In a well-lit bathroom, you probably just switch on your bathroom light and don’t think much about it beyond whether the bulb needs replaced. But the truth is, when it comes to interior lighting, your bathroom lighting is actually one of the most important elements in your home. Keying in on the perfect lighting can transform a bathroom without a full renovation and make a small, cramped space feel open and spacious. On the flip side, bad bathroom lighting can ruin even a perfectly remodeled space.
Bathroom lighting doesn’t just brighten up your space, but it can also help you transition from day to night peacefully and wake you up in the morning. When you’re getting ready for a day at the office or a night on the town, bad lighting can make it impossible to get out of the door. And when you wind down after a long day, harsh lighting can jolt you awake and cause you to stay awake longer.
All of this is to say, bathroom lighting is really, really important and is by far one of the easiest upgrades you can make in your bathroom. Many designers say that bathroom lighting can be one of the most important decisions you can make in your bathroom. From overhead pendants to sconces, there are endless choices and ways to customize your space so the decision can feel overwhelming.
Read on for everything you need to know about acing your bathroom lighting.
How to Plan Your Bathroom Lighting
The first step to figuring out the right bathroom lighting for your space is to consider the natural lighting you have available. A bathroom without a window may require a brighter overhead light while one with a large amount of sunlight could get away with just task lighting and accent lighting. Either way, try to layer lighting in your bathroom to create a space that’s dimensional and homey.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to electrical lighting in a bathroom is to aim for around 50 lumens per square foot to mimic natural daylight. The exact lumens you need will depend on your square footage, but you want enough lighting to help you get ready in the morning but not so much that you feel blinded when you first wake up.
We recommend you start from the top to the bottom. First, ensure you fill your space with adequate light overhead through ceiling lighting. Then, plan the most important part of your bathroom: your vanity. This is the task lighting that you will use most often and where you will find the most variety. Lastly, consider ambient or additional lighting such as shower or bathtub lights to illuminate nooks and crannies and add a bit of personality and warmth.
If you are struggling to find the perfect lighting combo, here’s a rundown of the types you should consider.
Your task lighting is the lighting in your bathroom you will probably notice the most (or at least you’ll notice it first). This is focused illumination that is meant to specifically help you get a task done. Task lighting is typically around your vanity. but you can also find it in your shower to help you with tasks such as shaving or conditioning.
Design: Emily HendersonPhoto: Tessa Neustadt
When it comes to picking your vanity lighting, consider first how large your vanity is and how much natural light you already have. A vanity placed right next to a window can get away with something closer to a 45-watt bulb and a fixture that throws a little less light while a double vanity in a room without much natural light should really focus on brighter, more exposed lighting.
Sconces are the most common form of vanity task lighting. For the most light without any unflattering shadows, we recommend two sconces at or right above eye level to the side of your mirror (or, roughly 60 inches off the ground). This allows you to frame your mirror and your face to highlight your reflection perfectly.
The other option is a fixture directly above the mirror, but if you decide to go this way, opt for a fixture with an opaque cover to avoid harsh overhead lighting that creates unflattering shadows. An exposed or directional light bulb can result in shadowing around your eyes or nose that can make it difficult to trust what you see in the mirror.
Your choice will also ultimately depend on the shape and size of your mirror. A round mirror in a small powder room may only have space for a sconce above while a double vanity may have room for multiple eye-level sconces.
In a larger master bathroom, go for 75-watt bulbs. A smaller powder room can get away with 45-watts, especially when you aren’t using the space to get ready every morning.
You may want to plan some recessed lighting for your shower, especially if you have a walk-in shower with a door. Here, you will definitely want to use either a damp-rated or moisture-rated fixture when installing your recessed lighting. Your choice will depend on whether water will directly hit the light or if it will only be exposed to humidity.
From there, you will want to consider the look and feel of your shower to pick the recessed lighting for your shower. The bulb itself comes in a variety of styles including frosted, albalite, and opal.
When deciding how much lighting you need in your shower, consider adding at least one overhead light in a single shower and two in a double. Some owners even add task lighting in the shower niche to illuminate your bath products.
Ambient lighting is considered your standard, general light that illuminates the entire space. This is typically done through a ceiling light, but any light that brightens the general space and allows you to move around the room freely and safely is considered ambient lighting. In general, your ambient light should cast light equally to all four corners of your bathroom.
Consider the square footage of your bathroom as you decide what kind of ambient lighting you want. Try an online calculator to figure out how many lumens you need for your bathroom based on your square footage and fill it in with ambient lighting.
