Bathroom Light Fixtures: A DIY Guide To Bathroom Lighting Ideas

Bathroom Lighting Ideas

As bathrooms are being upgraded to become a place of relaxation with steam showers, designer faucets, and mirror TV screens, lighting and bathroom light fixtures are becoming more important. You can even find bathroom lighting consultants.

The right bathroom lighting ideas are needed to set the ideal feel and look, and also for functional purposes. A single ceiling light fixture in the bathroom is inadequate lighting. There are just a number of things to know to be able to design your own bathroom lighting plan:

  • You will have to know the different types of bathroom light fixtures and their different proposes.
  • The most important thing to know about bathroom lighting is the correct placement of the fixtures and the kind of light it will emit.
  • There are also some basic enhancements to know, which can make a bathroom feel bigger, cozier or more luxurious.

Types of Bathroom Light Fixtures

There are many different types of bathroom light fixtures used for different purposes. Lighting in a bathroom can serve 3 different purposes: you have task, ambient and accent lighting.

bathroom lights

Task Lighting
Task lighting is the most important form of lighting in a bathroom. It is for areas of the bathroom where a person will be performing a task such as grooming. The main task areas of the bathroom are the mirror and the shower/bathing areas.

The Mirror, Vanity Lighting
Bathroom mirror lighting is also called vanity lighting. Vanity lighting needs to be the top priority for bathroom lighting design, as it needs to light the head properly for grooming. The common mistake with bathroom vanity lighting is to simply put a light right above the mirror, but this casts shadows on the face.

The best way to setup vanity lighting would be to use the Hollywood effect, many white bulbs placed all around the mirror. This is more common back stage at fashion shows and in make up rooms than it is in bathrooms. A more stylish and practical option would be to use contemporary bathroom light fixtures: 2 vertical sconces, one on each side of the mirror and a horizontal sconce, aka a vanity strip, right above the mirror. This will create even lighting across the face.

photo by l1nda1

2 Vertical Wall Sconces

Wall Sconce

A Wall Sconce

Sconces: Sconces are lights that are attached to the wall. They are narrow light fixtures, and can either be vertical (light shines out left and right) or horizontal sconces (light shines out top and bottom).

Shower and Tubs
Because of the need to clean, shave, see if it is slippery, and read bottles, the showering/bathing area is the second most important part to plan for lighting. In smaller bathrooms, the lighting from other parts of the bathroom might be enough to adequately light up these areas. By using modern bathroom lighting fixtures focusing on the showering and bathing areas will provide added comfort and style to the bathroom. The best kind of shower lighting ideas are shielded (this reduces glare) recessed downlights, which are listed for damp locations. An elegant light fixture above a bath would be a mini chandelier, or just a simple hanging light.

photo by Shine 2010

A Well Lit Shower Area

Recessed Light

Recessed Light

Recessed Lights: These are lights that are installed into the ceiling. They provide softer light than fixtures that hang down from the ceiling and give the bathroom a modern look. A false ceiling is usually installed to fit the lights into and hide the wiring.

Downlights: Downlights, as the name suggests, are lights that can be angled downwards. Usually recessed, these will shine light onto walls and surfaces below.

Ambient Lighting
If there is not enough light from the task lighting to light up the whole bathroom, ambient lighting is needed. Smaller bathrooms

only need one central ceiling light to light the rest of the room, while larger bathrooms will need multiple ceiling lights. Ambient ceiling lights are commonly recessed lights, or hanging ceiling lights.  Wall washers and uplighters can be used to light up individual walls and the ceiling. There are other creative options such as a rope lights or cove lighting.

Wall Washer

Wall Washer

Rope Lights

Rope Lights


Uplighter: Can be standalone or recessed


Wall washers: Just like sconces, wall washer are attached to walls but only emit light upwards, lighting up the wall above.

Uplighters: these lights face upwards and light up the ceiling which then bounces back creating ambient lighting. A light colored ceiling works best with uplighters.

