The Perfect Bathroom Lighting to Create a Relaxing Atmosphere

Light up round mirror in modern bathroom

Bathroom lighting tends to be an afterthought. When renovating, homeowners typically focus on bigger design elements like vanity cabinets and freestanding tubs. Once the project is done, they’re often left wondering why their bathroom feels clinical or gloomy after so much work. The truth is that bathroom light fixtures are just as important. So, if you’re looking to create a comfortable at-home oasis, you’re in the right place! Let’s explore some bathroom lighting ideas.

How do you light a bathroom properly?

Every room is different and needs individual bathroom lighting solutions; installing a generic grid of recessed lighting just won’t cut it. You need to consider the space, size, purpose, and aesthetic of the room before picking bathroom light fixtures.

Bathroom size

The size of the room plays an important role in your decisions. Small bathrooms will need less lighting, but you’ll need to restrict lighting types to make the most of the space you have. Large rooms have the challenge of balancing ambient and task lighting to ensure the brightness isn’t overwhelming.

Minimalist beige bathroom with pendant lights, double vanity and walk-in shower

Bathroom lighting with purpose

What kind of bathroom do you want to create? Think about who is going to use the space and what they need it for. For example, the makeup savvy will benefit from a well-lit vanity mirror while those that cherish shower time may want accent lighting to elevate the experience. After all, a cozy primary bathroom for you and your partner(s) will look a lot different than a bathroom shared by children in a rush to get ready for school.

Round mirror over vanity that is backlit with LED’s and two rectangular light accents to its right

Bathroom aesthetic

Regardless of the size of your bathroom or how it’s used, it still has to match your aesthetic. Before you get started, take some time to browse the latest bathroom trends to get a feel for which styles you like and how to achieve them. There are lots of bathroom lighting options to play with, from elegant chandeliers to modern hidden lighting. Feel free to mix and match to get your desired look.

That said, other elements will influence your bathroom lighting choices and associated renovation costs. For example, bright walls reflect light far more than dark walls, so you need fewer light fixtures to make the room work. With dark walls, you may need more lighting solutions.

Double wooden vanity with rectangular mirrors and gold pendant lights

What kind of light should I put in my bathroom?

What will make your bathroom feel best is layering your lighting properly. Do this by installing all three types of lighting, starting from largest to smallest coverage.

Ambient lighting

This is your main light source – it can be anything from a large overhead bathroom light fixture to natural light coming in from your windows. Select enough bathroom light fixtures to comfortably brighten the room.

Remember that small rooms need less coverage. For example, you can get away with a single overhead lamp in a small bathroom with only a toilet and a sink. And, if you plan to use windows as your main source of lighting, be sure to still install an ambient light fixture as you’ll need it in the evening.

Large bathroom with freestanding tub and floor to ceiling windows with warm lighting

Task lighting

Far more focused and generally brighter than ambient bathroom lighting, task lighting allows you to complete grooming tasks like makeup application, shaving, and bathing without straining your eyes. Focus on the things you do in the bathroom and install lighting accordingly. For most, this means focusing on the vanity and shower.

Large rectangular mirror with tube task lights on each side

Accent lighting

Accent lights highlight unique spaces or decorative elements to add a bit of style. This could be anything from hanging lights in a darker corner to cabinet underlighting that draws attention. You can also use it to brighten photo galleries, artwork, or knickknacks.

Rattan pendant chandelier over freestanding bathtub

Where to install bathroom light fixtures

No one wants to be greeted by a garish reflection in the vanity mirror, much less have to squint while clipping their nails. To create a functional and aesthetic space, you need a good lighting plan. Here are some spots to consider.

Bathroom mirror and vanity lighting

With the perfect vanity being so important, getting the right lighting on mirrors is key. Uneven lighting casts harsh shadows and hides your true appearance. One option for vanity lights is to have a sconce on either side of the mirror at or around eye height, providing even shading on your whole face.

Round mirror against marble wall and above vanity with two pendant lights on each side

Bathtub and shower lighting

This type of bathroom lighting is used to emphasize the fixtures and to provide ample light while bathing. Showers tend to work better with wet area rated recessed lighting placed closer to the wall, though it depends on the shower type. Bathtubs are often paired with statement pieces to create an even more powerful look.

freestanding tub with lit alcove

Toilet and water closet lighting

While less common than other lighting, these fixtures may be necessary if your toilet is in an alcove, has a separating wall (or half wall), or is in a separate room on its own. Task lighting isn’t needed for the toilet but can be used to draw attention to the area.