The most common bathroom ambient lighting is ceiling lighting. But what kind of ceiling lighting is best for your space? From pendant lights to flush mount to recessed, it can be a puzzle to figure out what light style is best for your space.
A modern or larger bathroom may do best with a handful of can or recessed lights to cast away any shadows in the corners and brighten up the space. A general guide for recessed lighting is to divide the ceiling height by two to decide how much to space each light apart. So, for example, an eight-foot ceiling should have recessed lights spaced four feet apart.
Flush Mount Lighting
If you’re a renter or you just moved into a new construction, you may have a single flush mount light overhead instead. A cheap flush mount light fixture is one of the worst bathroom decor mistakes you can make. Instead, swap it out for a drum flush mount or a schoolhouse-inspired future with exposed lighting.
While we wouldn’t recommend a decorative pendant or chandelier as your only source of light, adding one can be a great way to create a focal point in a larger bathroom and upgrade your space without a lot of effort.
An overhead pendant in the center of your bathroom could help rejuvenate a tired powder room or a modern chandelier can take a standalone tub and create a spa-like feel.
Design: Emily HendersonPhoto: Sara Ligorria-Tramp
The final type of lighting that it’s important to consider in your bathroom is the accent lighting. It’s there to add a certain feel to your bathroom or highlight a specific corner or cove in your space. It won’t light up your entire room, but it can help create a mood and is a great opportunity to be a little more experimental with your picks.
This is a great opportunity to showcase an architectural feature such as an archway or a built-in cabinet using a sconce or downlighting. Install your accent lighting in a place that highlights the most flattering details of an object (for example, in a darker corner to illuminate floor to ceiling tile). In a larger bathroom with space for side tables, a small lamp can add a lot of warmth and add a temporary source of light that can be easily moved around as you redecorate.
Tips for Your Bathroom Lighting
Sure, picking out beautiful fixtures is one part of the puzzle, but there are a lot of other details that you can’t forget when it comes to creating that Instagrammable bathroom. As an example, picking out the wrong bulb for your fixture can make a modern sconce feel dated and out of place. And what about dimmer switches? Here’s what you should know about all of the nitty, gritty details.
If you’ve never considered a dimmer in your bathroom before, now is the chance to fix that. A dimmer switch connected to your overhead light is a must if you’re renovating your space. Not only can a dimmer switch save on energy bills, but it can help you take your bathroom from morning to evening. It can be difficult to find the perfect lighting for a bright summer morning and a dreary winter evening, so a dimmer switch can be a great solution.
Keeping a dimmed a light on overnight can also function as a grownup nightlight so you aren’t blinded by harsh bulbs in the middle of the night.
How to Pick Light Bulbs
While your exact light bulbs may differ based on your final bathroom fixture choices, a good rule of thumb is to consider warmer light in the bathroom. Look for bulbs that mimic natural light and avoid those that feel clinical or overly cold and harsh.
Here’s a quick rundown of the types of bulbs you may encounter while outfitting your bathroom:
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LED: If you’re wondering whether you can use an LED in your bathroom, the answer is yes. These energy-efficient light bulbs are long-lasting and these days come in a variety of temperatures and wattage. These bulbs are great options for your vanity.Halogen: A better alternative to standard incandescent bulbs, these bulbs will not last as long as LED but they are typically more affordable and often warmer than LED.Edison: An Edison Bulb is best suited for accent lighting as it won’t throw many lumens, but it’s great for creating that industrial feel. They typically have a visible filament and are great for exposed fixtures.
The color of your bulb is also very important, especially when you’re getting ready in the morning. Look for bulbs with a color temperature of 2700K and a Color Rendering Index of 90 or higher. This will ensure you’re not stuck with unflattering light or a stark, overly cold feeling in your bathroom.
How to Pick a Bathroom Fixture
Now that you’ve mapped out the types of lighting you need, it’s time for the fun part. If you’re renovating a space, you will have endless options when it comes to bathroom lighting fixtures. Consider the light fixtures as the icing on top of your bathroom decor’s cake. Since you probably don’t have a lot of art in the bathroom, your lighting fixtures act as a way to pull tile and fixtures together and create a seamless look.
In a bathroom that’s already been renovated, but just needs a little lighting help, look to your existing fixtures. Pull in themes from your vanity or shower tile to ensure your lighting feels connected and purposeful. We recommend sticking to similar finishes throughout your fixtures to create a cohesive look, but you can also pick a palette and mix and match materials like marble or gold that play well together.