Rope Lights: These are LED lights that come as a rope and extend out. They are versatile lights as they bend and come in a range of colors, and are more commonly used for landscape lighting.

Cove Lighting: Cove lighting is when you add a ceiling that has cut away, rope lights are then hidden within the ceiling, adding a luxurious touch to the bathroom.

Cove Lighting

Cove Lighting

photo by Villa Amor in Sayulita

Accent Lighting: Focusing on a vase

Accent Lighting
A way of adding extra light (more the better) to a bathroom is to use accent lighting. Accent lighting is used to shine light on an object or area that you would like to highlight. It is usually in the form of smaller recessed lights, tilted to face artwork or a vase of flowers. Highlighting such objects can greatly enhance the feel of a bathroom just like many 5 star hotels.

Bathroom Light Fixture Finishes
There are a number of bathroom light fixture finishes and choosing from them will be based on what kind of look and style you want to give your bathroom.

Chrome bathroom light fixtures are the most popular finishes. They provide a modern look and are easily incorporated into many bathroom styles.  Other bathroom light fixture finishes include: bronze, nickel, rustic, and traditional.

Look for fixtures that have translucent/frosted glass. This is so that the light can pass through easily but at the same time does not produce a glare, which is an issue with clear glass fixtures.  When buying your bathroom light fixtures make sure to take into account that the glass of the light fixture can change the color of the light that is projected in the bathroom.

Bathroom Lighting Safety

In terms of safety, you will need to get the proper rated lights for the different areas of the bathroom. Areas that will get wet will need wet listed/rated light fixtures. If you are living in the UK you will need to know the different bathroom lighting zones and IP rating for lights.

Bulbs: Setting the right mood

Once you have installed your bathroom light fixtures in the right layout, the next thing to do is to choose the light bulbs.  A good rule of thumb to follow is to plan to have 300 watts of lighting for every 50sq feet.

The best form of light is natural light. To maximize available natural light in the daytime is to frost your windows and then take down curtains and blinds.  At the same time you don’t want to have too much exposed, as you will have the feeling of being on display.

photo by home space

All Natural Lighting

For vanity lighting, you want bulbs that best show off skin tones. These are: crisp white halogen light bulbs. Halogens provide the closest resemblance to bright daylight.

Ambient and accent lighting:  Soft warm colors, ones that give off that orange, natural, soothing daylight glow. The best light bulb would be warm florescent lights or incandescent.

Designer Tips

One quick and cheap enhancement recommended by lighting designers is to install a dimmer switch, which will let you have control over the level of lighting. Not only do dimmers save you money but they can make a light multipurpose: a dimmed light can provide ambient lighting (for candle lit baths), while a full light can provide task or accent lighting.

Changing a Bathroom With Lighting
With a few small changes to lighting, a bathroom can appear larger, taller or even cozier.

Making a Bathroom Feel Larger:Generously light up the whole bathroom. Lighting up all four corners of the room gives a sense of space. If you have a light colored ceiling you can install wall washers to shine light on it. Also, mirrors with lights give the allusion of more space.

Making a Bathroom Feel Taller: Two ways of making a bathroom feel like it is much taller is to use long vertical light fixtures and to also use low hanging pendant lighting.

Making a Bathroom Feel Cozier: If you want to make a bathroom feel cozy then you need to do the opposite of making it feel larger. Try not to light the ceiling. Low lighting is better, such as table lamps.

A bathroom lighting plan is made up of layers. The first stage of a lighting plan is to know the different purposes/layers of bathroom lighting: task, ambient and accent. The next stage of the planning process is to choose the right bathroom light fixtures (and finishes) and lay out where each light will go.  You then just need to buy the right light bulbs to finish designing your bathroom. Bathroom lighting plays an important role, one that can decide the style and feel of a bathroom.

photo by s.yume

Bathroom Lighting Design

 Take a look at our bathroom lighting ideas photo gallery.

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