Buyer's Guides, Resources + FAQs

Bathroom Lighting Buyer’s Guide

No longer a small, simple room that is used briefly, the modern bathroom has transformed into a larger, luxurious retreat that serves as a place to relax and unwind as much as it serves daily rituals. But for your bathroom to rightly fulfill its many uses, it is very important to install the correct lighting.

Considering just how vital it is, it’s odd that bathroom lighting does not seem to get the attention it deserves. From bad overhead lighting to shades that create shadows or glare, the bathroom is almost always an area of the home prone to lighting mistakes. Below, we round up our best tips and advice to give your bath–and its lighting–its proper due.

Different Types of Bath Lighting 

Bathrooms are not one-fixture rooms; a bathroom is a space that needs layers of light from multiple sources. A combination of the three basic types of light–ambient, task and accent–are essential to address the different tasks that happen in a bathroom.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting, also known as general lighting, illuminates the whole room. This type of light provides enough illumination to safely navigate through the space, read the labels in a first-aid kit and bathe kiddos in the tub. When used with a dimmer, ambient light can also transform into warm, soft illumination to offset the bright glow that results from task lighting.

Ambient lighting is most often achieved through ceiling lighting. A flush mount ceiling light with a frosted diffuser is perfect for providing just enough warm, ambient light to illuminate the whole bathroom.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is bright, directional light designed to provide more localized light for an activity—say, personal grooming around your bathroom vanity. A common installation is a vanity light mounted horizontally above the mirror, and that will likely serve you for most everyday tasks. But for shadow-free lighting on your face for make-up application, shaving or brushing teeth, two wall sconces mounted alongside the mirror are your best bet.

When deciding on the type of lightbulb to use in your task lighting fixture, it is important to pay attention to the bulb’s Kelvins, also known as the color temperature. In the bath, the best color temperature to shoot for is 4100K or higher, also sometimes referred to as cool white. This is the closest to daylight, which offers the most accurate depiction of color. Therefore, it’s ideal for tasks like putting on makeup.

Accent Lighting

As the finishing touch to a bathroom lighting arrangement, accent lighting balances out the overall brightness of the room. Enhancing ambient lighting and softening task lighting, accent lighting provides a subtle glow that creates depth and highlights different parts of the bathroom.

An easy way to add accent lighting to a bathroom is through the addition of wall sconces. Positioned next to a door, a piece of art or mounted on a blank wall, a wall sconce will provide soft, diffused light to counterbalance ambient and task lighting.

Areas of a Bathroom to Light

Now that the type of light that is needed in a bathroom has been determined, it is important to identify the appropriate areas that need to be illuminated and what light fixtures will sufficiently illuminate the space.

Bathroom Ceiling Lights

A ceiling light is a successful way to provide the necessary general light that is needed in a bathroom. The previously mentioned flush mount light is a great option, as is an arrangement of hardly noticeable recessed lights throughout. Both will casting general light downwards while blending in subtly with any design.

The placement of ceiling lighting in a bathroom is also key. The center of the room is perfect for casting light around the whole space. Definitely avoid putting a ceiling light directly above the vanity—the result will be splotchy illumination, unwanted shadows and potentially a glare from the light bouncing off of the mirror.

Bathroom Mirror Lighting

For a mirror to be used to its full potential, it needs to be illuminated in all the right places. The vanity area of a bathroom is used for many daily functions, so it is important that the light is bright and that there aren’t obtrusive shadows. The ideal arrangement would be a mounted vanity light above the mirror accompanied by a wall light on either side. That way, when you’re using the mirror, your face will be fully illuminated from all angles.

For tall or round mirrors, or for personal design preferences, simply mount a wall sconce along either side of the mirror. The wall sconces should be mounted 60 inches from the ground and 28 inches apart to provide the proper distribution of task lighting.

However, there is not always room for a light fixture to be mounted on every side of a mirror. If you’re working with limited space and must choose one, opt for a single vanity light horizontally above the mirror. To ensure that your face is fully illuminated, the vanity light should ideally be at least 36 inches in length and 78 inches high on the wall.

Or you can forego the separate installation of lighting and mirror by combining the two together. Lighted mirrors put the lights just where you need them without the need to measure or take up more wall space.

Bathroom Wall Lights

Apart from their possible duties flanking a mirror, elsewhere in a bathroom, wall lights add a soft fill light that enhances ambient light and balances out bright task lighting. A single wall sconce is perfect for lighting a dark corner or highlighting a piece of art. A second option is to create a symmetrical installation by framing a door or window with a wall sconce mounted on both sides. For best results, mount wall lights at eye-level, or 5-6 feet off the ground.

Bathroom Lighting Zones + Ratings

When installing fixtures in proximity to water sources, it is important to check your local codes, as specific lighting safety requirements can vary by jurisdiction.

Most, but not all, bathroom light fixtures come either damp rated or wet rated and are designed to be used in a room that is subject to dampness and exposure to moisture.

Damp Location

A light fixture in an area that is not directly exposed to water but is occasionally exposed to moisture and condensation (such as next to a sink) should be UL or ETL listed for damp locations.

Wet Location

In areas directly exposed to water, like the area around a shower or bathtub, bathroom lights should be listed for wet locations. This means that, even if the light fixture is splashed or comes in contact with water, the water will not damage or build up in the electrical area of the lamp.

Even though there are general design tips for lighting a bathroom–such as the ideal height to mount a wall sconce or how to balance the light in the room by using a combination of different types of light–it is important that you consult a local contractor or electrician to make sure all local codes and regulations are observed.

For additional design solutions for the bath, or to find the best fixture for your own space, we’re here to help. Call our bathroom lighting experts at 866 842 6209.

(Updated version of a post originally published in January 2016.)

Becca Bird

Becca Bird

Becca is a Senior Site Merchandiser for YLighting and a firm believer in the idea that sometimes more really is more. As a lover of bright colors and bold patterns, Becca loves for her affinity of color to transcend into all aspect of her life - from her clothes to her home decor. When not at work, Becca can often be found online shopping, watching the latest scary movie, or brushing up on her fun facts.

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