Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bathroom Lighting

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In a well-lit bathroom, you probably just switch on your bathroom light and don’t think much about it beyond whether the bulb needs replaced. But the truth is, when it comes to interior lighting, your bathroom lighting is actually one of the most important elements in your home. Keying in on the perfect lighting can transform a bathroom without a full renovation and make a small, cramped space feel open and spacious. On the flip side, bad bathroom lighting can ruin even a perfectly remodeled space.

Bathroom lighting doesn’t just brighten up your space, but it can also help you transition from day to night peacefully and wake you up in the morning. When you’re getting ready for a day at the office or a night on the town, bad lighting can make it impossible to get out of the door. And when you wind down after a long day, harsh lighting can jolt you awake and cause you to stay awake longer.

All of this is to say, bathroom lighting is really, really important and is by far one of the easiest upgrades you can make in your bathroom. Many designers say that bathroom lighting can be one of the most important decisions you can make in your bathroom. From overhead pendants to sconces, there are endless choices and ways to customize your space so the decision can feel overwhelming.
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Read on for everything you need to know about acing your bathroom lighting.

Bathtub with light fixture over it

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REBECCA ROLLINSHow to Plan Your Bathroom Lighting

The first step to figuring out the right bathroom lighting for your space is to consider the natural lighting you have available. A bathroom without a window may require a brighter overhead light while one with a large amount of sunlight could get away with just task lighting and accent lighting. Either way, try to layer lighting in your bathroom to create a space that’s dimensional and homey.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to electrical lighting in a bathroom is to aim for around 50 lumens per square foot to mimic natural daylight. The exact lumens you need will depend on your square footage, but you want enough lighting to help you get ready in the morning but not so much that you feel blinded when you first wake up.

We recommend you start from the top to the bottom. First, ensure you fill your space with adequate light overhead through ceiling lighting. Then, plan the most important part of your bathroom: your vanity. This is the task lighting that you will use most often and where you will find the most variety. Lastly, consider ambient or additional lighting such as shower or bathtub lights to illuminate nooks and crannies and add a bit of personality and warmth.

If you are struggling to find the perfect lighting combo, here’s a rundown of the types you should consider.
Task Lighting

Your task lighting is the lighting in your bathroom you will probably notice the most (or at least you’ll notice it first). This is focused illumination that is meant to specifically help you get a task done. Task lighting is typically around your vanity. but you can also find it in your shower to help you with tasks such as shaving or conditioning.
Vanity Lighting

Vanity with sconces

Emily Henderson

DESIGN: EMILY HENDERSON

PHOTO: TESSA NEUSTADT

When it comes to picking your vanity lighting, consider first how large your vanity is and how much natural light you already have. A vanity placed right next to a window can get away with something closer to a 45-watt bulb and a fixture that throws a little less light while a double vanity in a room without much natural light should really focus on brighter, more exposed lighting.

Sconces are the most common form of vanity task lighting. For the most light without any unflattering shadows, we recommend two sconces at or right above eye level to the side of your mirror (or, roughly 60 inches off the ground). This allows you to frame your mirror and your face to highlight your reflection perfectly.
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The other option is a fixture directly above the mirror, but if you decide to go this way, opt for a fixture with an opaque cover to avoid harsh overhead lighting that creates unflattering shadows. An exposed or directional light bulb can result in shadowing around your eyes or nose that can make it difficult to trust what you see in the mirror.

Your choice will also ultimately depend on the shape and size of your mirror. A round mirror in a small powder room may only have space for a sconce above while a double vanity may have room for multiple eye-level sconces.

In a larger master bathroom, go for 75-watt bulbs. A smaller powder room can get away with 45-watts, especially when you aren’t using the space to get ready every morning.Shower Lighting

You may want to plan some recessed lighting for your shower, especially if you have a walk-in shower with a door. Here, you will definitely want to use either a damp-rated or moisture-rated fixture when installing your recessed lighting. Your choice will depend on whether water will directly hit the light or if it will only be exposed to humidity.

From there, you will want to consider the look and feel of your shower to pick the recessed lighting for your shower. The bulb itself comes in a variety of styles including frosted, albalite, and opal.

When deciding how much lighting you need in your shower, consider adding at least one overhead light in a single shower and two in a double. Some owners even add task lighting in the shower niche to illuminate your bath products.
Ambient Lighting

Bathroom lighting

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LECLAIR DECOR

Ambient lighting is considered your standard, general light that illuminates the entire space. This is typically done through a ceiling light, but any light that brightens the general space and allows you to move around the room freely and safely is considered ambient lighting. In general, your ambient light should cast light equally to all four corners of your bathroom.

Consider the square footage of your bathroom as you decide what kind of ambient lighting you want. Try an online calculator to figure out how many lumens you need for your bathroom based on your square footage and fill it in with ambient lighting.
Ceiling Lighting

The most common bathroom ambient lighting is ceiling lighting. But what kind of ceiling lighting is best for your space? From pendant lights to flush mount to recessed, it can be a puzzle to figure out what light style is best for your space.

Recessed Lighting

A modern or larger bathroom may do best with a handful of can or recessed lights to cast away any shadows in the corners and brighten up the space. A general guide for recessed lighting is to divide the ceiling height by two to decide how much to space each light apart. So, for example, an eight-foot ceiling should have recessed lights spaced four feet apart.

Flush Mount Lighting

If you’re a renter or you just moved into a new construction, you may have a single flush mount light overhead instead. A cheap flush mount light fixture is one of the worst bathroom decor mistakes you can make. Instead, swap it out for a drum flush mount or a schoolhouse-inspired future with exposed lighting.

Pendant Lighting

While we wouldn’t recommend a decorative pendant or chandelier as your only source of light, adding one can be a great way to create a focal point in a larger bathroom and upgrade your space without a lot of effort.

An overhead pendant in the center of your bathroom could help rejuvenate a tired powder room or a modern chandelier can take a standalone tub and create a spa-like feel.