Helpful Hints

Bathe in the Light: A Guide for the Best Bathroom Lighting

We touched on bathrooms in our Lighting Guide a few months ago, but decided they deserve their own post.  A lot of beauty and health routines take place in the bathroom so proper lighting is vital.  Bathrooms are usually on the smaller side, so it’s easy to just stick a light in there and call it a day.  But in reality you should think of the lighting for your bathroom as a series of layers, supplying ample illumination for all bathroom tasks.  The best lighting is natural daylight, but not every bathroom can have windows to supply light, and even those that do still have nighttime to contend with.  Let’s take a look at the types of lighting to take into consideration when planning your bathroom.


Ambient Light

Ambient light is the illumination that fills the room.  This is the lighting that serves as a substitute for natural light when it’s not available.  It’s usually supplied by a centrally located ceiling lamp.  Typically it’s flush mount, but a well placed pendant or chandelier can help take a bathroom to the next level.  You could also use recessed lighting for general illumination.  If your bathroom has windows that provide adequate illumination during the day you may not need as much ambient lighting, but it will still come in handy at night or on cloudy days.


Task Lighting

Task lighting is important in the bathroom because it’s the lighting that will help you put on your makeup, shave, floss, and anything else you do in the mirror.  Resist the urge to put one light above the mirror!  This will cast shadows over your face and make daily grooming routines more difficult.  The best approach to task lighting in the bathroom is to flank the mirror with vertical fixtures or sconces.  If you can’t or don’t want to mount the lighting to the wall you can hang two pendant lights on either side of the mirror as well to cast even light across the face.  Try to keep lighting symmetrical though, or you’ll end up with shadows on one side.

If you have a large bathroom you may also require task lighting for the shower.  In this case overhead lighting is perfectly sufficient.  Recessed lighting with a glass lens is ideal since it will protect the bulb from moisture without yellowing.


Bulb Types and Wattage

Choosing a fixture is only half the battle when it comes to lighting.  No one likes being plunged into darkness in the middle of their bathroom routine, so for longevity alone LEDs are one of the best choices.  Standard incandescent bulbs and CFLs are also suitable for use in the bathroom.  Whichever type of bulb you choose you need to pay attention to the wattage (or wattage equivalent) and color of the bulb.  For the ambient lighting you’ll have to figure out the size of the space to decide how much wattage is required.  For task lighting in full bathrooms look for fixtures that can provide 75 – 100 watts’ worth of illumination.  For smaller powder rooms 45 watts is usually sufficient task lighting.  Color is also important, especially for those who will be putting on makeup in the bathroom, since it can affect how colors will appear.  Look for bulbs with a Color Rendering Index of 90 or above and color temperature of 2700K to 3000K.  For more information about watts, lumens, and Kelvins check out our Lighting FAQ post.



The bathroom is many people’s first stop in the morning, and also an occasional middle of the night destination, so you may want to consider connecting your bathroom lighting to dimmer switches.  This way you can still have some light without hurting your half-awake eyes (or waking up too much if it’s night).  Dimmers are also a good option if you enjoy taking relaxing baths, since it can help set the mood of the room and make it feel more spa-like.


As with all things electricity, safety is an important concern when choosing lighting for a bathroom.  Water and electricity are not friends, so consult an electrician before installing new lighting.  A few last considerations – since it is a humid environment, try to avoid fixtures with fabric shades since they can can musty and mildewy.  Also, brushed chrome, nickel, and stainless finishes tend to do better in bathrooms than cast bronze and brass which are more delicate and prone to corrosion.  Now that you’re armed with some more information, go pick out some new lights!

2 thoughts on “Bathe in the Light: A Guide for the Best Bathroom Lighting

  1. The bulbs are specifically designed to retrofit fluorescent fixtures (T8 in particular, not T12), and specify on the box that no ballast removal is required. I have no safety concerns—especially as they’re in the garage and will only ever be on when someone is in the garage.From a comment on Amazon, if you install them in a T12 fixture, the light will shut off (thermal protection mode) when left on for some length of time. However, someone else commented they’re working fine in their T12 fixture.-rob.

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