Proper lighting is crucial in any bathroom. The right lighting can make the space feel bright, clean, and inviting, while the wrong lighting can leave it feeling dark and dreary. When designing bathroom lighting, there are several key factors to consider in order to create the perfect ambiance.

Choosing the Right Types of Lighting

There are three main types of lighting to think about when designing bathroom illumination – ambient, task, and accent lighting.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting provides overall general illumination to the bathroom. It is the main light source that fills the room. For bathrooms, overhead lighting fixtures like flush mount or semi-flush mount ceilings lights are common choices for delivering ambient light.

When selecting an ambient lighting fixture, consider the size of your bathroom and how much wattage you will need to properly light the space. Bathroom ceilings are often 8 feet high. For a small bathroom under 50 square feet, a single fixture with 1 or 2 bulbs between 60-100 watts is usually sufficient. For larger bathrooms, opt for a brighter overhead fixture with 3-4 bulbs and 150-200 watts.

The color temperature of the light bulbs is also a factor for ambient lighting. Warm white light between 2700K-3000K is recommended as it gives off a soft, inviting glow. Cool white lighting over 5000K will give your bathroom a sterile, uninviting feel.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is directed light focused on specific areas. In bathrooms, common tasks include grooming, applying makeup, shaving, and more. Wall mounted fixtures or vanity lighting above the sink provides ideal task illumination.

For on-trend bathroom lighting, consider adding sconces on either side of the mirror. Look for narrow, vertical sconces that flank the mirror without crowding the space. Sconces with adjustable arms allow you to direct the light precisely where needed.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting adds a layer of visual interest through directional lighting aimed at particular features or details. This could include lighting architectural elements like a pretty tile backsplash or illuminating decorative touches like plants.

Common choices for bathroom accent lighting include recessed lighting around the mirror or pendant lights over a bathtub. Mini pendant lights hanging over the sinks work well to provide task lighting and accent lighting. Wall sconces or track lighting can also be used strategically to highlight bathroom features.

Key Bathroom Lighting Tips

Follow these crucial tips when designing your bathroom lighting scheme:

  • Use dimmers – Dimmers allow you to adjust the lighting levels to create the perfect ambiance. Dimmable overhead fixtures and wall sconces give you flexibility.
  • Layer the lighting – Combine ambient, task, and accent lighting to get the best mix. Layering creates both functionality and visual interest.
  • Illuminate the shower and tub areas – Include overhead lighting or sconces in the shower/bath zones so they don’t get left dark.
  • Account for steam and moisture – Choose moisture resistant fixtures with IP65 ratings to withstand the humidity.
  • Pick energy efficient LED bulbs – LEDs last longer and use less energy than incandescent or CFLs.
  • Install a bathroom fan with a light – Exhaust fans aid ventilation and provide needed illumination.
  • Highlight the mirror – Frame the mirror with sconces or recessed lighting for ideal visibility while grooming.

Design Ideas for Various Bathroom Layouts

The lighting design will vary based on the size and layout of the bathroom. Here are some bathroom lighting ideas tailored to common bathroom configurations:

Lighting a Powder Room

For a small powder room:

  • Overhead lighting can be a stylish flush or semi-flush mount ceiling fixture.
  • Add sconces on either side of the mirror for task lighting.
  • Accent with recessed lighting around the mirror perimeter.
  • Install a dimmer for adjustable light levels.

Lighting a Single Sink Bathroom

For a bathroom with a single vanity:

  • Use a multi-light vanity fixture for task lighting over the sink.
  • Flank the mirror with narrow vertical sconces.
  • Add recessed ceiling lights for ambient lighting.
  • Include a light/fan combo in the shower/tub zone.
  • Use pendant lights or a chandelier as a central feature.

Lighting a Double Sink Bathroom

For bathrooms with a double vanity:

  • Install a linear LED vanity bar fixture to wash the whole sink area with light.
  • Place sconces on each side of the mirror span.
  • Use recessed ceiling lights and/or a ceiling flush mount fixture for ambient light.
  • Add pendant lights over each sink or a statement chandelier in between.

