The Importance Of Good Lighting In Your Bathroom

Written by bprescottFebruary 7, 2012
Bathroom with great lighting

Let There Be Light!

 No matter what its style, a bathroom should be well lit, well ventilated, and quiet, all qualities that make it a useful and peaceful place. Good lighting is important because of the many tasks- shaving, applying makeup, personal grooming, and reading- performed in a bathroom that require illumination. Proper ventilation is needed in every room of a house, but it's most important in a bathroom to prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which create harmful indoor allergens, not to mention stains on surfaces. And because no matter how humble, a bathroom is always a retreat, it should be quiet and restful, truly an escape from the rest of the house.

Most of the time you probably tend to take lighting for granted. In fact, if you notice the lighting, it’s probably because it’s problematic. If the area seems too bright with a lot of glare or not bright enough, the lighting plan can use some fine-tuning. To get the most out of any bathroom remodeling project, improving the lighting should be at the top of the list. Many homeowners feel comfortable doing electrical work, and it is allowed in many jurisdictions.


If your bathroom remodeling project involves new electrical lines, definitely hire an electrician to run them and install new fixtures. The electrical work must meet the building codes, so you want a licensed electrician or electrical contractor to guarantee that it's done safely and properly. But if you’re replacing existing fixtures and you're comfortable working with electricity, you can replace an old light fixture with a new one.

Turning the Spotlight on Different Types of Lighting

The American Lighting Association says that a bathroom that incorporates overall and specific lighting fixtures makes the time spent there more enjoyable. The science of lighting has come a long way, and today lighting designers divide the needs of a bathroom into three basic categories: ambient, task, and accent. A lighting plan needs to address each of these categories to be successful.


Ambient, or general lighting, provides the overall illumination of a room or area. It can take many forms, and at times, task lighting and accent lighting contribute to the ambient light. In most cases, the ambient light is provided by an overhead light fixture. Of course, the natural light coming in from windows and skylights is part of the ambient light during the day. 

Ambient light must be adequate to provide sufficient illumination for safety, cleaning, and moving about; it also balances the brightness of other fixtures. The ceiling fixture is the most common source of ambient light and can be combined with a vent and heat in small bathrooms. Strategically placed recessed fixtures can also provide ambient lighting.


This category of lighting provides illumination to specific areas of the bathroom, such as the shower stall or bathtub area, toilet area, and sink and mirror. These fixtures provide task lighting:

  • Horizontal lighting strip or track above a double vanity: A strip of horizontal vanity lights with tiny halogen bulbs ensures that those using the vanity will have sufficient light. Mount the strip 78 inches off the floor. However, having only overhead lighting at the mirror makes applying makeup more difficult because it casts shadows under eyes, nose, and chin. Combine it with vertically mounted lights on both sides of the mirror (like those noted in the next item) to create shadow-free light for grooming.
  • Theatrical light strips with globe-shaped incandescent bulbs: These are mounted vertically at the edges of the mirror and provide plenty of light for shaving or applying makeup. A dimmer control enables you to adjust the lighting level.
  • Decorative wall sconces: These lights, placed on both sides of a small medicine cabinet or mirror, provide even, shadow-free facial illumination for personal grooming. Mount fixtures at least 28 inches apart and at eye level or approximately 60 inches off the floor.
  • Tub or shower light: This light should be bright enough for safe footing, bathing, shaving, and reading shampoo and soap labels. Choose a recessed downlight designed for use in a wet area. A shielded fixture will protect reclining bathers' eyes from glare. If you read while soaking in the tub, choose an adjustable accent light, aiming it from outside the tub for glare-free reading.
  • Recessed down light: This light, placed above a toilet, provides light for reading. This fixture is especially essential if the bathroom has a separate toilet compartment.


Accent lighting highlights some architectural feature of the room or sets a mood. Examples include lights highlighting the base of the whirlpool or soaking tub. Track lighting systems with low-voltage halogen bulbs can be used to spotlight decorative objects and to create a relaxing mood. This lighting teamed with dimmer controls enables you to dial in just the right amount of light to fit the need of the moment.

Don't put any form of lighting within reach of someone in a bathtub or shower.

Don't forget to incorporate night lights into the lighting plan. Install them at the base of cabinets to provide illumination for those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. Low-voltage linear lighting systems placed in the toe spaces beneath the vanity and cabinet are inexpensive to operate. 

Dimmer switches on bathroom fixtures are another idea for night lighting and to create a mood. The ones with the slide next to the toggle switch are easy to operate and are unobtrusive. Use dimmer switches where you want to control lighting to soften a light or make lighting brighter for grooming or cleaning.


From ‘Bathroom Remodeling For Dummies’
Copyright © 2003 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.



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