Bathroom Lighting Buyer's Guide:
How To Light A Bathroom
The bath is one of the most multi-functional rooms in the house. Here’s how to make the most of all its uses with lighting that’s just right.
Written by Cody Torgersrud
Brighter bath, brighter day. The bathroom is one space that moves from ultra-utility to relaxing retreat all within a day’s time, and the right lighting helps it transition with ease. Find answers to the most common bathroom lighting questions to help you choose the lights you need.
Does my bath lighting need to be wet-rated?
Many people assume that all bathroom fixtures need to be wet or damp rated, but this isn’t the case. A well-ventilated bathroom is considered a dry environment, with two exceptions—in the shower and above the bathtub.
In a shower enclosure, you’ll want to choose a wet-rated lighting fixture. This means the light can withstand any water that may drip, splash or flow on or against the electrical components.
Over the tub, bath lighting only needs to be damp-rated to handle the indirect condensation and moisture.
So, with those two exceptions, that means there is a great number of decorative fixtures that you might not have even though of that could definitely work in the bath.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to branch out. There are a lot of fixtures that can work in a bath setting, so look around and find something that fits your personal style, not just the needed function.
How do I choose lights for a bath vanity?
The vanity is one of the most important spaces for functional lighting in the bath.
To achieve the best lighting for your grooming tasks, you’ll want to get the lighting as level to your face as possible. The best way to do this is to place wall sconces on either side of the mirror, usually within two to three feet of each other.
If your space does not accommodate sconces, a bath bar will still give you the light you need. Choose one or more and make sure the light is over where you will be using the mirror.
Pro tip: While recessed lighting can be a great choice for ambient bath lighting, using cans around the vanity is a bad idea. Direct lighting above your head will cast extreme shadows, giving you that spooky-campfire-stories look.
Can I light my whole bathroom with a vanity fixture?
The short answer? No. While you want a vanity light to provide light at the face level, that alone won’t deliver effective—or even pleasant—lighting for the rest of your bathroom. Relying on the soft, diffused effect of the vanity will just make the rest of the room appear dim. The most common solution is to add recessed lighting to provide even, ambient light for the rest of the bath, even in a small space.
How do I layer lighting in the bath?
The first step to creating effective lighting layers is to think about how the bath is going to be used. Is this your morning command center or a pop-in power room? Do you prefer showers, or are you a diehard bath aficionado? Answering questions like these helps you break down the room and address each individual space and what it’s used for.
For example, the vanity space may be key for your morning routine, but you probably won’t want that bright light when you settle in for a relaxing bath. In a multi-functional space, set each light up on its own controls so you can dim or turn off the light you don’t need.
Pro tip: Add a unique detail to complete the space. Only have a stand-up shower? Recessed lights are not your only option. Find a wet-rated flushmount lamp that will get the job done with a little added flair.
Can I use LEDs in the bath?
LED lighting is a great way to lower your energy bill—and could even be required where you live—and the bath is an ideal place to take advantage of its benefits. When shopping for LED bath lighting, you’ll want to keep the following in mind:
- Dimmability: Most LEDs can be dimmed using specific dimmers, but you’ll want to check to be sure.
- Light output: LED does not mean brighter; check the lumen output to know how much light you’re truly getting.
- Quality of light: LED comes in a number of color temperatures, which indicates the relative color that a light source has. Choose this based on your own preference.
Pro tip: Know your local ordinances and building codes. More and more municipalities and even states are requiring high-efficiency lighting, and using LEDs can be a great option to ensure that your project will pass code.
How do I light a small bathroom?
It often seems that bathrooms get relegated to the square footage scraps of a floor plan. But a small space does not mean that good lighting isn’t achievable. One of the more common challenges is a narrow space next to the mirror. Look for fixtures that use a switch-sized junction box, which will decrease the footprint of the fixture to smaller than the standard 4 inches. If your challenge is low ceilings, look to shallow recessed lights for ambient lighting to maintain your clearance and get the light you need.
How do I light a large bathroom?
Newer floorplans have seen a drastic growth in bathroom size, as architects and builders respond to our desire to make the bath a retreat within the home. If you’re working with a large space, don’t be afraid to scale up your light fixtures as well. Many bath bars can be installed vertically as sconces to meet the dimensions of a large vanity. Instead of recessed lights, try a flushmount, semi-flushmout or even a pendant or chandelier to create dramatic ambient and accent lighting in a large bath.
How can I re-create that luxury hotel/spa experience in my own bath?
To get a more custom and luxurious bath at home try a few basic tricks:
- Add lighting layers. Nothing feels nicer than having the right lighting in the right space. Consider pendants over the tub or even accent lighting in your shower nook to give that custom effect.
- Control the lighting that you have. Being able to control each light on its own and being able to dim each one is going to give you the most bang for your buck out of the fixtures that you choose.
- Add texture with your fixtures. Using materials not traditionally found in bathrooms can really give a luxury feel. Look at lighting made with marble, crystal, wood or even fabrics for a truly personalized effect.
Pro tip: Many ultra-luxury bath designs feature chandeliers or large pendants in the bath. If your ceilings are too low to accommodate a hanging fixture, fret not—there is a wide range of fabulous flushmount designs that can get you the visual impact that you want on a lower ceiling.