Lighting a Master Bathroom

For larger master bathrooms:

  • Use multiple overhead flush or semi-flush mount fixtures for ambient light.
  • Include vanity strip lighting and sconces by the mirror.
  • Add recessed lighting around the mirror and in the shower/tub zones.
  • Use pendant lights over the tub or dual vanities.
  • Accent with architectural lighting on tile walls and ceilings.
  • Install dimmers to control light levels.

Choosing the Right Bathroom Lighting Fixtures

Selecting the proper lighting fixtures is key to creating your perfect bathroom lighting design.

Ceiling Lights

Flushed or semi-flushed mounted ceiling lights provide diffuse ambient illumination. Look for moisture resistant units with LEDs.

Vanity Lights

Vanity strip fixtures or individual pendants give directed task lighting over sinks. Bar-style LED fixtures offer a modern look.


Vertical sconces placed by the mirror supplement task lighting. Go for narrow, adjustable units in finishes like brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze.


Mini-pendants bring accent lighting over sinks or tubs. Opt for sculptural glass or drum shades.

Recessed/Track Lights

Recessed downlights or track lights focus light on the shower or highlights architectural details.

Exhaust Fan Combo Units

Exhaust fans with built-in illumination serve dual functions while saving space.

Creating Bathroom Lighting Zones

Approaching bathroom lighting by zones ensures all areas are properly illuminated.

Ambient Lighting Zone

This includes the central overhead lighting. Semi-flush or flush mount fixtures work well.

Vanity Lighting Zone

Task lighting at the vanity provides visibility for grooming. Use vanity bar lights or pendents.

Shower/Tub Lighting Zone

Include overhead lighting or sconces by showers and tubs so users can see safely.

Mirror Lighting Zone

Sconces, pendants, or recessed lights around the mirror create visibility.

Architectural Accent Zone

Use directional recessed or track lights to highlight special features or tiles.

Controls for Convenience

The right controls make bathroom lighting easy to operate:

  • Dimmers – Allow adjusting light levels to set the desired ambiance.
  • Occupancy sensors – Motion detecting switches automatically turn lights on/off.
  • Night lights – Convenient for dark middle of the night bathroom trips.
  • Lighted switches – Locating switches is easy.
  • Automatic on/off – Timer controls or photocells turn lights on/off at set times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Designing Bathroom Lighting

People researching bathroom lighting design often have the following common questions.

Q: How many light fixtures should a bathroom have?

A: For proper illumination, most bathrooms need a minimum of 3-4 light fixtures – an overhead ambient light, task lighting by the vanity, accent lighting by the mirror, and lights in the shower/tub zone. More sizable bathrooms may require additional fixtures like recessed lighting.

Q: Should bathroom lighting be warm or cool?

A: Warm white light between 2700K-3000K is ideal for bathrooms. The soft warm glow is welcoming and flattering. Cool lighting over 5000K feels harsh.

Q: Should sconces flank the mirror or vanity?

A: For proper visibility at the vanity, vertical sconces should flank the mirror itself. Installing sconces over the vanity can cause shadows.

Q: What is a good lumen output for bathroom lighting?

A: For ambient overhead bathroom lighting, look for fixtures between 1800-2500 lumens. Vanity lighting should emit around 1300-1500 lumens for sufficient task lighting.

Q: How do you light a bathroom without a window?

A: Use plenty of overhead ambient lighting. Add recessed ceiling lights or wall sconces. Install vanity strip lighting and accent lighting around the mirror. Paint the walls a lighter color.

Q: What are moisture resistant bathroom lights?

A: Fixtures with moisture resistance have IP65 ratings that mean they are dust tight and can handle humidity, condensation, water sprays, etc.

Q: Should you put pendant lights over bathroom sinks?

A: Yes, mini-pendant lights add a stylish accent over vanities and provide useful task lighting. Choose pendants 5-7 inches tall so they don’t impede usage.

In Summary

The right mix of lighting creates a beautiful, functional bathroom that is inviting yet practical. Follow the design tips outlined here to properly illuminate your bathroom. Carefully layer ambient, task accent lighting and choose fixtures suited for the humid environment. Don’t forget dimmers and controls for adjustability. Finally, create appropriate lighting zones to ensure all areas are well-lit. With the proper planning, you can design a bathroom lighting scheme that is soothing and spa-like.