We’ve all been there, getting ready in some poorly lit, yellow-tinted bathroom, whether it be in a hotel, a family members home… or your own. Ladies and Gents both know the struggle; thinking they’ve gotten the perfect shave or flawless winged eyeliner only to find out that it was all just a lie once they walked away from the mirror. The culprit isn’t the mirror or your eyes, it’s the lighting.

Most homeowners actually don’t consider bathroom lighting to be crucial and end up spending that money elsewhere in the home – big mistake. However, bathroom lighting is actually an extremely important element in creating the perfect space for grooming and relaxation. With that in mind here’s what you absolutely need to know when considering your bathroom lighting scheme.

Kinds of Bathroom Lighting and How to Use It.


Task lighting is the most important light source in the entire room, and in smaller bathrooms it may be the only light source you need. These lights usually illuminate the sink and vanity area and are intended to make grooming easier, like shaving or putting on makeup. There are different styles of task lighting but Builders Surplus recommends two light sources (such as sconces), at the vanity, positioned at eye level mounted or hung from either side of the mirror and at least one light to illuminate the tub or shower; this light should be bright enough to be able to read shampoo labels. For double vanities try to include a third vertical light source at eye level in the center of the vanity. This kind of lighting prevents harsh shadows from forming and brightens up the face for better accuracy. While using overhead lighting is an option this will usually create harsh shadows on ones face, which just isn’t as pleasing.

Bathroom Lighting: Task

An alternative to mounting sconces to either side of a mirror is to mount them to the mirror, which takes more planning and is a slightly larger expense, or hang long chandeliers to around eye level.



Accent lighting in the bathroom is meant to illuminate the space or to highlight a focal point such as a freestanding tub, shower, or piece of art. This kind of bathroom lighting can give the whole space an inviting glow that brightens up the room. Choose a large chandelier, recessed lighting, or rope lighting. Either way you’ll want it to be bright and beautiful. Accent lights can be statement light sources as well, like a backlit mirror, or a can light highlighting a little recessed shelf. Accent lights, especially when put on a dimmer, can also act like ambient lighting.

Bathroom Lighting: Accent



This is light that comes into the room from a window. Natural light is so beautiful and warm (and it really saves on the energy bills if utilized correctly). If you do have a natural light source in your bathroom you should plan the rest of your lighting around this source because it can be overpowering depending on how much sun the window gets at different times of day – so model your lighting plan just for this. A fantastic idea to use with natural light is to diffuse it, especially if a lot of light pours in.

Bathroom Lighting: Natural


This kind of lighting is so pleasing to the eye, and what we’re really talking about is the fixture. A chandelier or other statement lighting fixture is sure to being some pizzaz and eye-candy to the room. What function this light source usually comes second to the way it looks.


Lighting your bathroom with an ambient glow can really set the mood for a space. The light usually bounces of the ceiling or walls to create a soft glow. Builders Surplus recommends adding a dimmer switch when including ambient light in your space. Not only with it give you more control over the mood in the room it will also help you to extend the life of your bulbs.

Bathroom Lighting: Ambient

Options and Considerations

Layer the Light

Layer your Bathroom lighting to get the most out of your space. This means don’t use one type of light or light source to illuminate your bathroom. Invest in task lights as well as ambient lighting while utilizing the natural light in your bathroom. Use any combination of lights and light sources to get the most out of your bathroom. However, there is such a thing as having too much light, choose what works best for you, your space, and your budget.

Diffuse the Light

Some light sources can be overpowering, they can cast harsh shadows or wash out the space. A good way to counteract these problems is to diffuse any harsh light sources, such as natural light, or task lighting. Bathroom lighting needs to be soft, diffusing the light in your bathroom can help throw and bounce light around the room, softening shadows and brightening the space. Diffuse natural light with a white curtain made of lighter fabric, or frosted glass. You can also diffuse indoor light sources with shades that appear slightly opaque, but still counteract the harshness of the bulb. Mirrors, white tiles or white surfaces will also help to bounce and diffuse harsh lighting.

