The Best White Curtains Don’t Have to Be Plain
Our style director’s favorites are scalloped, striped, and sheer.
Published Feb 17, 2022 1:05 AM
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When it comes to the world of drapes and curtains, the options can feel endless. Do you want colorful or neutral, patterned or minimal, long or short, lightweight or luxe? But don’t let choice paralysis leave your frames bare. Even the smallest windows deserve a bit of dressing up—and they don’t always need a statement-making fabric. In fact, Domino style director Naomi deManana says that all you really need is a pair of the best white curtains.
“This is one of the most popular curtain styles for a reason,” says deManana. “White curtains easily allow light to shine through, offering a nicer transition between morning, afternoon, and night,” she explains, and they can be as soft and subtle as you like, especially if your walls are already painted in a similar shade. “They’re like your favorite white tee: classic and timeless,” she adds. “You can’t go wrong.” Read on for her top picks for the best white window curtains.
- Best value: IKEA Moalisa Curtains
- Best texture: White Embroidered Curtains
- Best café: Vermont Country Store Classic Hemstitch Curtains
- Best velvet: DKNY Modern Velvet Curtain Set
- Best scallop: Ballard Designs Emma Scalloped Panels
- Best sheer: CB2 Linen Sheer White Curtain Panels
- Best pattern: Threshold Block Striped Curtain Panels
Best Value: IKEA Moalisa Curtains
Available sizes: 57-by-98 inches | Fabric type: 50 percent cotton, 50 percent viscose | Machine washable: Yes
What we like:
- Panels sold as a set
- Curtain track–compatible
- Do not bleach or tumble dry
- One size only
Why we chose it: Light, long, and airy, these curtain panels are a steal at less than $25 each.
We’re always fans of a stellar IKEA find, especially when the price tag makes us look twice. With a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, these curtains teeter on the edge of sheer but are just opaque enough to provide a bit of privacy. The romantic tiered top offers a bit of visual interest, as does the subtle black trim—a plus for anyone not totally sold on the all-white idea. Styling tip: Since the material is prone to wrinkling, give the curtains a quick steam to crisp up wayward folds.
Best Texture: White Embroidered Sheer Curtains
Available sizes: 54-by-63 inches, 54-by-96 inches | Fabric type: Polyester | Machine washable: Yes
What we like:
- Textural, pom-pom-like details
- Affordable price
- Sold as a set
- Sheer, voilelike material
Why we chose it: Embroidered florals are like a boho sundress for your windows.
For a sweet, fun take on a white curtain, deManana is drawn to these embroidered beauties. The curtains are sheer but not too transparent thanks to their textural, tufted details, and the pom-poms and lacelike material evoke a bohemian wedding veil. An extra-large rod pocket simplifies the hanging process.
Available sizes: 24-by-80 inches, 30-by-80 inches, 36-by-80 inches | Fabric type: Cotton | Machine washable: Yes, with cold water
What we like:
- Sold as a set
- Perfect for kitchens
- Lovely hemstitch
- For installing at the middle of your window
- Air-drying preferred
Why we chose it: Open needlework along the edge sophisticates this shorter style.
If you’ve ever stopped for breakfast at an old-school diner, you may have noticed the windows half covered with mini curtains. Café, or tier, curtains are made to hang between the top and bottom of the frame, providing privacy below and letting the light in up above. They may have retro, circa-1950s elements, but with a lovely hemstitch detail and a crisp silhouette, they’re still just as timeless in 2022.
Best Velvet: DKNY Modern Velvet Curtain Set
Available sizes: 50-by-84 inches, 50-by-96 inches, 50-by-108 inches | Fabric type: 80 percent polyester, 20 percent cotton | Machine washable: No | Dry-clean only
What we like:
- Sold as a set
- Luxurious material
Why we chose it: For a luxe take on white.
To elevate neutral, go-with-everything curtains, try a luminous fabric, which is deManana’s trick for imbuing a space with drama. The high sheen of this slub velvet almost sparkles when illuminated by sun or the light of a nearby lamp, and the set is created by a brand deManana trusts. The only con? These fully lined panels are on the heavier side, so you’ll have to pair them with a rod strong enough to hold up their heft without buckling.
Best Scallop: Ballard Designs Emma Scalloped Panels
Available sizes: 50-by-84 inches, 50-by-96 inches, 50-by-108 inches | Fabric type: Cotton | Machine washable: No | Dry-clean only
What we like:
- Includes 10 drapery pins
- Matching bedding
- Cotton lining
Why we chose it: Add a touch of whimsy to your window with decorative edges.
Domino editors can’t resist a good scalloped edge, and that includes deManana. The trim on these soft, curvy curtains also offers a moment of colorful contrast; choose among cornflower (a light blue), indigo, and matching white. With their pared-down take on frills, these linens may skew cottagecore or shabby chic, but that doesn’t mean the playful shape is only suitable in English manors or London townhomes. Have fun mixing eras and styles with this still-going-strong trend.
Best Sheer: CB2 Linen Sheer White Curtain Panels
Available sizes: 48-by-84 inches, 48-by-96 inches, 48-by-108 inches, 48-by-120 inches | Fabric type: Linen | Machine washable: No | Dry-clean only
What we like:
- Woven details
- Smaller rod pocket
- Includes only one curtain panel
Why we chose it: A woven yet wispy white design.
