Ways to Get the Best Bathroom Lighting

A nightlight in a bathroom with a faucet in the foreground.

Would it surprise you to know that one of the places with the poorest lighting is often the bathroom? When it comes to a bathroom's design, it often doesn't get enough consideration.

Think of the many different lighting needs a bathroom has: ample light near the mirror for your grooming needs, general overhead lighting, and accent lighting to set the mood for a relaxing bath or shower.

These separate areas in your bathroom have different considerations to factor in when looking for the proper lighting fixtures. We've split them up below so that you can find the perfect lighting for any situation. If you only have one lighting source, such as above the mirror or an overhead light, our ideas below will still help you design your lighting so that it's the best it can be for your bathroom.

Be Especially Vain Around the Vanity

Would it surprise you to know that one of the places with the poorest lighting i

Most bathrooms have some sort of lighting around the vanity area, even if there's a separate overhead light. This area is most important when getting the lighting right in a bathroom. If it's too dim or not shining in the right place, you'll likely apply makeup or shave your face only to later walk outside and notice a glaring spot that you missed. Being vain with the lighting around your vanity is quite simply a must.

Light fixtures around the mirror may be the only dedicated light source in the room, or they may be a secondary source that's just for grooming. Either way, light around the vanity needs to be bright enough and positioned in the right way to allow yourself to groom properly.

As for the type of fixture, it can be a bar, sconces, or pendants. Whatever you choose, ideally you want the positioning to be vertical, meaning lights that are put along either side of the mirror and not horizontally above it. However, sometimes it's not possible to go vertical, so we've included tips below for light fixtures in both areas.

Horizontal Fixture (above mirror)

Find a horizontal fixture (a bar with multiple lights is usually best) that is at least 2 feet long, with bulbs at least 150 watts. This will help the lighting to be even and not cast shadows over your face.

Vertical Fixture (alongside mirror or vanity area)

Vertical fixtures that work best include sconces or a light bar with repositionable lights so that you can redirect the light where needed. These fixtures should be placed approximately 36 to 40 inches apart on either side of the vanity, 18 inches from the center of the sink, and at eye level, which for the average person is usually around 66 inches from the floor.

What about bulbs? For makeup and grooming needs, the vanity or mirror light fixtures should have warm light at 75 to 100 watts (unless, as noted, you're using a horizontal bar light). Stay away from bulbs labeled as "cool" or "yellow," as they'll not be good for seeing the true tone of your skin.

Overhead Lighting Is a Spot to Shine

Think of the many different lighting needs a bathroom has: ample light near the

The overhead lighting in a bathroom can be used for multiple functions or just one, depending upon what other lighting is already there. If it's the sole light source, keep in mind that it has to serve as your grooming light, mood lighting for a nice relaxing bath, and as the main illumination needed for any and all bathroom purposes. One way you can make it be an all-in-one is to hang a beautiful fixture that you can dim.

With the right bulb in an overhead light, one that's warm and ranges from a low to high wattage, you can have ample lighting for correct makeup application as well as a warm glow for a candle-lit feel. Even as a fixture that's not singular, a dimmable overhead light is still a good choice since any incoming sunlight will vary the brightness from time to time.

What about style? If you have lighting in the three main areas of the bathroom (the vanity, overhead, and the bathing area) then your overhead light can be the one thing that truly shines in the room. The choices for style are many when looking for an eye-catcher in the bathroom, but some of the best include a pendant or a small chandelier. Sound too fancy? Look around at lighting online or at home stores for chandeliers — there's some great, yet small, chandelier lighting fixtures that will dress up and light up a bathroom just enough for the singular purpose of a quick trip.

Getting in the Mood Lighting

These separate areas in your bathroom have different considerations to factor in

Our last area to light up is the shower or bath area. Sometimes these may even be two separate areas depending on the layout of your room. Whichever it is for you, the right lighting can help set the right mood for the rest of your day. Again, as with your overhead light, lights that dim are best in this area. If you want to relax and soak in the tub, then soft dim light will be just right. If you need to get going in the morning, bright light will get your eyes open while the water wakes the rest of you up.

As for types of lights, recessed light is usually best due to the mist and steam you'll be getting from the water, but will still give off the ambiance you want. Purchase a recessed light with glass lenses, since the plastic ones will yellow over time. If recessed lights are not something you can add on, consider a lighting fixture or lighting bar that's in a protective casing. Whatever fixture you find, just be sure that it's rated for wet or damp locations before installing it.

The best bathroom lighting is easy to achieve with the tips above. Just keep in mind that around your vanity it should be bright and light, and anywhere else it can be fun and set the mood for the rest of the room.

Safety Tip: In a bathroom there's always water and a lot of it, so safety comes before aesthetics. Consult an electrician before installing new electrical fixtures where wiring didn't previously exist, and be absolutely sure that you shut the breaker off to the bathroom and not just the light switch when installing any electrical fixture.