Bathroom Lighting 101

If there’s any sort of guarantee involved in home remodeling projects, it’s this one: You will be confronted with approximately 6 million choices along the way. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration—but not by much. According to researchers, an average adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions every day.

bathroom lighting

When it comes to your bathroom remodel, those decisions will involve products such as paint, tile, tubs, showers, sinks, faucets, vanities, mirrors, toilets, towel bars, and on and on. And then an often overlooked, but oh so important, detail: lighting.

Take a stroll down the lighting aisles of your local home improvement store, and you’ll be amazed at, and maybe slightly frustrated by, the volume of bathroom lighting options. Hopefully these five lessons in lighting will help you narrow your choices.

Bathroom Lighting 101-1: Color Temperature

Ever wonder why some stores’ dressing room mirrors seem to be more flattering than others? Chances are good it’s not actually the mirrors. It’s the lighting.

The temperature of a light bulb, measured on the Kelvin scale, determines the color of light it produces and how flattering it is:

  • 2000-3000K Warm White Light
  • 3100-4500K Cool White Light
  • 4600-6500K Daylight

Lighting experts recommend using warm white bulbs (technically called lamps) in the bathroom, with the sweet spot between 2700K and 3000K.

Bathroom Lighting 101-2: Color Rendering Index

A lamp’s Color Rendering Index (CRI) describes how accurate colors appear in its light. A CRI of 100, offered by incandescent and halogen lamps, mimics natural sunlight. That allows the most accurate and flattering interpretation of colors. You’ll want lamps with a CRI of least 80 in your bathroom.


Bathroom Lighting 101-3: Wattage

In the case of light bulbs, wattage is a measure of brightness: 100 watts provides more light than 30 watts. It’s best to use 75 to 100 watts in master or guest bathrooms. In powder rooms, 45 watts is sufficient. For senior adults, brighter is better: We require more light to see as we get older.

Bathroom lighting designers recommend adding dimmers to your fixtures so you can adjust your wattage for different purposes. Getting ready for work? You may need all 100 watts to avoid shaving off an eyebrow. Looking forward to a bubble bath? Try a nice, relaxing 35 watts (and a candle or two).


Bathroom Lighting 101-4: Number and Type 

The “right” number of light fixtures for your space depends on the size of your bathroom. But regardless of how grand a space you have, the answer is never “one.” There’s no perfect place to put just one lamp in a bathroom; with only one light source at one angle, you’ll end up with glares, shadows, or both.

Lighting designers suggest “layering” light in the bathroom:

  • Task lighting allows you to see what you’re doing, primarily at the sink: shaving, applying makeup, flossing, and so on. Lamps above the mirror tend to cast unflattering shadows, so choose wall sconces, pendant lights, or vertical bath bars that can be installed on either side of the mirror.
  • Accent lighting adds depth to your space. If you have artwork in your bathroom, illuminate it with a recessed fixture.
  • Decorative lighting provides visual interest and varies widely depending on your style and decorating preferences.
  • Ambient or indirect lighting is especially helpful in spaces with tall ceilings to “fill” the room with illumination.


Bathroom Lighting 101-5: Additional Considerations

  • If you plan to install lights above your shower or tub, be sure they’re “wet rated.”
  • Avoid using fabric shades in the bathroom, as they’ll develop water stains over time. Instead, opt for glass, plastic, or metal.
  • Consider putting your lighting and fans on separate switches. Your different light layers should operate independently, as well, so you can better choose the look and feel of your space.

Re-Bath offers an assortment of wall lights and scones that can help you create the bathroom of your dreams. Need help making good lighting decisions? Our Design Consultants are experts at transforming bathrooms into a space you’ll love—within your budget. Find a Re-Bath near you to schedule a free, in-home consultation.