If you’ve ever suspected your deep evergreen couch was looking a little faded and minty, it probably is. A few months of strong sunlight can really do a number on expensive fabrics, to say nothing of our faces and bodies.
Our windows play a role here. Double- and now triple-pane models block out more harmful UV rays. They’re also a whole lot trickier for thieves to bust through (our primary concern!). If you’ve got the budget, adding quality blinds or curtains can give you even more protection and privacy.
But if fabric is out of budget, or you’re just tired of curtains, window security film can come in handy. Quality window film is considerably cheaper than textiles. And with the right kind of security film, thieves will face a Home Alone-type scenario trying to break through your glass. (Many of them are hammer-proof!) So there are plenty of advantages.
Of course, knowing you want window film and knowing which is the best for your home are two very different things! Our list of this year’s top window films will hopefully make your search easier.
The best all-purpose film we tested. Coavas blocks dangerous UV rays, improves energy efficiency, and lets in as much light as you want with plenty of styles to choose from.
Coavas is adhesive-free, which might not sound like much, but it’s a pretty big plus when you’re standing there with your rubber squeegee getting ready to lay a 2-foot swathe of it down on the kitchen window.
That’s not to say Coavas was a cinch to stick up. There were air bubbles, and if you’ve ever dealt with window decals, you know how tricky those bubbles are to get rid of. But at least there was no goo gluing the film into place. Whenever I screwed up, I just peeled the strip I was working on back and laid it down again. After the second window, I was a film-laying factory.
My frosted film didn’t look bad either, though I’d probably opt for a clear film if this was going to be a permanent fixture in my house. The light it let through was pleasantly soft.
On the other hand, there was no way to actually test Coavas’ UV-blocking claims. They say the frosted film keeps 96 percent of the harmful, fabric-fading rays out. If true, great. My furniture will tell the tale in another few months.
The only real beef I had with Coavas is that their film is made from PVC. PET (polyester) film is not only better for the environment, it doesn’t leach either, so it’s safer for kids. At $1.25 per square foot, Coavas is the cheapest film on our list.
Gila’s black privacy film isn’t going to black out your home 100 percent, but it will keep the sun, and any nosey neighbors, out of your business.
First off, Gila’s privacy film is made of recyclable PET plastic, not PVC, so it’s safer for our kids and the environment. Maybe this isn’t a deal closer for you. Personally, I’m a sucker for companies that step up to the plate for our kids.
In the materials department, Gila’s specs are top of the line. Though, as I mentioned above, only time will tell if the 99 percent UV resistance they tout actually keeps my kitchen floorboards from fading. Gila was also pretty cheap. A 3-foot by 6.5-foot roll came out to a pretty low $1.28 per square foot.
In terms of light control, Gila isn’t a blackout curtain, but it does what it says it will do. During the day, I couldn’t see inside, but I could still see out, which I absolutely want to be able to do with a window. As for nighttime privacy, I think Gila customer RL Casper sums it up best. RL said that after he installed his Gila privacy film, his next-door neighbor was angry because he couldn’t tell if RL’s living room lights were on at night anymore.
The cherry on the sunday with Gila was installation. It was the easiest film on this list to install. If you’re on the fence about purchasing their application kit for 22 bucks, you don’t really need to be. A spray bottle, an X-acto knife, and a cheap rubber squeegee will get the job done just as well.
Burglars won’t stand a chance against BDF. Neither will the sun. BDF film is tough as nails and 99 percent UV resistant. It’s not bad to look at either, though you don’t have any style options.
To give you an idea of how tough BDF film is, just 8 mils — that’s 8 thousands of an inch — is enough to stop a hammer. Now, I’m willing to do most anything to test a product, but I’m not willing to attack my kitchen window with a mallet (my wife would kill me). Suffice it to say, if I did, the BDF film would have shrugged and asked if that was all I had.
Installation-wise, the peel-and-stick BDF film wasn’t what I’d call an easy job. The free toolkit (X-acto knife and rubber squeegee) certainly came in handy. But I’d also recommend watching a good explainer video before you start slicing your film up. Once you get that stuff in place, it’s sort of a pain to rearrange.
Ambient light with BDF wasn’t quite as clear as I’d expected from a window film that bills itself as “clear.” At 87 percent light transmission, my kitchen light was a little soupy-looking, even compared to Coavas’ more opaque frosted film. So that’s a trade-off you’ll have to consider for the extra security you get. Then again, that could just be me. You may not register the difference at all. My roll of BDF was $1.56 per square foot, so a tad more expensive than Coavas or Gila.
Pro Tip: Mils aren’t the same thing as millimeters (mm). One mil is equal to one thousandth of an inch, while one millimeter is about one third of an inch.
Unless you’re shooting for pure decoration, the type of window film you settle on is going to depend entirely on what you intend to use it for. Are you looking to block out the sun or a sun-bathing neighbor? Is it for the baby or is it a security measure? Is your film there until you save up for blinds or is it a permanent solution? These are the types of questions you should be asking before you click purchase.
