The Complete Guide on How to Buy Window Treatments

updated Oct 2, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand
Credit: Minette Hand

The windows of a home are more than just a structural built-in. They’re a necessity, a functional staple, and an aesthetic addition that has a direct correlation to our happiness. Let’s be honest, is there really such a thing as too much natural light? And as important as windows may be, what they’re dressed in is arguably just as key, because ultimately, a bare window is pretty much an empty canvas. 

Cue window treatments. Curtains, drapes, shades, blinds, valances—the options are abundant, as are the number of ways you can mix and match them. After all, a properly dressed window can be the difference between a polished interior and one that’s not quite there yet. To help you get started, we compiled the ultimate cheat sheet with everything you need to know about how to choose window treatments that are right for you and every room in your home. 

What to Consider When Choosing Window Treatments

First things first, take inventory of the windows you’re looking to dress. Are they floor-to-ceiling? Nestled in a corner? Shape, size, style, and even the way the window opens are all important factors, as is the purpose of of the window treatment itself. “The best choice is really based on the desired result or need,” says Smith & Noble senior product and sourcing manager JoEllen Ropele. 

1. Window Size and Shape

The most common window shapes are arched, circular, rectangular, and bay. Note that the latter is typically made of three rectangular windows and can be tricky to outfit. Beyond the window’s shape, consider how it opens, as that can influence the type of coverage needed.

  • Double- and single-hung windows: The most traditional style, they slide vertically from the bottom up.
  • Sliding windows: As the name implies, they slide from side to side and are generally used for porch doors.   
  • Casement windows: These are attached to a frame and hinged on one side, opening like a door. 
  • Awning windows: Hinged at the top, they open from the bottom out.

2. What Is the Window Treatment’s Purpose?

“The majority of any window treatment is material,” says The Shade Store’s VP of sales, Adam Skalman. “But rather than recommending materials, we suggest thinking about your functional needs first—like fade prevention, privacy, durability, and blackout—and then selecting a finish that meets those needs.” Ask yourself what is the purpose of the window treatment—is it aesthetic, functional, or both? This will inform what will best suit the zone.

  • UV blocking: If your windows face south, chances are you’ll be flooded with light. While that may sound pleasant, attempting to watch TV or function with the sun in your eyes isn’t. UV rays can also damage furniture and flooring. To diffuse or block sunlight, blinds or solar shades are probably your best bet.
  • Aesthetic: Maybe your home already comes with blinds or you’re looking to spruce up a living room. A new set of curtains can invite a breath of fresh air that will reinvent a tired space, especially if you’re in a rental where options are limited. Install them close up to the ceiling to visually extend the height of the room.
  • Privacy: Whether regulating the amount of light coming in or preventing onlookers from peeking in, blackout drapes or cellular shades are ideal for controlling your environment.
Credit: Minette Hand

3. What Are the Window Treatment Options?

Anyone who’s skimmed the types of window treatments available knows there are many varieties and materials to choose from. “The material choice is quite personal and dependent on the desired end result, whether it is design or function or a little of both,” says Ropele. Knowing what makes each type and material unique will help you pinpoint the right pick for you. Here are the most common treatment types; click each for more info or skip right to our Types of Window Treatments section:

4. How Do You Clean the Window Treatments?

Regular dusting and light vacuuming can help maintain the integrity and lifespan of your window treatments, depending on the type you choose.

  • Curtains and drapes: Cotton, linen, and polyester drapes and curtains can usually get away with a quick machine wash. Be mindful of shrinkage and avoid putting linens or delicate materials in the dryer. For silk or wool drapes, head to the dry cleaners for professional care. 
  • Blinds: Dust or carefully vacuum blinds for everyday maintenance, and gently wipe slats with a damp cloth for stubborn stains. For a deeper clean, especially for vinyl blinds, remove from the window and wash with a mix of mild detergent (no bleach or harsh chemicals) and water. Avoid getting wood blinds too wet, as they will warp and fade in color. 
  • Shades: Dusting and light vacuuming is a must for fabric shades, and gentle blotting is a go-to for spot-treating a stain. Avoid using an excessive amount of water unless the fabric is machine washable. Finding mini critters in the honeycomb layers of cellular shades is common; use compressed air or a hairdryer (on the lowest setting with cool air) to blow them out. 

Types of Window Treatments

1. Curtains

Typically made from: Sheer cotton, polyester
Curtains come in a variety of styles but they’re frequently characterized by sheer or lightweight material, which means they’re prone to serve an aesthetic purpose versus a functional one—picture vibrantly patterned cafe curtains covering the kitchen window, a see-through pair in the bedroom, or even a boho shower curtain as a window treatment in the living room.

