Do Blackout Curtains Work?

Room darkening curtains are not the same product as blackout curtains.
Always check product labels and pay attention to the materials used for the best results.

For shift workers or bouts of insomnia, a darkened bedroom makes the difference between restful sleep and tossing and turning. Blackout curtains are designed to keep sunlight from disrupting your daily sleep cycle -- but some work better than others.

Not all blackout curtains do the job they're advertised to do. Opacity, measurements and installation all play into the window treatment's effectiveness at darkening the room.

Room Darkening Curtains

Blackout panels are not the same as room darkening curtains. Read the packaging material carefully, look for such phrases as: "blocks out 99 percent of light." Take note of this metric when planning how to use the curtains. Use room-darkening panels for a west-facing living room that's too bright in the afternoons, while full blackout panels are more appropriate for the bedroom of a night-shift employee.

Even for curtains with a 100 percent blackout opaque liner, the color of the material makes a difference. Blue, brown, gray or black panels will eliminate more light than tan, white or neutral liners. If the room's color scheme calls for lighter curtains, a supplementary blackout panel fitted behind your standard curtains -- sometimes sold as an energy-efficient or thermal panel -- can cut out more light.

Secure the Borders

Length also matters when dimming a room with curtains. Extra-long curtains help keep sunlight from creeping around the panel's edges, so don't be afraid to measure for full length or wider curtains. Use a slightly higher curtain rod or install wide-set wall brackets to cover the window completely and keep shafts of light from filtering through grommet holes.

Particularly challenging situations such as large or east-west facing windows call for more drastic measures. Though it's not the most aesthetically pleasing option, a set of interior blinds mounted under blackout curtains can be your first line of defense. As a last resort, securing the sides of the curtains to the wall with a non-permanent attachment material such as adhesive-backed hook-and-loop tape can shut out the last slivers of light. Add a cornice box or valance atop the window treatment to prevent light from escaping the curtain's top.

About the Author

Kat Stromquist received a master's in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. She writes about interior design and lifestyle issues for a variety of print and web outlets.