Solar film is pretty neat. It doesn’t just block UV rays, protecting your family and your furniture. This sun-blocking film can actually make your home more energy-efficient, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. A film doesn’t have to be explicitly “solar” to block the sun, however. All of the films on our list have sun-blocking features, some up to 99 percent.
Blackout film is going to do what it says: completely block out light. So this is like turning your window into a wall. Probably not the best choice for anyone that isn’t sleeping during the day or trying to turn their office into a Fotomat developing booth. A better solution for most of us would be one of the following:
A quality privacy film will stop passersby from seeing in day or night. But you will be able to see out, which most of us want. Ideal for living room and kitchen windows.
Translucent films blur objects on both sides, like that frosted glass in your accountant’s office. You can see out, to a degree, but folks will have a tough time seeing in. If you’re into design, translucent film also comes in all sorts of decorative patterns. Ideal for offices and more private spaces like bathrooms and bedrooms.
Polychromic film regulates itself according to the strength of the outdoor light. If it’s a cloudy day, it lets more light through. If there’s a lot of sun, the opposite. A true polychromic film is going to be pricier than any of the options on our list. The closest thing we’ve tested is Gila’s black privacy film.
One-way mirror film will turn your home into a giant pair of motorcycle cop sunglasses. This is fine during the day, when light is reflected. But at night, if you’ve got the lights on inside, you’re going to be visible to some degree. Ideal for upper-floor apartments and offices.
The sky is the limit with decorative window film. You can really get creative here. Even better, decking out your living room window with a gaggle of printed geese in flight doesn’t mean any less UV protection.
FYI: Insulating film works by reflecting interior heat back inside when you’ve got the heat running. When it’s hot outside, film can also block sun from penetrating your home, keeping rooms cooler.
Figuring out what type of film you want for your home is actually the easy part. Now you’ve got to figure out which brand to pick (check out our top choices above for some ideas). When the brand hunt begins, these are the factors you should be considering.
This goes at the top of my list because privacy is, in some shape or form, the goal of installing window film. Most of us want as much privacy as we can get, but we also want sunlight. The trick is finding the right balance for your home. Clear film works best for spaces where you don’t need total privacy. Frosted film is better for private spaces. Tinted film, a.k.a., “privacy film,” can go anywhere.
Our top window film picks are all DIY. That means you can slap them up yourself. As we’ve seen, some films are trickier to stick on your windows than others. Some brands supply tools, some don’t. So ease of installation is going to matter when you’re making your choice. Customer reviews can give you some insight here.
Windows block skin-burning UVA rays by themselves, but they stop less than half of the UVB rays bombarding our houses. UVB rays are the rays that age our skin and our furniture.1 Window film can block out nearly all UVB rays. So if you’re decorating the baby’s room, investing in some window film with high UV protection might make sense. Ditto for a sunny living room with expensive furniture.
Thicker films cost more but hold up to the sun better, so if your film is going to be there for a while — or you’re using it as a security measure — consider a thicker film, like BDF 8 mil.
PET (polyethylene terephthalate) films, like Gila Privacy Black Static Cling, are good choices because PET is better for the planet, and it isn’t toxic. PVC, on the other hand, contains phthalates, the chemicals we no longer want in our plastics or in the ground.
Did You Know? PET is the most recyclable plastic in the world. It requires 75 percent less carbon dioxide to produce than glass or aluminum.2
The finishing touches on our homes are also some of the most important. Just ask anyone that’s built or remodeled and left the blinds and curtains for last.
The problem is, fabric is expensive. It’s also a pain to maintain. Blinds fray, curtains get dirty. If someone told us that there was a simpler, cheaper way to keep the sun out, I think most of us would listen up.
Window film is a pretty handy alternative to traditional blinds and curtains. The main advantage to film is that you can have privacy while letting natural sunlight in yet still be blocking out the harmful UV rays that fade our furniture and floors. A quality film should also lower your heating and cooling bills.
Just be prepared to get handy. The films on our list are all DIY. You’ll need soap, a utility knife, a squeegee, and about 12 square feet of patience if you want to get the job right.
Can I use window film by itself without blinds or curtains?
Yes, you can. Privacy films like Gila Privacy Black will make it nearly impossible to see in, even at night.
Is window film cheap?
The window films we tested cost between $1.20 and $1.60 per square foot, so are considerably cheaper than curtains or blinds.
How do I install window film?
Usually, you can put it up yourself. If your film doesn’t come with tools, you can buy a kit or just purchase a utility knife and squeegee.
Does window film block UV rays?
Yes, up to 99 percent.
Can window film lower my electricity bill?
Yes, it can. Quality window film stabilizes room temperatures, cutting down on heating and cooling bills.
Skin Cancer Foundation. (2022, Jun 21). 5 Sneaky Ways You’re Being Exposed to the Sun’s UV Rays.
Recycle the One. What is PET?