Curtains vs Shades

Curtains

   PROS
  • Many design options
  • Can block or filter light
  • Provide privacy
  • Energy-efficient
  • Easier to maintain
  CONS
  • May need to be professionally cleaned
  • Not suitable in small spaces
  • Cords can be a safety risk
$400-$2,000

(for 8 27-inch windows)

Get free advice and estimates from window treatment specialists in your city.

Shades

   PROS
  • Energy-efficient
  • Sleek appearance
  • Block out light
  • Provide privacy
  CONS
  • Cords can be a safety risk
  • Must be professionally cleaned
  • Difficult to adjust
  • Limited range of fabrics and colors
$685-$1,310

(roman shades for 8 27-inch windows)

Get free advice and estimates from window treatment specialists in your city.

Your windows are not just a way to look out of or into your home but an important design element. While it is possible to leave windows completely bare, most of us prefer to use some form of window covering, not just to soften the look but also to provide privacy and control light. No one correct answer for every window in your home exists, so we will compare curtains and shades, two popular options.

Appearance

Curtains are available in a wide variety of fabrics and styles, ranging from airy sheers to heavy velvets. They can be easily coordinated with other design features such as upholstered furniture and wall coverings. However, because they are hung outside the window frame, they take up more space, which can be an issue in a small room. Shades are usually mounted inside the window frame, creating a sleeker look but will not soften a room the same way that curtains will. They are usually available in a more limited range of colors and patterns unless they are custom-made, which adds to the cost.​

Best Use

Curtains are a good choice in formal rooms such as living rooms. However, curtains are not as practical in kitchens and bathrooms where space is at a premium. Shades work better in these areas. However, it is also possible to use both shades and curtains on the same windows to get the advantages of both.

Light and Privacy

Curtains offer various levels of privacy and light control. For example, in a living room, there may be sheers to filter light and provide some privacy during the day, and heavier curtains to draw shut in the evening for additional privacy. Shades do not filter light the same way, but they do provide complete privacy when closed and can shut out all light in a room, which can be very useful for someone trying to sleep during the day.

Installation

Curtains can be installed either as a DIY project or by professionals. Sewing your own curtains requires skills and equipment. Instead, you can buy ready-made curtains or order professional custom-made curtains in any fabric or style. The professionals can then install the hardware and hang your curtains.

Shades are more challenging to install and should be left to a professional. It is important to measure accurately because the shade should fit snugly inside the window frame without leaving gaps. Once they are installed, they are difficult to adjust. Once you have purchased pre-made or custom shades, the roller assembly is attached inside the window frame, and then the shade is adjusted to fit.

Costs

Costs for curtains and shades vary widely depending on the materials selected. For eight 27-inch windows, expect to pay between $435 to $535 for the shades, with an additional $230 to $750 for labor. The hardware will add another $20 to $25, for a total of $685 to $1,310.

The cost of covering eight 27-inch windows with curtains can vary even more depending on the materials used and hardware selected. If you DIY with inexpensive materials, you can complete the job for $400 to $600, but a professional installation of custom-made curtains can be as high as $2,000.

Maintenance

There are differences between the cleaning requirements of curtains and shades. As long as they are made of washable fabrics, it is usually easy to take curtains down, wash them, and then re-hang them. If the curtains are made of more delicate materials, such as velvet or have specialty linings, they need to be professionally dry-cleaned.

Shades almost always need professional cleaning if they become stained or absorb scents from the environment, but it is likely that they will not require as much cleaning as curtains. They can be vacuumed to remove dust and fluff that may accumulate, but that is harder to do with curtains.

Energy-efficiency

If you are looking for energy-efficiency in your window coverings, both curtains and shades can be a good choice. Cellular shades 1 are specially designed with air pockets that insulate your home from both heat and cold, and even flat fabric shades made from heavy materials or with insulating layers can keep heating and cooling costs down. Thermal-backed curtains can also provide good insulation.

Durability

The average life expectancy of curtains ranges from 3 years for sheers to 5 years for lined curtains. Cellular and Roman shades 2 can last from 5 to 7 years before needing replacement.

Safety

Curtains are a safer option for homes with small children and pets because they can become tangled up in the pull cords needed to raise and lower shades. While some curtain systems are operated with cords as well, there are many styles available without cords. According to the Window Covering Safety Council, single cords should be as short as possible, and anchors can be attached to the wall to keep continuous-loop cords permanently out of the way. Cord stops should be used to limit the cord’s movement, and there should be no furniture within a child’s reach of a cord.

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Remodeling Terms Cheat Sheet

Definitions in laymen's terms, cost considerations, pictures and things you need to know.
See full cheat sheet.
1 Cellular shades: A fabric shade that folds flat when collapsed and expands into a honeycomb pattern. They are good for keeping heat out in the summer and keeping it in the winter
2 Roman shades: A window blind that, when drawn up, forms a series of concertina folds

Cost to install curtains or shades varies greatly by region (and even by zip code). To get free estimates from local contractors, please indicate yours.

Related comparison guides

Related cost guides

Window Treatments
Blinds - Install
Curtains - Install
Screens - Install
Shades - Install
 

Labor cost by city and zip code

Compared to national average
Athens, GA
-9%
Atlanta, GA
+24%
Aurora, IL
+21%
Austin, TX
+13%
Birmingham, AL
+6%
Brooklyn, NY
+16%
Cedar Park, TX
-5%
Charlotte, NC
+6%
Chicago, IL
+40%
Cleveland, OH
+7%
Concord, CA
+30%
Dallas, TX
+10%
Davenport, FL
-15%
Denver, CO
+1%
Fairfield, CA
+5%
Farmington, MI
+32%
Fredericksburg, VA
-5%
Fremont, CA
+35%
Germantown, MD
+27%
Glendale, AZ
-2%
Glendale, CA
+14%
Hayward, CA
+31%
Henderson, NV
+10%
Henrico, VA
+6%
Houston, TX
+24%
Hyattsville, MD
+17%
Irvine, CA
+23%
Jacksonville, FL
-1%
Kearney, MO
-6%
Kent, WA
+9%
Las Vegas, NV
+7%
Littleton, CO
+2%
Manassas, VA
+12%
Mesa, AZ
-2%
Miami, FL
+1%
New York, NY
+77%
Newark, DE
+9%
Newark, NJ
+27%
North Las Vegas, NV
+7%
Ogden, UT
-20%
Orlando, FL
+2%
Overland Park, KS
+15%
Philadelphia, PA
+40%
Phoenix, AZ
0%
Pittsburgh, PA
+9%
Portland, OR
+11%
Racine, WI
-7%
Richmond, TX
+63%
Rochester, NY
+6%
Saint Louis, MO
+16%

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