What Are the Differences Between Curtains, Drapes, Shades, and Blinds?

A Guide to the Most Common Types of Window Treatments

Types of Window Coverings illustration

The Spruce

When it comes to window treatments, the four general types are curtains, drapes, shades, and blinds. Some people use these terms interchangeably, especially drapes vs. curtains. However, while all four window treatment options can be used with many decorating styles and rooms, each has distinct characteristics.

Here are the similarities and differences between curtains, drapes, shades, and blinds to help you make the right selection for your needs.

  • 01 of 04


    curtains in a bedroom

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

    • Best for: All rooms
    • Common materials: Variety of fabrics
    • Light blocking: Sheer to blackout

    Curtains are fabric panels that are often sold and hung in pairs. You’ll find curtains in a wide range of widths, lengths, fabrics, colors, and patterns. They're a versatile and popular choice for every room of the home, even bathrooms and kitchens. They can soften a space, as well as add pops of color and texture.

    Curtains hang from a rod, which can be plain or decorative. Some curtains have a fabric pocket sewn at the top that will slip over the rod, hiding it when they're closed. Others have metal grommets or fabric tabs sewn at the top to slide over the rod. There also are rings or hooks that clip to the top of curtains to attach them to the rod.

    Some curtains are referred to as sheers because the fabric offers minimal light blocking and privacy. For example, the short, sheer curtains that cover only the bottom half of a window over a kitchen sink—frequently matched to a valance across the window’s top—are called café curtains.

    Other curtains are made of heavier fabric and might be marketed as blackout curtains, as they filter out most light. Curtains also can be used in conjunction with blinds or shades for optimal light blocking, especially in bedrooms.

  • 02 of 04


    light-blocking drapes

    Martin Barraud / Getty Images

    • Best for: Bedrooms
    • Common materials: Variety of heavy fabrics
    • Light blocking: Moderate to blackout

    There isn't a great deal of difference when it comes to drapes vs. curtains. Like curtains, the purpose of drapes is to block light, offer privacy, and add visual interest to a room. Drape panels are also often sold in pairs as window treatments. And like curtains, drapes hang from a rod on rings, hooks, grommets, or via a fabric sleeve.

    The difference between curtains and drapes is drapes are often lined with heavy fabric to block all outside light. Plus, the visible fabric of drapes is also typically heavy and somewhat stiff, with common materials including velvet, damask, and silk. You can pick any color fabric to suit your tastes, so you won't have to worry about your drapes going out of style. Patterns are an option as well, though most drapes are solid or textured rather than heavily pattered.

    Their blackout ability makes drapes perfect for bedroom use, though both drapes and curtains are suitable for living rooms and other spaces as well, depending on your style and needs. The heaviness of drapes often projects a formal feel. Plus, the top of a drapery panel is often pleated, which contributes to the formal appearance.

    Sometimes called draperies, these window treatments are typically long enough to reach from slightly above the window to the floor. They can even puddle a bit on the floor. However, there's no rule that says drapes should touch the floor; that's a personal style choice.

  • 03 of 04


    window shades

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

    • Best for: All rooms
    • Common materials: Fabric, vinyl, bamboo
    • Light blocking: Moderate to blackout

    Sold individually, shades typically come in various types of fabric, though they also can be other materials, including vinyl and bamboo. They're attached to a rod or frame and are sized to fit within the window frame—unlike drapes or curtains, which hang below the sill.

    To let in light and see outside, you need to raise the shade using either a cord, roller, or lifting mechanism. As the shade lifts, it either bunches or rolls around a rod, depending on the shade’s style.

    Simple roller shades are inexpensive, and as the name suggests the material rolls around a rod at the top. Other popular types of shades include Roman shades, which pull up into deep pleats; balloon shades, which pouf into balloons of fabric; and tie-up shades, which fasten using a fabric tie to hold them open. With many styles, colors, and patterns, you can find a window shade to complement any decorating theme—from casual to formal.

    While window shades can be dressy enough to use on their own, many people like to use them underneath curtains or topped with a valance. This also improves their light-blocking abilities, though shades alone can be good blackout window treatments if they're made of a thick, lined fabric.

  • 04 of 04


    blinds in a home office

    Passakorn Leelawat / EyeEm / Getty Images

    • Best for: All rooms
    • Common materials: Vinyl, wood, aluminum
    • Light blocking: Moderate to high

    While blinds lift up and down with a cord or other mechanism like shades do, the two differ in that blinds are not a solid length of material. Rather, blinds are composed of slats, also called louvers, that tilt open to let in light or closed for darkness and privacy. And unlike shades, you don't have to fully raise blinds to see through them; you can just tilt them open.

    Standard depths for blind slats are 1/2 inch, 1 inch, or 2 inches—the latter of which are often called Venetian blinds. The length and width of the blinds are sized to fit within the window frame. While blinds with horizontal slats are most common, there are also blinds with hanging vertical slats. These are generally used on sliding patio doors or over large sliding windows.

    When comparing the light-blocking abilities of drapes vs. curtains vs. blinds, all three can do a fairly good job. However, when it comes to blinds, some light can seep through the cracks between slats and in around the edges. Still, blinds can be suitable for bedrooms. And you always can top them with curtains to more thoroughly block the light.

    Blinds can come in different colors and wood tones, but they're not normally patterned. Topping them with curtains or a valance can soften their rigid appearance and add some visual interest.