The Difference Between Curtains and Drapes, And Why it Matters

The Difference Between Curtains and Drapes, And Why it Matters
Photo: Pitchayarat Chootai, Shutterstock

When it comes to window treatments, the terminology can get a little confusing — starting with “window treatment” itself. Is it a protective coating for windows, or a process like treating wood? Is it referring to the ways to fix broken or ageing windows? (You get the picture.)

The term “window treatments” refers to a broad category of products that are designed to block, reduce, or better manage light coming in through the windows, while also providing varying levels of privacy. They can also be an integral part of a home’s decor and interior design. Curtains and drapes, for example, do all of the above.

And while we’re talking terminology, we should mention that despite often being used interchangeably, curtains and drapes are not the same thing. Here’s what to know about the difference between curtains and drapes, and why it matters.

Curtains vs. drapes: The similarities

One of the reasons for the confusion over the terms is that curtains and drapes have quite a few things in common, including:

  • Both are fabric panels

  • Used to cover windows

  • Typically sold in pairs

  • Hang from a rod placed outside a window frame

Curtains vs. drapes: The differences

Despite the similarities, there are distinct differences between curtains and drapes, including:

Curtains

  • Available in any length (including reaching all the way to the floor)
  • Made from more casual materials like linen, wool, poplin, and cotton. Sheer curtains are often made using lace, muslin, or voile.
  • Come in a wide range of sizes, styles, colours, patterns, and materials, making them easier to buy “off the rack” (without having them custom-made)
  • Light-coloured sheer (or thinner) curtains are best for letting natural light into a room

Drapes

Why it matters

Back when most (or at least a larger proportion of) shopping was done in person — where you had the opportunity to touch different fabrics and hold them up to the light, and/or ask a real, live human questions in realtime — it didn’t matter as much whether we paid attention to the name on the packaging. But now that a lot more shopping is done online, it means that the product descriptions and labels indicating whether window treatments are curtains or drapes are more important than ever.

Ultimately, understanding the difference between curtains and drapes allows you to make more informed decisions about your home’s decor and energy usage. For example, heavy drapes covering drafty older windows can help reduce energy costs. Similarly, selecting curtains or drapes based on the amount of natural light they allow into a room may also help you cut down on the number of hours each day you need to rely on artificial light.

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