We learned at school that white object reflects all the light that falls on it. We also learned that a mirror reflects all light as well. However, we cannot see ourselves in a white object while we can see ourselves in a mirror.

What makes a mirror different from a white surface?

If both white surface and mirror reflect all the light that fall on them, then why don't they look the same?

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    $\begingroup$ Imagine a mirror, then break it into two pieces oriented in different directions. The image will be split in two. Repeat this process until you no longer notice a difference. The object is now white. $\endgroup$
    – user126422
    Mar 26, 2017 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of What is the difference between a white object and a mirror? $\endgroup$ Mar 26, 2017 at 4:45

2 Answers 2



  • The thing is that, A mirror is a surface from which light get totally reflected.

  • It have a polished surface. We generally see mirror effect from metal surface.

  • The light which come in strike at angle $\theta$ to the normal and reflect away at $\theta$ from the normal.


  • It is a surface which seems to be white but it reflect and disperse of all seven visible wavelength.

  • The surface is microscopically very rough. White surface are generally clothes, paints, non-metal, paper.

  • The light which come in strike at angle $\theta$ to the normal and reflect away at many various angle from the normal.

  • There is lot of distortion and dispersion of light.

That is why, a mirror $surface$ and white $surface$ are different.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think dispersion of light means what you think it means. $\endgroup$
    – M. Enns
    Mar 26, 2017 at 4:19

A white object only appears white if white light is striking it. If only red light is striking it, it appears red. A mirror has less distortion than other surfaces so it reflects light in a straight line. You don't see the surface of the mirror but rather the objects from which the light originates.

NB, when I speak about white or red light, it's important to remember that light itself has no colour. Colours are merely how our brains interpret different wavelengths.


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