Bathroom Light Fixtures Buying Guide

Updated: Mar. 27, 2024

Bathroom lighting merits as much attention as in any other room. For safety, utility and relaxation, choose bathroom light fixtures carefully.

Many homes have at least one room that is rarely used. And then there’s the bathroom, which everyone uses every day. With all of those hard surfaces, sharp objects and then water to make everything slippery, the bathroom needs plenty of light for safety.

Preventing accidents is just one function of bathroom lighting. Joel Worthington, president of Mr. Electric, a Neighborly company that supplies bathroom lighting, says it also provides atmosphere, illumination for grooming and even auxiliary heat.

Building codes generally require at least one ceiling light fixture in the bathroom, but there’s no reason to stop there. Task lighting, indirect lighting and dimmer switches can all help turn your “necessities room” into a congenial space.

Choosing Bathroom Light Fixtures

What kind of lighting are you looking for? The answer to that question will help you navigate your many options.

Perhaps you want ambient illumination for the entire room. While low-hanging fixtures are best avoided in small spaces like bathrooms, Worthington suggests semi-flush ceiling mounts are a great way to go. Choose clear or white shades for maximum brightness in dark, windowless bathrooms.

What if you want atmospheric lighting to help you relax in the tub after a tough day? Check out wall sconces that provide accent and indirect lighting. You might also consider under-cabinet lighting to help keep track of your toiletries. Or go for vanity lights if you need a dose of high-powered electricity to jump-start your day.

Whatever your preferences, consider these key factors:

  • Durability: Not all light fixtures do well in the moist environment of a bathroom. The best ones are plastic, wood or a non-corroding metal like chrome or stainless steel.
  • Wattage: If you’re looking for one bathroom light fixture to illuminate the whole room, make sure it accepts a bulb with enough power for the task — 800 to 1,600 lumens, which corresponds to 60 to 100 watts. Low-voltage fixtures are better for mood and accent lighting.
  • Size: The fixture you choose must fit the available space. If you go for semi flush-mount fixtures, be sure to leave enough room for people to walk underneath. That’s at least seven feet — more for extra-tall people.
  • Placement: When deciding where to install a fixture, pay attention to walls and obstructions that prevent the light from reaching parts of the bathroom. Sometimes two or more strategically placed fixtures are better than a single bright one.
  • Cost: Prices range from around $30 for a flush-mount ceiling fixture to more than $700 for some of the more stylish vanity sets. Installation can cost from $50 to $500, depending if you need new circuitry.

Types of Bathroom Lighting Fixtures

The choice of lighting fixtures for the bathroom is just as varied as it is for other parts of the house and maybe moreso, depending on illumination needs.

  • Ceiling-mount fixtures: Worthington says overhead fixtures make the room appear larger by drawing your eyes to the ceiling. A well-placed light in the center of the bathroom can illuminate the entire room. That’s why, if a bathroom has just one fixture, it’s usually a ceiling mount. A ceiling light fixture with an infrared bulb can double as a heat lamp, and it may come as part of a bathroom exhaust fan.
  • Vanity lights: These illuminate the space around the vanity, including the mirror. You can have a row of them spaced equally along the top of the mirror or two on either side. For the best visibility, Worthington recommends bright white bulbs like the round ones you see in theater dressing rooms.
  • Recessed lighting: Also known as can lights, Worthington doesn’t consider these ideal for bathrooms because they allow moisture to escape into the attic. However, they’re definitely space savers if you’re looking for overhead lighting. Just be sure to seal them with caulk.
  • Sconces: Wall sconces can provide atmosphere and accent lighting as well as illuminate dark toilet alcoves that don’t get the full benefit of overhead lighting. Sconces can also make effective vanity lights when you don’t want the brightness of conventional ones.
  • Cabinet lights: Placing low-voltage lights under your medicine cabinet can help you find the things you need on the countertop. You can also place them under the vanity to illuminate the floor.
  • Shower and bathtub lights: A light in the shower can be really helpful, especially in a bathroom with primarily mood lighting. Fixtures that go in wet places like showers must be completely waterproof, with their switches located outside the wet areas they illuminate.

Bulbs and Dimmers

Stay away from CFL bulbs in the bathroom, Worthington says. People turn the lights on and off more frequently there than in any other room, and that wears out CFL bulbs more quickly. Moderate to bright LEDs with a color rendering index (CRI) of 90 or above are the most practical option.

If you like to step out of the shower without shivering, consider a ceiling fixture that accepts one or more halogen incandescent bulbs.

A dimmer switch in the bathroom can give you just enough light at night to find your way. Dimmer switches require dimmable bulbs in the fixtures.

In lieu of manual dimmer switches, you can also install smart bulbs, fixtures or switches. These turn off and on, adjust brightness and even change color according to your voice prompts. Some WiFi-enabled bathroom fixtures will even serenade you with music while you’re in the tub.

Bathroom Lighting Installation

Installing a light fixture in a bathroom is no different than installing one in any other room. With waterproof fixtures, follow all manufacturer’s instructions to ensure they’re watertight. If you opt for can lights, don’t forget to seal them.

A single fixture can share the required 20-amp circuit for the receptacles. But if you install more than one, it’s a good idea to run a new circuit. Share the lights between circuits so that if a breaker blows, you won’t be left totally in the dark.

Note: The National Electrical Code has specific restrictions regarding the installation of a chandelier over a bathtub.