Whether you choose ivory or classic white, these CB2 sheer panels are a surefire way to nail effortless elegance. The featherlight quality still holds a fold, but if you like to keep your windows open in the warmer months, they’ll gently lift in the breeze. For a modern look, pair these see-through curtains with a matte black rod, or go the more transitional route with a brass finish and sculptural end cap.
Best Pattern: Threshold Block Striped Curtain Panels
Available sizes: 50-by-64 inches, 50-by-84 inches, 50-by-96 inches, 50-by-108 inches | Fabric type: Cotton | Machine washable: Yes
What we like:
- Subtle stripe
- Blocks light
Why we chose it: As polished as a French tea towel.
This Target pick comes in two colorways, and if you’re torn, deManana’s vote is beige (though we won’t knock the light blue and gray for a nautical nod). The subtle block stripe has a faded, vintage appearance that’s further accentuated by the linenlike look of the cotton. Despite the light colors, these curtains are almost blackout, so if you’re feeling an afternoon nap coming on, all you have to do is draw them closed. Another bonus: They’re OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified.
We Also Like
How We Chose These Products
We asked our in-house style guru, Naomi deManana, to find the best white curtains. She prioritized natural materials, sourced from brands that are trusted by our discerning editors, and added in a few unconventional, unique styles to show that white curtains are anything but boring. In fact, deManana’s picks prove that the best white curtains aren’t just panels of plain cotton; they can be velvet or blackout, lined or unlined, long or short for every window type and style.
Our Shopping Checklist
When it comes to the best curtains, our style director prioritizes natural fibers for both aesthetic and environmental reasons. But that’s not to say synthetic blends should be completely dismissed; some fibers, when used in smaller quantities, can help with durability and maintenance. White curtains can be made from a variety of materials, but these are the ones you’ll find on deManana’s list:
- Cotton. DeManana says cotton lends a simple, fresh feel. It’s a “sweet” fabric, by her standards, and she loves placing it in the kitchen for this reason. Cotton is a broad category that encompasses other weaves like muslin and voile.
- Linen. On the other hand, deManana describes linen as being a bit earthier, since you can actually see the woven details. “A really thin weave of linen will both filter and provide light,” says deManana, but she stresses that it’s the weight more than the weave that determines the amount of sun that trickles through. Take note: A 100 percent linen option has a tendency to react to humidity levels, which can cause the fabric to slightly shrink or expand.
- Polyester. An artificial fiber, polyester is derived from plastic, though there are some alternatives out there created from recycled materials. It’s typically blended with the natural fibers listed above to cut back on manufacturing costs and increase durability.
- Viscose. This is another synthetic fiber; lightweight and soft, it’s typically tapped as a substitute for silk. And although it’s primarily made from tree pulp, chemicals are still needed to create it, so we’d only recommend it as part of a blend, if at all.
Installation and Hardware
While it’s up to interpretation and personal preference, the standard is to hang curtains just above the window or between the window and ceiling and to use panels that are double the width of the window frame. As far as length goes, “there are generally three different styles to dress your windows: at the windowsill, just below the sill, or at the floor,” explains deManana. For a bit of drama, try long white curtains that reach the floor, a look deManana particularly prefers in bedrooms and living areas. In kitchens, ending at the sill is a more common tactic.
Taking measurements is as easy as grabbing your measuring tape. Extend from the top of your windows to where you want your curtains to fall, whether it’s at the sill or kissing the floor. And don’t forget to factor in a curtain rod. We almost always suggest going with a rod that can extend past your window frame. If light blocking is the goal, opt for outside mounting: Install the rod around 4 to 6 inches above the top of your window or from the middle point between your window frame and ceiling. (This will also drive home the illusion of a taller ceiling and larger room.) For inside mounting, on the other hand, install a rod within your frame. This is great for letting in light but means your curtains are limited to the size of your window.
Care and Maintenance
For the most part, curtains can largely be left out of your weekly cleaning routine, though as a fabric, they attract much of the same things other furnishings in your home do: odors, dust, you name it. We’d suggest taking your curtains down for a gentle wash cycle about once or twice a year (but first consult the manufacturer’s instructions—some panels are dry-clean only). And do be warned: Going with a white curtain does raise the same concerns as wearing a white sweater to an Italian restaurant. The color may require some extra care, like more frequent dusting or brushing, as fiber buildup can be more noticeable.
Q: Why are my white curtains turning yellow?
What type of material are your curtains? Some fabrics are more susceptible to discoloration, a natural process that happens over time and can be hastened by sunlight (which curtains are exposed to all day long). Also, how do you usually clean your curtains? If you’ve been overwashing or introducing intense chemicals like bleach, synthetic fibers will more easily lose their dye. Next time, mix a half cup of hydrogen peroxide with a gentle detergent to see if it helps, or spot-treat stains as you notice them.
Q: Will white curtains provide enough privacy?
This is more dependent on the type of curtains you decide to go with. Sheer white curtains, for instance, will definitely not do much in the way of obscuring the view inside your home. If privacy is priority number one, we’d suggest going with blackout curtains, soundproof curtains, or panels that are lined. Velvet curtains may also be a nice choice, especially if you’re looking for a hint of luxury or to cover up drafty frames.
The Last Word
Drapery is the ultimate finishing touch in a room, and the best white curtains can add a lovely layer of softness while concealing any unsightly window frames and drawing the eye up, elongating the walls and ceilings of your space. If you’re overthinking how to dress up your windows, don’t: All you need, according to our style director, are the best white curtains.