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How to Light a Bathroom: A Quick & Easy Guide

Welcome to our quick and easy guide on how to light a bathroom in your home. Whether you’re just starting out and need some basic tips, or you have more experience with lighting design and want a refresher course, we’ve got something for everyone. We’ll cover the basics like choosing the right color temperature for your space as well as more technical considerations. And since bathrooms are often wet spaces, we’ll talk about what kind of lights work best in those conditions too.

Let’s get started!

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Is the Bathroom a Difficult Room to Light?

Yes, the bathroom can be a difficult room to light because it needs to be both bright and activity orientated but flexible enough to become a place to relax or wind down at the end of the day as you prepare for bed.

There are also the reflective surfaces of shiny tiles and mirrors which can be hard to keep the light from bouncing off of and into eyes.

So the intensity of a lighting design for a bathroom needs to have enough power yet still provide softer areas of illumination too. Achieving this balance is not always easy, especially when you want options that work with your personal taste or budget as well, but we can show you how!

So What is the Secret to Good Bathroom Lighting?

A good lighting design for a bathroom is about striking the perfect balance between ambient light and task-oriented. It needs to be bright enough to provide illumination in dark corners, but also focused so that you can see yourself clearly when dressing, shaving or putting on make up as well as being flexible enough to adapt to a range of moods and activities.

What does that mean? It needs to have enough power, but not so much as to be overwhelming or blinding – this is best achieved by using the appropriate layers of light. Get the layering right and you will have a space that is at once soothing, functional and welcoming.

Understanding the Types of Bathroom Light

A layer of light is the differentiation of types of illumination within a room. The best lighting schemes build up these types of light rather than rely upon a single source to light the whole room.

Task Lighting

The primary activity in bathrooms is to groom yourself in the morning and at night. Task lighting is the layer of light used to see clearly when washing at the sink, taking a shower, dressing, shaving or putting on make up and even see what you are doing whilst sitting on the toilet! All these important task orientated activities require the right type and amount of light to do them and usually require the brightest level of light – but not too bright.

Accent Lighting

The accent lighting provides interest, smaller pockets of light that allow the bathroom to become a softer more interesting space to be in. This can come from wall sconces, feature chandeliers and pendants as well as the lit niches or alcoves sometimes built into bathrooms.

Ambient Lighting

This ambient layer is the general light that fills in the larger spaces of a room and provides even illumination. It can be achieved by having an all-round wall wash, general ceiling lighting or using spotlights to highlight certain features such as a mirror or shower screen.

Getting You Started

So where will you need these types of light in your bathroom?

Where Are the Activity Areas?

The first decision to make is where the activity areas will be – your task lighting. This is where the most light should be directed so that it can take on a functional role such as taking a shower.

In the morning , a well-lit bathroom will help you get dressed quickly in the morning and be ready for your day, so does the natural light need supplementing? Do not rely upon say a window over a sink to be enough light in the morning.

These areas very often will have their own dedicated light source over them, namely can lights or downlighters as they are called in Europe as they are a bright and focused primary source of task light.

Where Do You Relax?

The next decision you’ll make is to consider if there is an opportunity to introduce a light that adds some interest to the room? Is there a poster or picture on a wall that would benefit from being lit and provide the softer reflected light that works so well in the evening?

In the evening, when it’s time to relax with bath time or just take off your make up and start to get ready for bed, a warm glow from light bulbs is perfect for setting that inviting atmosphere. The whiter brighter task lighting contains too much blue spectrum light, so these need to be turned off and you need to rely upon at least 2 sources of accent light instead.

If you want to set the mood for evening relaxation, then LED candle lights are perfect. These come in a range of different colors and shapes so there is something that will suit every bathroom style. You can even make them part of your décor with some clever placement on the wall or balancing precariously on the edge of your bath.

When it comes to lights overhead these should also have thought put into them if they are to be your general lighting layer as well as your accent. They

Is There Natural Light?