2. Drapes

Typically made from: Velvet, silk, linen, cotton, polyester
Drapes are essentially a thicker, heavier curtain. They’re usually layered with additional lining, which makes them ideal for blocking out light. “If you are looking for a room darkening treatment, select a blackout material or add a blackout lining to your drapery,” Ropele suggests. 

3. Blinds

Typically made from: Vinyl, metal, wood, bamboo
Blinds and shades are commonly mistaken for one another, so don’t be surprised if they’re labeled as such. However, blinds are normally crafted from harder materials while shades are made from fabric. Blinds also feature individual slats while shades are generally a singular cut of material. According to Ropele, wood blinds or shutters are great for those seeking light control, thanks to their horizontal slats or vanes, which can be rotated to regulate the amount of sunlight let in. The most popular types of blinds are:

  • Venetian blinds: Standard blinds featuring horizontal slats.
  • Vertical blinds: Similar to Venetian blinds, the vertical variety is made from up-and-down vanes, which can be a great choice for tricky spots like bay windows. 
  • Panel blinds: Panel track blinds are best reserved for oversized windows or sliding glass doors. They’re usually wider in width and can be fabric.

4. Shades

Typically made from: Cotton, polyester, linen, bamboo, vinyl
Shades tend to be more of a classic design choice and, in turn, are available in a wide range of types and configurations. 

  • Roller shades: Roller shades are made from one piece of fabric or material and, when drawn, coil completely around the tube at the top of the window. They’re often labeled as “solar” shades due to their ability to block out UV light.
  • Woven shades: Woven shades feature a screen-like build that helps diffuse light and retain privacy from the outdoors. They can be made from bamboo and jute, and can be installed in the form of a Roman shade as well. 
  • Cellular shades: Cellular shades have a honeycomb-shaped design that traps the air, keeping heat out in the summer and retaining heat in the winter.
  • Roman shades: Characterized by curving folds or soft pleats, Roman shades stack evenly when drawn up (imagine an accordion) and are often best for blocking out light. They combine design and function, and look great almost anywhere. 

5. Valances

Typically made from: Cotton, polyester, silk, wood

How to Measure for Window Treatments

Window treatments can be a bit of an investment, so you want to make sure you get the measurements right. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be just fine:

How to measure for blinds and shades: First, determine where the window treatment will live—inside the window frame (inside mount) or outside (outside mount). “If considering an inside mount, have enough depth in the window for the product to be installed,” says Ropele. Most require at least 2” of space in the window, while some need more wiggle room if the product is meant to sit flush within a frame. After you’ve figured out the ideal placement, measure the width and height for the area, which will determine the size of your treatment.

How to measure for curtains and drapes: When it comes to hanging curtains, Ropele suggests measuring the width of the surface area you wish to cover and adding 6″ to 12″ on each side to make windows look larger and avoid taking up valuable real estate when the curtains are fully open. Figuring out the height can pose some issues, though. “Finished height is measured from top to bottom, including tabs or rod pockets, and drapery is normally ordered to be installed 4″ above the window or near the ceiling,” says Ropele. “Add these extra inches to your final measurements to ensure the correct height.”

Choosing the Right Treatment for Each Room

Selecting window treatments for a specific room is all about assessing the way the space functions. Everhem founder and interior designer Haley Weidenbaum helps us navigate the waters and offers window treatment ideas for each room. 

Living Area

When picking the best window treatment for the living or dining room, you have more flexibility than, say, the bathroom or kitchen, and much of it rides on personal preferences. If you’re looking to keep things modern and minimalist, shades are probably the way to go. Sheer curtains will invite an almost ethereal element, while heavy, layered drapes will run more traditional. Can’t decide? A combination of curtains and shades are always welcome. 

Weidenbaum’s pick: “Drapery is a great way to make a statement. Often you’ll have large French doors or windows but also need some privacy. When you add in drapery, it elevates the design of that room and designates a focal point.”


Window treatments for the bedroom are usually poised to serve more than an aesthetic purpose. From blackout shades to layered drapes, the functionality here is all about creating a soothing ambiance for a restful night’s (and morning’s!) sleep.  

Weidenbaum’s pick: “For those who like their bedroom dark, the best option is a blackout lining.” If you don’t mind a little sun filtering in, consider sheer curtains or shades. 


Choosing the best window treatment for the kitchen could entail a variety of shapes and sizes. You can have a floor-to-ceiling window on one end of the room and a spanning picture window above the sink. Making sure your picks visually align will make quite an impact. Durability is yet another important consideration. Billowy curtains may seem great, in theory, but aren’t the safest in a high-heat zone where open flames are a constant.

Weidenbaum’s pick: “In a kitchen, you are typically looking at a Roman or woven shade. It’s rare that you would need drapery, since most windows are above a sink or counter. Shades are a perfect addition because they add a new texture and softness to a space commonly filled with hard lines and surfaces.”