Add a Dimmer Switch

Consider adding a dimmer switch to your bathroom to adjust how much light is being presented in the room. Dimmer switches allow you to have full control over the lighting, affecting mood, and energy savings. Dim the lights for a more relaxing and romantic mood, or turn them up in order to better see what you’re doing in the mirror. Keeping the lights low will actually extend the light of your bulb and save energy. Just remember that not all bulbs work with all dimmers.

Bathroom Lighting: Dimmer Switch

Bulb Types

All the work that you’ve put into designing your lighting scheme shouldn’t go to waste because you choose some crummy bulbs. Frankly, choosing the correct kind of bulb is just as important as the kind of lighting set up you have. Different kinds of lighting, like accent, task, or ambient lighting will require different wattages. Something to keep in mind no matter the bulb you decide on is to make sure it’s a similar color to the rest of the bulbs in the room and that it casts a light that is as close to white or natural that you can get.

Bathroom Lighting: Bulbs

Incandescent & Halogen

Incandescent or Halogen bulbs are usually indicated as being a “white” light bulb. These kinds of bulbs cost less than CFL or LED bulbs, but they also use more energy for the amount of output that you get from them. Incandescent bulbs are the cheaper of the two (the halogen costing more than twice as much) , however they last only half as long as a halogen bulb (1,000 hours vs. 2,000 hours). A 43 watt halogen bulb uses a comparable amount of energy and give a similar output as an 60 watt incandescent bulb.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFL)

CFL bulbs are more expensive than Incandescent and Halogen bulbs. These are you middle-ground bulbs, they’re a little more expensive than the halogen, but less expensive than their LED counterparts. Be sure that their color rendering (CRI) is above 80 or 90 and you’ll see pretty accurate color in the room. A 13 watt CFL bulb is equivalent to a 43 watt halogen bulb. Like halogen and incandescent bulbs, CFL bulbs have a color temperature between 2,700k and 3,000k. CFL bulbs generally last about 12,000 hours. Just keep in mind that many CFL bulbs aren’t compatible with dimmer switches.

Light-emitting Diode (LED)

LED bulbs are increasingly becoming more and more popular as the the movement for more sustainable ways of living gains popularity. LED bulbs may be your most expensive (roughly 75% more than a CFL bulb), but they use less energy for the same output and they’ll last much longer. A 12 watt LED bulb is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent or a 13 watt CFL. LEDs also last about 25,000 hours – more than double the lifetime of a CFL. LED bulbs are much more energy efficient and you can increase their lifetime and efficiency by using them with a compatible dimmer switch.



Safety is always something to consider in any situation. Always consult a local, licensed electrician before starting even the smallest or simplest electrical project.

Local Codes

Consult with an electrician or lighting installer in your area to be sure what you’re local laws and codes are regarding residential bathrooms. Some places will require that lighting be hung high enough that one can’t stand in a tub full of water and be able to touch any kind of lighting or electrical source.

Toe-kick Lighting

This lighting is definitely optional and is good for nighttime trips to the bathroom, it’s dim enough that you’re eyes won’t be strained from the sudden brightness that a normal light would put out, but it’s also bright enough to prevent someone from running into anything or tripping and falling.

Bathroom Lighting: Toe Kick

Damp Vs. Wet Conditions

We all know that water and electricity don’t mix. Always be sure that you buy bulbs or lighting fixtures that are suitable for a shower and or wet environment (damp conditions usually won’t meet your local code standards) . Not all outdoor bulbs or fixtures, which are usually only rated for damp conditions, will be able to conform so it’s best to double check and do a little research into the product that you’re buying.

Builders Surplus is a full service remodeling company with locations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Newport, Kentucky, which also serves Cincinnati, Ohio. Builders Surplus specializes in interior design, which comes as a free service to our clients. We sell building supplies ranging from unused surplus, to first quality in stock, to high end custom order and everything in between. Builders Surplus also provides measurement and full installation services. If you have any questions or would like to set up a free design consultation with one of our interior designers, we would encourage you to do so. Happy Remodeling!

Written By: Kat Flaherty