The current trend in bathroom lighting is toward larger, sunnier baths, and today’s top bathroom designers are placing more emphasis on artificial lighting as well.  A single, small lighting fixture protruding from the middle of the ceiling doesn’t suffice by today’s standards.  Alternative sources of general lighting include recessed ceiling fixtures or indirect lighting that bounces off the ceiling or walls. In addition to good general lighting, adequate task lights are a must.

How the bathroom lighting is selected and placed depends on the size and layout of your bathroom.  It also depends on the color scheme—bright colors reflect and enhance lighting effects; dark hues absorb and subdue them.

Lighting a Mirror:

Small or large, a bathroom typically functions as a grooming center. For this reason, the area in front of the mirror should be evenly illuminated and free of shadows.

Experts’ Insight for Bathroom Lighting:

When planning a lighting design for your bathroom, follow these guidelines to ensure adequate general lighting.

Light sources should be placed so that light emanates from above, below, and both sides of the mirror. This technique, called cross-lighting, effectively eliminates shadows.  If you have light coming only from above, it hits your eyebrows, causing shadows beneath your eyes—not an encouraging sight first thing every morning.

The first consideration should be a fixture that casts light just over the front edge of the sink and countertop.  If you choose a light-colored countertop, more light will reflect up onto your face. Then add more lights centered on each side of the mirror.

If fluorescent fixtures are selected to illuminate a mirror, tubes designed for vanity illumination or tubes that produce daylight-spectrum light is ideal.  The light from standard fluorescent tubes can be cold and harsh—acceptable for office or shop lighting but not for makeup application.  Use one 24-inch, 20-watt tube on each side of the mirror.  Two 24-inch, 20-watt tubes mounted above the mirror or a 32-watt circle light on the ceiling will offer adequate lighting to this space.

If fixtures are selected that require incandescent light bulbs, one option is to mount one wall fixture or pendant lamp on each side of the mirror.  These side lights each should contain two 60-watt or 75-watt bulbs.  If the ceiling fixture is round, it should be at least 12 inches in diameter and contain a bulb or bulbs rated at a total of 100 to 120 watts.

Larger mirrors that are 36 inches or more in width may require a different approach.  If standard guidelines are followed, the center of the mirror may appear a bit dark.  To avoid this, more powerful overhead light fixtures should be selected, and full coverage over the width of the mirror should be ensured.  One effective option is a double row of recessed ceiling fixtures over the vanity.

Small powder rooms typically require one light above the mirror, a fixture on each side of the mirror, and one ceiling light directed toward the front edge of the vanity countertop.

Bath and Shower Lights:

In an enclosed shower or tub area, most codes call for enclosed, vapor-proof lights.  Use caution when positioning them, however; you don’t want to look right into the light when you’re lying in the tub.  An infrared heat lamp mounted just outside the tub or shower will help avoid chilly exits.  All switches should be located at least 6 feet from the tub and shower.

Stall Lights:

In toilet compartments, a centered ceiling fixture using a 60 to 75 watt incandescent bulb or a 30 to 40 watt fluorescent tube should be installed.

The Right Light:

Most experts recommend using incandescent bulbs in the bathroom, because the light that’s produced has natural, complexion-flattering properties.  But incandescent bulbs also produce a good deal of heat that’s often unwanted.  Compact fluorescent fixtures are a good alternative.  They demand far less electricity per lumen (a measurement of light intensity), and the tubes render a warm, pleasing spectrum of colors.

Consider having a dimmer switch installed for your bathroom’s overall lighting.  This will allow you to adjust the light to suit your needs and moods.  Dimmers also make night-time visits to the bathroom more bearable, since the light can be turned down below the blinding level.  Fluorescent lighting doesn’t typically function on a dimmer switch.  Also, be sure to install a switch by each doorway so no one will have to cross the bathroom in the dark.

Reprinted with permission by the National Kitchen and Bath Association