waking up. Insomnia is closely linked to circadian disruptions.
- People who live on streets that are particularly bright or busy at night.
The most effective blackout curtains can block up to 99% of outside light. Blackout curtains also provide the following uses when installed properly:
- Light and UV ray protection: Exposure to sunlight can damage furniture and appliances over time. Blackout curtains can mitigate this damage and extend the lifespan of your home furnishings.
- Noise reduction: Due to the foam layers, blackout curtains can significantly lower the amount of outside noise that enters your bedroom — up to 60%, in some cases.
- Temperature insulation: The foam components of blackout curtains can also trap in heat during the winter and keep your bedroom cool in the summer. This ensures not only year-round comfort, but also savings on energy costs.
- Glare prevention: Lastly, many people utilize blackout curtains for family rooms, rec rooms, and other areas where people tend to watch TV. The curtains are quite effective at keeping glare out of the room.
Most blackout curtains sold today are machine washable. However, depending on their material composition, some may require hand washing, spot cleaning, or professional cleaning.
Important Considerations for Blackout Curtain Shoppers
When shopping for new blackout curtains and comparing different brands and models, here are a few important factors to take into account:
- What is your blackout curtain budget? Some blackout curtains cost more than $100, but cheaper models can be found for $30 or less. Be sure to factor in the costs of a new liner or window panel if you plan to buy two-pass blackout curtains.
- Do you prefer two- or three-pass blackout fabric? Two-pass blackout fabric usually requires a liner, but it may be more suitable for people who do not want complete darkness. Three-pass blackout fabric is highly effective at blocking most outside light — too effective for some people, particularly those who like a small amount of light in their room.
- What are the dimensions of your window? The best blackout curtains are available in multiple sizes to accommodate purchasers with different room dimensions. Measure your window’s width and length carefully before buying curtains. You may be able to refer to your existing curtains if product tags are still attached.
- What are the dimensions of your existing curtains? A cheaper workaround to buying new blackout curtains is to modify existing curtains using a blackout liner. The liner should measure slightly smaller than the curtains; the general rule of thumb is one inch shorter/narrower on each of its four sides.
- What materials are used to make the curtains? Material composition often determines the overall weight of the curtains, which can affect how easily they move across the rod. Lighter fabrics include tulle and lace, while heavier options include velvet and canvas.
- How do the curtains attach to the rod? Curtains may use rings, grommets, rod pockets, or other fastening mechanisms. All are comparably effective, and this consideration usually comes down to personal preference.
- How should the curtains be cleaned? Blackout curtains are usually machine washable, which can save you time and money in the long run compared to curtains that can only spot and/or dry cleaned.
- What are your color preferences? Color is purely aesthetic, but an important consideration for many. Some blackout curtains are available in a wide assortment of colors and designs, while others have a more limited selection.
- Do the blackout curtains come with a return policy or warranty? Blackout curtain manufacturers may offer a trial period, during which purchasers can return the curtains for a full refund if they are not satisfied, as well as warranties that cover defects for up to 10 years. However, many blackout curtains do not come with either a trial nor a warranty.
- Do you have the implements to make your own blackout curtains? Homemade blackout curtains require extra time, but they can be an inexpensive option compared to buying new models.
How to Make Homemade Blackout Curtains
In addition to store-bought blackout curtains, many modify their existing curtains to block outside light using this simple DIY process:
- Purchase blackout lining. This material is available at most large fabric/craft stores, and is usually sold by the yard at inexpensive price-points (usually $7 to $10 per yard). Buy more than you’ll need to allow for cutting errors.
- Iron the lining. This will prevent bunching. Make sure to place the iron on the fabric side only.
- Cut the lining to slightly smaller dimensions than the curtains themselves (roughly one inch shorter and narrower on each side should do the trick).
- Attach the lining near the top of the curtain fabric. In most cases, you’ll need to detach the curtain from its grommets or hooks. Make sure not to block the holes; cut around them if needed.
If successful, the blackout lining should adhere to the curtains and block outside light. You can also follow the same process if you plan to make new curtains as well. Simply hem both sides and the bottom of the curtain panel, and then fold over the top by one inch or less (however much room is needed to use the rod). Slide the lining beneath the top fold and pin in place, and then you will be able to sew the lining inside the curtain.
Blackout window panels are an alternative to curtain linings that do not require any sewing or ironing. Blackout window panels attach to the edges of the interior window frame using clips, hook-and-loop closures, or other fasteners; adhesives can rip paint off the wall. Make sure the panel is flush with the window; otherwise outside light may enter the room.
Other Ways to Deal with Light-Related Sleep Issues
In addition to buying blackout curtains, there are a few simple ways to cope with annoying light-related issues that impact your sleep. Below you’ll find a few helpful suggestions for common annoyances.
Sleep Masks: Sleep masks create artificial darkness, making it easier for sleepers to relax and fall asleep, even in well-lit surroundings. Additionally, it’s possible to buy sleep masks with additional comfort benefits such as weighted sleep masks, and sleep masks infused in with soothing scents.
Limit Blue Light Exposure: Studies show that certain lighting can affect our body’s natural circadian rhythm. Prolonged blue light exposure, especially near bedtime, can negatively impact your ability to drift off to sleep. It’s best to cut back on your exposure to sources of blue light, such as smartphones and laptops. Additionally, consider buying blue-light-blocking glasses.
Light Therapy: For anyone with seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), light therapy is a very useful recovery method. For those with SAD, as the amount of natural sunlight wanes during winter months, it can throw off an affected person’s circadian rhythms, severely disrupting sleep. The therapy uses high concentrations of abnormally bright artificial light. Daily exposure of about 30 minutes elevates one’s mood and overall well-being.