It’s worth checking how much natural light comes in through the windows. This will help you choose between more or less overhead lighting fixtures, as well as other sources of task and accent illumination. Ideally in the daytime we want to simulate more natural light so the positioning of overhead lights needs to supplement the natural light.

Supplementing natural light in a bathroom is a great way to create ambience while also making it more functional. Bounce light off of a wall as if the light from a window is brightly shining through and reflecting back into the room.

If your bathroom struggles with natural light levels or has no windows then we have 10 Tips on the Best Lighting for a Bathroom With No Windows.

What Are the Best Combination of Lights For a Bathroom?

Here are some quick ideas for great bathroom lighting combinations.

The Best Combo:

1 x main source of task lighting – possibly downlights/can lights or a bright overhead light that spreads light wide enough into the corners of the room.

PLUS

At least 2 x sources of accent Light – possibly wall lights with a seeded or frosted glass that allow plenty of light through. It could be artwork or picture lighting. How about a can light on it’s own circuit washing down a wall over a coloured wall or framed picture? Floor wash lights?

More suggestions:

What is the Best Single Circuit Bathroom Lighting Scheme?

Most bathrooms do not have the luxury of multiple circuits but a single switch that turns the lights on and off. So how can you improve your lighting without major rewiring only suitable during complete bathroom makeovers?

For a quick and effective boost look at the lights you already have, can you change their color temperature to suit a 2700K moodier warm white for the accent lights and 3000K for general overhead lights?

Can you dim the lighting? See if the lamps on the circuit will allow you to reduce their output without flickering, so you can have the lighting on at full power for the mornings and lower at night.

You can try installing a battery operated sensor night light with dimmer function that only turns on when you are in the room. This will create a night light for the middle of the night comfort breaks without requiring any electrical installation costs.

What is the Best Way to Light a Shower?

A shower alcove looks incredible, but how do you know what is the best way to light a shower? We recommend LED downlights over your bath or shower either directly over the shower or reflecting light down the walls back into the cubicle.

A lit alcove from a small waterproof LED light on a circuit with the other accent lights always makes the room look more inviting when it’s time for bedtime too.

Understanding how to choose a shower light as part of the bathroom scheme will really create design opportunities not to be missed.

What is the Best Way to Light a Mirror?

Your face needs lighting really well which means no shadows under the eye sockets or nose that can easily occur from only an overhead light. The best way to light your face in a mirror is throw light into the face as well as over it. Ideally you need an accent wall light each side and an overhead source positioned just over head but not too far forward that the light will go back into your eyes.

What is the Best Color Temperature for a Bathroom? 

The best general color temperature for a bathroom is around 3000K which has more blue light in the white light mix than yellow. It’s a cooler warm white.

The best relaxing color temperature is 2700K which is a warmer or more yellow light.

We would advise on avoiding 4000K anywhere as this cool white is unflattering.

What Wet Ratings Do Bathroom Lights Need?

A wet rated product must have a clear plastic or glass lens and needs to be installed in the correct position. Wet ratings are important to avoid water ingress into your light fixtures which is not only unsightly but will cause electrical malfunctions and corrosion.

The IP rating indicates how much of an impact this splash-protection has.

What is IP44 Bathroom Lighting?

IP44 rating means the fixture will be protected against water splashing from any angle. A wet rated product must have a clear plastic or glass lens and needs to be installed in the correct position.”

Do Shower Lights Need to Be IP65?

This depends on the country you are installing your lighting in and the type of shower.

In Conclusion

The interior design of your bathroom is so important, and the right lighting can make all the difference. Choosing the right types of light as well as designing with knowledge around how to light a bathroom with a balanced scheme will set you up for success in this space. We hope that you’ve found these tips helpful – if they have, please share them on social media or with someone who might be looking for some ideas!

Remember to be sure to check out our best choices of bathroom lighting for when it comes to picking out new lights or making sure what you already have works properly.

Andrew Orange , the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.