Credit: Lula Poggi


Bathroom windows are a fickle sort. There are those that span from wall to wall, the dreamy picture window set behind a freestanding tub, or the narrow strips high up on the wall which, let’s face it, are better than nothing (when it comes to the latter, it’s probably best to forego coverings altogether). Anything faux wood or water resistant (read: easy to clean and non-porous) will be the best window treatment for the bathroom.

Weidenbaum’s pick: “Linen or cotton blinds can work well in a bathroom but even better are woven wood ones made from bamboo or natural materials. It brings an element of the outside in and creates a spa-like experience in your bathroom.” 

The Best Places to Shop for Window Treatments

Credit: Erin Derby

If You’re Looking for Curtains and Drapes

  • Society6: From leopard print to mountainscapes, Society6 has a huge selection of playful patterns and chic window treatments, including sheer curtains and blackout drapes.
  • West Elm: West Elm is all about modern minimalism with a refined sense of cool. You’ll find trendy pieces here like ochre velvet drapes and sage-colored Belgian flax linen curtains.
  • Urban Outfitters: Looking for something beaded, color-blocked, patterned, or all the above? Urban carries both curtains and panels with flair to boot. 

If You’re Looking for a Little Bit of Everything

  • Target: Target boasts an array of curtains (and all the necessary hardware) but also carries affordable window shades, including solar, cordless, light-filtering jute, and even woven bamboo roller styles. 
  • Bed Bath & Beyond: From fabric panels and sheer curtains to valances, blinds, and shades, BB&B has the full gamut of options. The site’s capability to compare up to four different styles will help narrow things down for indecisive shoppers. 
  • Pottery Barn: Muted neutrals, linen-lined shades, and the occasional floral motif are the crux of PB’s window treatment prospects. Skewing more traditional in style, the brand’s aesthetic is all about clean details and a refined finish. 
  • Amazon: Window treatments you can get in a day or so? Sign us up. Sort by patterns (paisley, gingham, patchwork), heading type, material, and more for a customized find.
  • Etsy: Whether you want something one-of-a-kind, a handcrafted Roman shade, or a vibrant custom curtain panel, Etsy will have it…and more.
  • Walmart: You’ll find every type of window treatment at Walmart, at wallet-friendly prices. In fact, there’s an entire section of treatments under $15.

If You’re Looking for a Deal

  • AllModern: Blinds, curtains, shades—AllModern’s got it all. With flash sales and budget-friendly picks, you’re guaranteed to find a deal.  
  • Overstock: Overstock’s offerings run from the standard (bamboo Roman shades) to the extravagant (sweeping floral drapes). And with frequent deals and sales, you won’t spend a fortune on your dream treatment. 
  • Wayfair: Wayfair is all about a categorized selection of staples, with a subset of valances and blackout curtains. Sort by color, style, and rating to find the best fit. 
  • Just Blinds: Don’t be fooled, Just Blinds carries more than…just blinds. From shades to shutters, there’s a wide mix of options, including roller, solar, and dual-sheer shades crafted from aluminum, wood, or vinyl.  

If You’re Looking for Custom with a Side of Flair

  • Pepper Home: Pepper Home’s curtain edit is all about customization, letting customers choose by length and lining, be it for “privacy” or “blackout.” The vibrant hues and playful prints help too. 
  • Wovn: This DTC brand allows users to customize treatments by fabric, color, and style. Once set, they’ll guide you through a simple measuring process. The coverings arrive with all the necessary hardware for installation. 
  • Barn & Willow: Barn & Willow’s unique window treatment customization tool allows you to pinpoint a product based on your style—be it contemporary, classic, or modern. Their Roman and roller shades follow the same prompt, with a slew of color choices as well. 
  • Mesken: If you want customization without the bells and whistles, Mesken carries an edited range of drapes, curtains, and shades that can be personalized by color, size, panels, liner, casements, and more. 

If You’re Looking Custom with a Side of Refinement

  • Home Depot: Home Depot’s window treatment line is as comprehensive as it gets, with a bunch of customization options and just about every type and style of shade or blind you can imagine. Looking for curtains? They have those too. 
  • The Shade Store: The Shade Store’s handcrafted treatments are an industry staple, and their custom treatments (which ship surprisingly quickly) feature a host of styles including cellular and pleated shades, metal blinds, and modernized cornices.
  • Smith & Noble: Smith & Noble wants to help you find your perfect fit—shoppers with awkwardly shaped windows, this one’s for you. Whether you’re going for vertical, woven wood panels, or classic wave drapes, the brand has it. 
  • Hunter Douglas: Hunter Douglas’s on-site experience is broken down by window treatment type (think rollers, shutters, metal blinds, or sheer shadings) to help you pinpoint your best bet. Can’t decide? Use their compare functionality to knock through the pros and cons.