Water closet with alcove above toilet lit with led lights

Laundry room lighting

Laundry rooms typically have dedicated workstations like a folding area and spot for the washer and dryer, so soft lighting tends to be a good choice. Just ensure it matches the lighting in adjacent rooms to avoid harsh transitions.

Laundry room with gold ceiling fixture

Types of bathroom light fixtures

Not all lights are made equal. To get the most out of every bathroom light fixture, you’ll need to use the best types for each location and purpose.

Pendant lights

A single light bulb hung from the ceiling with a shroud or diffuser, pendant lights illuminate the entire room nicely. With countless beautiful designs, they work in every bathroom. Just keep in mind that they take up some vertical space.

Tips

  • Use a central pendant light as ambient lighting in bathrooms with tall ceilings.
  • Small pendant lights can make great task lights, especially around vanity mirrors.
  • For a bit of whimsy, hang a pendant light with an antique bulb above your clawfoot tub.

Bathroom with wooden vanity and half circle mirror and a rattan chandelier above tub

Chandelier lights

Suspended from the ceiling and made up of many light sources, chandeliers are similar to pendant lights but tend to be more elegant and costly.

Tips

  • For some glam, use a chandelier as task or ambient lighting in medium to large bathrooms. 
  • Use a small or simple chandelier for small bathrooms (i.e., under 100 sq. ft.).
  • Elevate your freestanding tub to a centrepiece by placing a chandelier above it.

textured chandelier above freestanding tub in white bathroom

Recessed lights

Spreading light downward and hidden above the surface of the ceiling, these lights can be used for ambient light but truly shine as shower alcove task lights.

Tips

  • Pair recessed lights with sconces or chandeliers for ambient light in large bathrooms.
  • Use recessed lights with a dimmer switch as task lighting in minimalist bathrooms.
  • Highlight interesting architectural features by using recessed lights as accent lighting.

Semi-flush mounts

Instead of being mounted directly to the ceiling, these lights have a gap between the base and the fixture itself. They spread light farther, making them great for ambiance, but they can’t really be focused on one area.

Tips

  • Use a semi-flush mounted light fixture in calm neutrals for ambient light that blends seamlessly into the background.
  • Strategically position a semi-flush mounted light to hide ceiling marks, bad paint jobs, etc.

semi-flushed black round ceiling light in bathroom

Fan with integrated light

Airflow in the bathroom is particularly important, and it can be combined with lighting to have a centerpiece that both clears the room and lights it up. Designs combined with traditional bathroom duct fans and ceiling fans are available.

Tips

  • A fan with an integrated light can serve as both ambient lighting and ventilation in small bathrooms.
  • To create a cohesive look, pick a bathroom fan–light combo that matches your vanity lights.

Square bathroom ceiling fan with integrated light

Spotlights

Spotlights or downlights have more concentrated beams that work well for drawing attention to specific locations. You can also mount them at sharp angles to create wider (but softer) rays of light.

Tips

  • Draw the eye to interesting architectural elements by using a spotlight as accent lighting.
  • Create the illusion of a large bathroom by pointing spotlights at walls instead of the floor.
  • Avoid installing spotlights above key bathroom fixtures, as it’ll cause eye strain.

Half cylinder wall spotlight with light directing both ways

Wall sconces

The quintessential wall lamp, wall sconces diffuse light or shine it towards the wall. They’re often located along walls far from ambient lights or mounted beside and/or above specific elements like bathroom vanity mirrors.

Tips

  • Use wall sconces as task lighting for makeup application and other daily grooming tasks.
  • Create a calm and romantic mood around your bathtub by installing a sconce with a dimmer switch.

Rectangular led lights on each side of bathroom vanity mirror

Track lights

Often used in industrial and modern bathrooms, track lights are made up of many lights attached to a rod. Most of the time, each lamp can be swivelled to direct light in any desired direction.

Tips

  • Create depth and drama by using track lights as accent lighting
  • Use track lights as vanity task lights. They’re adjustable, so you can reposition them and avoid casting shadows on your face when grooming.

Black teardrop track lights above vanity mirrors

Undercabinet lights

Often in the form of LED strips or recessed lights, this bathroom lighting option is placed just under the edge of a cabinet. It lights the area indirectly and draws attention to it, giving the illusion of a floating cabinet.

Tips

  • Use undercabinet lights as accent lighting to brighten the toe kick. 
  • Install undercabinet lights with dimmers for great laundry room task lighting.
  • Save money on energy bills by installing fixtures with motion sensors.

wooden floating vanity with lights underneath and led mirror

Heat lamps

Uncommon to find in modern bathrooms, a heat lamp mounted over the vanity can help ease your transition from hot shower to cold house. While not strictly a lighting fixture, it does have the appearance of one.

