What colors absorb more heat?

Updated April 17, 2017

Heat energy obeys the same laws of conservation as light energy. If a certain substance reflects most light wavelengths, most heat energy will be reflected as well. Therefore, due to the nature of visual light, colours that reflect most wavelengths of light tend to be cooler than those that only reflect a few. Understanding how this principle applies to different colours can allow a person to stay warmer or cooler simply by wearing different coloured clothes.

Dark colours

Dark colours absorb a lot more heat than lighter ones because they absorb more light energy. In fact, the closer to black a colour is, the more heat it absorbs from light sources. The key is that colours do not absorb different amounts of heat, only heat from light. Dark and light coloured clothes coming out of a dryer will be the same temperature. However, because light clothes reflect more light when a person is outside, the accompanying heat from the sun is reflected as well. Since dark clothes reflect little solar light, they reflect little solar heat and are hotter as a result.

Bright colours

Colours like pink or yellow are often called "bright" because of the high degree of light they reflect back. Visual light is composed of numerous different coloured wavelengths which make a white light when combined. Therefore light colours such as pastel yellows or pinks are perceived that way because most light wavelengths are reflected back to our eyes. Since most light is reflected, little light (or heat) is absorbed.

Shiny Colors

While colour is the primary factor, other variables can affect how colours absorb heat. Shiny colours are able to reflect significant amounts of light and heat compared to flat colours. Even darker colours can reflect most heat they are exposed to if they have a reflective sheen. Regardless, the heat absorption hierarchy of colours will always remain if all other factors are equal. A shiny deep blue will still absorb more heat than a shiny yellow.

Black and white

Black is the ultimate heat absorber. It absorbs all light on the visual spectrum, creating a void of light. As a result of absorbing all light wavelengths, black is the hottest possible colour. White is the opposite. White light is the sum of all wavelengths, so when some people view a white object, they are really viewing all visible light hitting the object's surface and reflecting back. Some heat is still absorbed based on the nature of the object's material, but minimal additional heat is absorbed, making white the coolest possible colour.

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About the Author

Lucas Kittmer has been writing professionally since 2008. His work has been published in "The Charlatan" and "Kingston Whig-Standard." Kittmer is pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.