How To Choose the Best Bathroom Light Fixtures

New bathroom light fixtures can radically change the look of a bathroom, from sparse and utilitarian to warm and luxurious.

Bathroom lights illuminate and amplify, brightening our morning routines or setting the mood before a relaxing bath. If you’re looking to learn more about modern trends and options in bathroom lighting, we’re here to enlighten you.

Types of Bathroom Lighting

Most bathroom lighting is either “ambient lighting,” intended to illuminate the whole room, or “task lighting,” which focuses on a specific area.

Vanity Lights

These task lights highlight the face for personal hygiene, grooming and makeup application. To avoid pooling shadows, look for vanity lights that throw balanced illumination across the face.

Ceiling Lights

Bathroom ceiling lights are used for general, ambient lighting. Many homeowners prefer warmer ambient lights because cooler lights can have what some describe as a “hospital” feel.

Fan Lights

Exhaust fans move humid or foul-smelling air outside. Some fans also come with an ambient ceiling light.


These fixtures are decorative touches, reserved for atmosphere-setting in a more luxurious spa bathroom. With bright enough bulbs, bathroom chandeliers can also provide ambient light.

Wall Sconces

Sconces are mounted flush to a wall, providing decorative ambient light or side-lighting around a vanity.

Recessed Lights

Recessed fixtures provide plenty of ambient light without eating up overhead space. They’re easiest to install during construction or renovation, especially if there’s living space above the bathroom.

Pendant Lights

These fixtures drop down from the ceiling, good for spacious bathrooms that can surrender a little room in exchange for a touch of style. Pendant lights that descend close to a surface can provide task lighting, while pendants that stay higher offer ambient light.

Shower or bath lights

Lights directly over or in a bath or shower must be rated for wet conditions. Never use an improperly-rated fixture in wet conditions. They’re unsafe, and whatever savings you gain will be lost when that fixture rusts out prematurely.

LED bathroom lights

Most of the lights we’ve discussed are grouped together because of location or mounting, such as shower lights. LED lights refer to the bulb technology. Energy efficient and long-lasting, LEDs can be used in any type of light fixture, from vanity bars to ceiling fans to sconces.

Toilet lights

Among the newest kind of bathroom amenity, toilet lights are placed near or even in the toilet. They’re great for those middle-of-the-night bathroom runs when you’d rather not flip on the bright overhead lights.

What To Consider When Choosing Bathroom Light Fixtures

If you’re planning to install new bathroom light fixtures, keep these factors in mind:


Select carefully. Bathrooms are relatively tight spaces, and a light fixture that looks good in a 60,000-square-foot store can overpower a 30-square-foot bathroom.

Have you heard the one about the person who installed a vanity light bar above the medicine cabinet, and when they tried to open the cabinet door, it bumped right into the glass light shades? Don’t be that person. Double-check all measurements.

Decorative Style

Many manufacturers produce specific lines of bathroom fixtures, allowing for easy mixing and matching of styles for everything from faucets and shower trim to towel racks and toilet paper holders. Pick a style of fixtures that complements your existing bathroom decorations, or strike out in a bold new direction. Almost any personal style can work, as long as all the elements mesh.

Light Direction

Consider the color and style of diffusers. If you have a pendant or vanity light, do the shades wrap the bulb or are they open-ended? If the latter, will the light shine in your eyes and make it difficult to see? Indirect lighting is often the safer way to go.


This is another personal preference. Most homeowners find a larger bathroom benefits from 1,100 lumens (75 watt equivalent), while in a small half-bath, 300 lumens (about 45 watt equivalent) is sufficient. Those numbers will also vary depending on the color temperature of the bulb you select, as cooler lights are often perceived as brighter.

Some homeowners like multiple light temperatures to mimic a number of lighting conditions. But if you only get one choice, it’s usually best to opt for a warm color for vanity light bulbs.

To determine a light’s color range, look for a rating expressed in Kelvins (K). Light in the 2,500k to 3,000K range is considered “warm,” with the 3,000K to 5,000K range cooler with hints of blue. Bright daylight comes in around 5,000K to 6,500K.


Because bathroom light fixtures are so widely used, there’s a fixture for almost any budget. A three-light vanity light can be found for $40, $150 or up to $750. Above $150 or so, the price increases are less about quality differences and more about appearance and style.

Ease of Installation

Replacing a light fixture is a great DIY project, even for beginners. But installing a fixture where there isn’t one currently is more complex. Unless you’ve done a lot of electrical work and you’re comfortable with it, it’s best left to accomplished DIYers or professional contractors.


Bathroom light fixtures are low maintenance. As long as they’re installed properly, the most you should have to do is occasionally dust and change out the light bulbs.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.