What Should I Know About Bathroom Lighting?

Your bathroom may seem like one of the least significant places in your house (as far as time spent in it goes, at least) but between doing your business, shaving, brushing teeth, cleaning, showering, doing makeup and hair, moisturizing, and drying yourself off, you probably spend on average between a half-hour to an hour in the bathroom every day.

What Should I Know About Bathroom Lighting?

(Pixabay / banksy07)

That totals out somewhere between 182 and 365 hours per year!

Which means that you’re spending one to two full weeks per year in one of the smallest rooms in your home.

Doesn’t seem like such an insignificant room now, does it?

Just because the bathroom is designed for specific, straightforward activities doesn’t mean that it needs to be dingy or dungeon-like. With proper lighting, even the smallest of bathrooms can appear bigger, brighter, and more inviting.

If you’re building from the ground up, or looking to do a bath remodel in your home in Kent, Auburn, Everett or any other part of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, don’t neglect the bathroom lighting. We’ve put together a crash course in bathroom lighting so that you can plan for all of your needs.

Types of Lighting

There are three main types of bathroom lighting: task lighting, ambiance lighting, and general lighting. You might be tempted to put in just one type of lighting, but they work best when used in conjunction with each other.

  • Task lighting is specific to a task at hand (ex: lights by the mirror to help you see your makeup). It can provide a lot of general lighting, but since it’s tied to a specific area of the bathroom, you can end up with a lot of shadows in the corners of your bathroom. Lighting around your mirrors should illuminate your skin evenly to help your complexion and hair look the best possible, while lighting in the shower should be direct to help with shaving and washing (though a dimmer switch can help with mood lighting as well).
  • Ambiance lighting helps set the mood in your bathroom while providing additional light. Ambiance lighting comes in the form of decorative pendant lights, chandeliers, and fancy or dramatic sconces.
  • General lighting does what its name implies: it provides light to large areas without having a direct focus. A grid of canned lights would be a good example of general lighting.

Fixtures and Positioning

The fixtures in your bathroom are just as important as where you position them in the space.

Vanity Lighting

Vanity lighting is any kind of fixture that has multiple lights with shades on them. Vanity lighting is very popular because it works great for single and double sinks, and there are a variety of design options on the market. If you choose to install this kind of lighting in your bathroom, it should be at least six-and-a-half feet off the ground (to accommodate most people’s heights), and most designers agree that it should be no wider than 50% of your mirror’s width. Be sure to center it over the sink, even if you have more than one.

Bath Strips

strips are what you’d see in an actor’s trailer – multiple large white bulbs in a row. They do a great job of providing task and general lighting, but they can get a little cumbersome (and hot) if they are on all the time. That said, they are very retro, and they give you great light coverage on your face with few shadows.

Canned Lighting

Canned lighting can seem a little industrial, but it can make your bathroom look contemporary and fresh when done well. Just make sure that you position your canned lights using a grid pattern so that the lighting is even, and the fixtures are aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, recessed LED strips installed behind the mirror or inset into the shower ceiling are modern and low-key.

Pendant Lighting

Pendant lighting creates a statement in your bathroom while adding task, general, and even ambiance lighting. Pendant lighting by your vanity works well if you don’t have enough wall space next to your mirrors, or if your mirror is too long for sconces. The kind of lighting you’re going for will impact how you hang the lights. For task lighting, the lights should hang where the opening is around eye level (similar to sconces). For general or ambiance lighting, the pendants can create a focal point without taking up any wall space.


Sconces are another popular choice for bathroom lighting. They let the light get right up close to your face, and the many styles can be decorative and functional. When you install your sconces, the lighting should be at eye-level, and they shouldn’t be further apart than two-and-a-half feet. If the distance is more than that, you won’t get even lighting, so sconces aren’t a good option for double vanities unless you decide to install them through the mirror.


The type of finish you choose is entirely up to your preference, but you should try to match the metals across your fixtures. Chrome is a popular choice for many bathrooms, but oil-rubbed bronze and gold are making waves in the design world.


For the most part, you should avoid clear, exposed bulbs next to the vanity because they can create harsh lighting on your face. Exposed bulbs are also prone to damage from moisture in the air, so if you go that route, be sure to get bulbs that are moisture rated. As a rule of thumb, semi-opaque bulbs are the best choice in bathrooms, especially for bulbs used as task lighting.

There’s a whole science behind the kind of lights you should put in your bathroom, but to skip all of the technical jargon, here’s a breakdown:

  • Natural lighting is best if you have that option.
  • Color Rendering Index (CRI) is the next best thing because it measures how close to natural light the lightbulb is on a scale of 1-100. Bulbs with a CRI of 90-100 will give you the most accurate look at yourself, though you might want to put them on a dimmer as they can be really bright for middle-of-the-night forays to the bathroom.
  • Color temperature describes how cool or warm your lightbulb appears. For task lighting, you want soft, cool, or bright white bulbs, but ambiance lighting can be anything that strikes your fancy. In general, bathroom lighting should have a color temperature of 2700K to 3000K, no matter what kind of bulb you choose.

The right kind of lighting can make your bathroom feel brighter and more luxurious. By layering different styles of lighting, you can add interest and vitality to your personal space.