Tips

  • Keep your bathing experience cozy after the bubbles have gone by installing a heat lamp just outside your shower or bathtub.
  • Kill two birds with one stone by using a heat lamp with an exhaust fan in small bathrooms.

square ceiling heat lamp in bathroom with walk-in shower and lit up mirror

Personalize your bathroom lighting

To get the absolute best experience from your bathroom, you need to customize everything to suit your tastes. Here are some elements to consider and extra options that may improve your lighting.

Light bulbs

Modern bathroom lighting offers different lightbulbs to achieve your desired aesthetic.

  • Incandescent. This is the traditional lightbulb. It’s available in the widest range of temperatures but is expensive for how long it lasts.

Two round black-trimmed mirrors with round wall sconces on each side

  • Halogen. While better than traditional incandescent, halogen bulbs are more expensive than their LED counterparts. They have a smaller range of styles and are available in warmer temperatures.

Vanity with three rose gold hanging cylinder lights next to mirror

  • Fluorescent. While they used to be popular, the high price tag and limitation to cooler temperatures makes fluorescent bulbs a poor choice for most fixtures.

fluorescent tube light above rectangular mirror

  • LED. The most modern of the bulb types, LEDs use very little power and are available in a wide range of temperatures and styles.

Small bathroom with custom vanity including a round led mirror next to the toilet

  • Edison. These bulbs are typically very warm and have a low lumen output but make up for it with unique designs. Edison bulbs are best used in accent lighting.

suspended gold wall sconces next to medicine cabinet mirror

Light temperature

Warm and cool lighting each serve specific purposes in the bathroom and should be used accordingly. For instance, warm lighting is great for vanity mirrors because it doesn’t distort natural skin tones. If you enjoy contrast or want an energizing bathing experience, install cool lighting in the shower. Also pay attention to the bulb’s colour rendering index for key areas, such as the vanity.

Dimming

Dimmer switches are one of those small luxuries that make a big difference. They allow you to personalize your bathroom experience by adjusting the lighting based on time of day or desired mood (low-light candlelit bath anyone?). Most fixtures can be dimmed but you may need a specialized dimmer switch depending on the bulb type.

Long rounded mirror with suspend lights and dimmable pot lights

Lamp shades

Some fixtures can have exposed bulbs that need lamp shades. Traditional ones can add a rustic touch to your bathroom, but you don’t have to limit yourself to one style. Feel free to mix and match colours and aesthetics, or splurge on a custom lampshade that’ll make you smile.

Grey toned bathroom with walk-in shower, round mirror and suspended gold light fixture

Light lens covers

Those looking to add colour or whimsy to their relaxing oasis without the commitment can now rejoice. Instead of investing in bold tiles that you might not want in a few years, grab a few light lenses and play with colours and patterns. Want soft blue lighting around your shower and a galaxy on your ceiling? Well, you can do that!

modern bathroom shower lit with blue leds

Where do you put lights in a small bathroom?

Small bathrooms can often be lit with a single ceiling light. That said, if you strategically position your vanity or hidden undercabinet lights, you can light the room without a main ambient light source.

Bathroom lighting mistakes to avoid

There are lots of elements in a bathroom renovation project. There’s a good chance you’ll make a few mistakes along the way, so here are a few of the most common to avoid.

  • Ignoring layers. Focusing on only task or ambient lighting can make your room painful to spend time in. Too much or too little light will hurt your eyes.
  • Forgetting dimmer switches. Dimmable lights can save you money on your hydro bill and give you the option to personalize your lighting based on your mood. 
  • Lighting directly above. Downlighting can cast unpleasant shadows and cause eye strain. Vary lighting styles to avoid this.
  • Overlooking bulb temperature. Mismatched light temperatures can cause jarring room transitions or muddy lighting.

Light the way for a stress-free bathroom renovation

You should enjoy each and every visit to the bathroom, so take some time to choose the right lighting for your space. If you’re not sure where to start, browse bathroom lighting ideas online or get inspired by our bathroom renovation projects and décor ideas. When you’re ready to take the plunge, reach out to one of our Renovation Advisors – they’ll be happy to help create your dream bathroom.

Briar Von Gerl is an engineer, inventor, and artist, and her favourite pastime is creating things. She applies her previous millwork design and creative experience to her writing, hopefully inspiring others to create something themselves.