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Do Black Patio Umbrellas Attract Heat?

So it turns out black patio umbrellas are heroes, because they literally ‘take the heat’ for you on hot sunny days. They also look great and go with any other color too.

Not only do black patio umbrellas attract and absorb heat, an Emory University research study found they also protect you from 95% of the sun’s harmful UV rays when compared to lighter colors. 

Let’s dive into this in more detail and discover more about that UV-blocking capability. We’ll also consider other essential information like whether you can still top up your tan under a black patio umbrella.

Does Black Absorb Heat? (Why Black Gets Hotter Than Light Colors in The Sun)

Why do people choose black patio umbrellas? Do they choose them because the color black symbolizes solemnity, formality, mystery and majesty? Do they choose black umbrellas because of their UV ray shielding or heat-insulating properties?

Most people choose black umbrellas because people know that black goes with – everything. Black umbrellas coordinate with colorful striped cushions, floral patterns, and all solid colors. Black goes with wooden and metal furniture.

Black goes with your pavers, decks or cement. It even goes with your green lawn and floral extravaganzas. Black umbrellas look adorable with those little solar umbrella lights. Black goes with your outdoor tableware and linens. Everything.

The great news is that, not only does black go with everything – but black umbrellas can also cool you down and protect you from harsh UV rays better than any other color.

Black objects absorb more solar heat than white ones because they absorb more light energy. White objects, in the sun, reflect (not absorb) light and solar heat. Since black objects reflect very little light and solar heat, they are hotter than white objects. 

Outdoor experts say that wearing white or light-colored clothing in summer keeps you cooler, because the color white reflects light (and heat).

Some scientists and physicists disagree – they say that wearing dark colors in the summer heat will keep you cooler (check out this interesting link on why “cool” people wear black). Others say – to beat the heat, wear dark colors close to your skin, then wear a loose, white layer over it. 

The coolest color clothing debate is ongoing – the subject is complicated by the human body, which produces heat like all good mammals. Unlike clothing, there is little debate about the color your umbrella should be – black. 

If you were to use your infrared BBQ thermometer gun to measure the temperature on the surface of a black umbrella and then a white umbrella, the black one would be hotter by a couple of degrees.

Those degrees are one of the reasons why a black umbrella is not just a fashion choice: your black umbrella “takes the heat” for you (literally).

Picture yourself sitting under a big, black umbrella. It’s a hot, sunny day. The black fabric above you is absorbing heat like crazy. It might be hot to the touch. You, however, are sitting several feet below the fabric, in a chair.

Thanks to that large, heat-absorbing object above you, it is several degrees cooler in your chair. Cooler than you’d be under a white umbrella.

If this seems counter-intuitive, check out this cute video.

Can Your Black Patio Umbrella Block UV Sun Rays?

Yes, up to 95 percent of them, according to Emory University.

In 2013, Emory University School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology, conducted research on handheld umbrellas. The authors, Josette McMichael, MD, and Suephy Chen, MD, MS, tested 23 types of umbrellas: traditional, compact, children’s novelty umbrellas, golf umbrellas, and more. 

Their conclusion was “the poorest performing umbrella still blocked an average of 77% of UVR. All of the black umbrellas blocked at least 90%, and most blocked more than 95%. Other colors, especially white, did not perform as well.” 

Other studies quote UV ray screening at around 50 percent. But whether it’s 50 or 95 percent, everyone agrees that umbrellas block harmful UV rays.

While everyone likes a healthy “glow”, getting too much sun can harm your skin. If you have pale skin with freckles, the typical time before sunburn is 5 to 10 minutes. If you have dark skin, sunburn may take 30 minutes.

An umbrella does block harmful UV rays. But before you grab your beach towel for a long tanning session under your black umbrella, consider this: direct rays of sunshine are not the only way UV rays can reach your body. There’s also reflected sunlight.

black patio umbrella
Does a Black Patio Umbrella Protect From the Sun?

Can You Tan Under a Black Patio Umbrella?

The short answer to this is – yes. How? By reflected light.

Reflected light is tricksy. It bounces around. Reflected, or indirect, light comes at you from below and sideways. 

Ask yourself: does your umbrella sit on a patio? Is the patio made of light-colored, shiny ceramic tiles? Cement? A wooden deck? Does it sit on sand? 

Is your umbrella part of a table set with chairs where you read books for hours at a (reflective) glass table? Do you have epic BBQ meals at your table set, under your umbrella, at your (reflective) glass table – outside eating, drinking and grilling for hours?

Is your favorite tanning spot next to a pool or fountain? How about a mirror?

The sun’s rays can come at you directly from above, or they can be reflected, from anything light-colored or shiny. Reflected sunshine can tan you – or burn you. 

The research from the Emory School of Medicine mentioned before thought that black umbrellas were best at blocking rays – they blocked from 90 to 95 percent. But even black umbrellas aren’t perfect UV screens, by 5 to 10 percent. Another study suggested that umbrellas blocked 50 percent of rays. 

Under a black umbrella, the amount of UV radiation you get is the sum of the amount of direct light that the fabric allows through plus the amount of reflected light. The amount of reflected light is dependent on the umbrella setting, which is hard to quantify. Numbers are imprecise.

The point is – an umbrella alone won’t protect your skin from 100 percent of harmful UV rays. Even black umbrellas. The only thing that blocks 100 percent of UV rays is a basement with no windows -but who wants to hang out in a basement with no windows? 

Umbrellas are like filters and although black umbrellas are the best filters – they are still imperfect. The best way to prevent the harmful effects of too much sunshine is to add another filter – sunscreen.

To prevent sunburn from the UV rays that escape through your black umbrella AND the UV rays that reflect onto you from your surroundings – you need to use sunscreen as well. Most studies recommend a broad spectrum (for UVA and UVB), water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, applied every two hours.

Use sunscreen and black umbrellas – in parallel – to filter out harmful UV rays.

What Color Umbrella is Best for Sun Protection? (Or is Black Best?)

Black is best. If black doesn’t work for you, then umbrellas in vivid and darker colors are second best. Navy blue. Intense red. Emerald green. Vibrant purples. Shades of yellow seem to be the worst.

While white and pastel colors may be best for staying cool, they are the worst for UV protection. The sun’s rays penetrate white and pastel colors.

Clothing studies say that around 10 percent of UV rays get through black and vivid colors, but up to 20 percent penetrate pastels or whites. Double the rays.

Black is the best for umbrella color for UV protection, and the thicker and more tightly woven the fabric, the better.

Final Thoughts: Is a Black Umbrella Good for Summer?

Ultimately, when it comes to choosing the color of your patio umbrella it looks like black is best on all counts. 

Not only does black look great with all your other garden furniture (no matter what color it is), it turns out that black also absorbs the most heat and protects you from nearly all the sun’s harmful UV rays. 

So forget cream and white and all those other light colors, make sure you select a black patio umbrella for the best all round benefits this summer.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >