Lighting is often an afterthought when it comes to novices and home decor. But getting the best bathroom lighting fixtures can make all the difference for how functional your bathroom is and how you feel when you’re in it. Knowing how to choose the best bathroom vanity lights can make or break your bathroom ambiance.
Choosing the best bathroom vanity lights involves picking the best fixtures and bulbs. To choose the best bathroom vanity lights, pick lights that have a flattering color temperature, are easy to install, and fit the project budget. Bathroom vanity lights can provide task lighting.
Now let’s look at the purpose of bathroom vanity lights, the types of bathroom vanity lights available, some product recommendations, and what you need to know about bathroom vanity bulbs.
Purpose of Bathroom Vanity Lighting
The way you create good lighting in your bathroom is by using many different types of lighting and lighting fixtures. You need different layers of light to have a well-rounded look, which includes ambient, task, and accent lighting.
Task lighting is bright lighting that is placed for a specific task or reason. A common example of task lighting is lighting around a vanity mirror, but there are many others. The most important thing to remember about this lighting is that it must be bright and focused. It isn’t meant to light the entire space, but rather highlight a small portion with high levels of traffic. Bathroom vanity lighting should help you see clearly while applying makeup, styling your hair or shaving.
Ambient lighting is lighting that lights up a general area. This is the main light source that helps you use the space. In the past, you would only have this one light fixture, and it would be powerful, large, and bright. Previously, these lights were big fixtures and meant to be an accent to the room. The current style is to try and minimize the size of the fixture, often by putting it into the ceiling and blending it in with the rest of the tile and paint. This kind of lighting is called recessed lighting.
Accent lighting is lighting that balances out task and ambient lighting. It is meant to create an even tone. This lighting is usually produced with extravagant structures, like chandeliers and sconces. These fixtures make statements and can showcase your personality and likes. These lights can be one of the most fun lighting design choices you make!
For more on how to layer lighting, read Secrets to Achieve the Best Bathroom Lighting by Kathleen Stacey Finley, a Bathtubber.com contributor and bathroom designer.
Now that you know the role that bathroom vanity lights play in the layered lighting scheme of your bathroom, let’s dive into the various types of bathroom vanity lights that are available.
Pick Your Favorite Type of Bathroom Vanity Light
To choose bathroom vanity lights, consider the budget for your vanity lighting project, including installation. Then think about the style of your bathroom: Farmhouse? Contemporary? And then consider whether you prefer a lighting fixture (or fixtures) on top of your bathroom vanity mirror or two fixtures, one on either side.
With these factors in mind, you’re now ready to choose the best type of bathroom vanity lights for you. And there are several to choose from. Some common vanity light types include:
1. Pendant Lights
Pendant lights come in all shapes, sizes, and qualities. They usually hang from the ceiling on a covered cord and have a bulb at the end covered by a shade of some sort. They can look like a glass-covered lamp, a futuristic effortlessly hung simple tube, or a conglomeration of different smaller lights, and more. Pendant lights are perfect for hanging over a vanity to not only give a stylish touch but also to add extra light to the mirror or tub areas.
If you choose to hang pendant lights above the vanity mirror go for odd numbers, such as three or five for a more stylish look. And if pendant lighting is tugging at your heartstrings, definitely read my dedicated post. I go over 9 types of pendant lights including:
- Chandelier pendants
- Cord pendants
- Down Light pendants
- Encased pendants
- Globe pendants
- Inverted/Bowl pendants
- Lantern pendants
- Linear pendants
- Multi-light pendants
Check out my post, Pendant Lights for a Bathroom Vanity here. You’ll get product picks, discover more about the different types, find out how to install and get important info about bulbs.
2. Wall Sconces
Wall sconces are small light fixtures that attach to the wall and stick out from it. This type of bathroom lighting fixture comes in a range of styles from those with basic lampshade looks, tubes, orbs, square fixtures, and more. Sconces are ideal for lighting a dark corner, or for placing above or beside a bathroom vanity.
To get the very best light effect from your sconces, read the post Up or Down? Why Sconce Direction Matters.
3. Bath Bars
Bath bars either look like multiple sconces sodered into one base, or they look like lightsabers. You can install bath bars horizontally, directly above a bathroom mirror. Or you can install two matching bars, one on either side of your bathroom mirror.
Many bath bars come with LED bulbs. Not only do LED lights last longer than traditional bulbs, but they also use less energy. This means that while you help save the planet, you can also reduce your electric bill.
Positioning your bath bars correctly beside the bathroom mirror is key for creating an appealing decor. For details, read Ask a Designer: How to Hang Bathroom Mirror and Sconces.
How to Choose Bathroom Vanity Fixtures and Bulbs for Damp Rooms
Important: Since bathroom vanity lights will be exposed to constant dampness and humidity, and they may be splashed from time to time, it’s critical to purchase fixtures and bulbs that are damp or wet rated.
Fortunately, lightbulbs and light fixtures are rated for different humidity levels using a universal IP rating. Unlike with other measurements, IP ratings are standard around the globe, so you know that your lightbulbs are safe regardless of where you buy them. This includes smart light bulbs.
John Fisher, an electrician in Virginia says:
“The IP rating of the fixture will be as or more important than the IP Rating for the bulbs, because you never know what bulb will be installed in the fixture at some point down the road.”
As long as you understand the rating system, you can install light bulbs and fixtures in your bathroom without worry.
Installing Vanity Lights
If you have decided on the kind of lights you want, the next step will be to install them. This can be done in one of two ways: you can install them yourself, or hire a professional electrician to do it for you. Let’s talk about which of these options will be best for you.
DIY Bathroom Vanity Lighting Installation
Most vanity light fixtures will cost anywhere from $40 to $500 depending on what type you purchase. Multi-light options generally tend to be more expensive than single-light sconces. (Read this post for great tips on how to choose the perfect bathroom sconces.)
After that, installation costs practically nothing unless, of course, you have to install new lines or light sockets. In the US, the go-to manual for electrical installations is the National Electrical Code. This manual is the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property in the US from electrical hazards.
Due to safety considerations, only attempt this if you are experienced working with electricity.
The average cost of hiring an electrician is usually anywhere from $35 to $100 an hour. It most often takes about 2 hours to install vanity lights, so you could be paying about $70-$200 for this one project.
The cost will greatly increase if you end up having to pay for extra sockets and wiring to be installed. This may take several more hours, so your bill could very easily double in size. Before hiring an electrician/contractor, carefully consider the amount of work that needs to be done. For more on how to hire a contractor for a bathroom remodel project, read 10 Steps to a Successful Bathroom Remodel by Bathroom Designer Kathleen Stacy Finley.
For the Best Bathroom Vanity Lighting, Prioritize Bulbs!
Many people hardly think about the bulbs. They purchase gorgeous fixtures and think they’re done.
The bulbs can make or break the bathroom vanity lighting. After all, you don’t want to apply your makeup thinking you look great and then go outside actually looking like a clown. And you don’t want to choose bulbs that make an otherwise bright and cheery bathroom appear like a haunted house. So what do you need to know about bathroom vanity bulbs?
Besides having levels of light, it is important to pick light bulbs that produce light that emphasizes the bathroom in good ways. The way that lighting tones are produced by light bulbs is measured using a system called Kelvins, which is abbreviated to k. The Kelvin scale goes from 1,000k to 10,000k. A 5,000k light produces light that has a bluish tone, helps highlight details, and is often used in factories and hospitals. 4,000k light produces a mid-tone that is balanced. 3,000k light produced a warmer tone that can be inviting in nature.
While most professionals would recommend at least 3,000K lights in bathrooms, it really does come down to preference in aesthetics. Studies have shown that light temperature directly affects our mood and energy levels. Cooler temperatures promote energy and alertness while warmer temperatures promote restfulness.
LED and Smart Bulbs
LED lights are also a great and newer option. They have a longer lifespan and are more efficient in the long term. Another benefit is that LED light is that it comes in many different bulb shapes, like the traditional bulb and also in strips. This means that you can use it to fulfill any light level you desire.
Smart lights are also a new addition to the lighting scheme. Smart lights are LEDs that are customizable through apps or a remote. They are affordable and energy-efficient, with additional benefits like being easy to use. You can change the color temperature on a whim! This is remarkable because you can manipulate the light to create different ambiances.
The only thing to keep in mind about smart lights is that they are way more expensive than regular lightbulbs. You could wind up paying as much as $60 for one single lightbulb. However, if you have planned and budgeted for this, smart lighting is a convenient and effective way to light your bathroom. Plus, it’s a fairly attractive style as well.
For much more about smart lights, including my top product picks, check out How Smart Bathroom Lights Brighten Your Life.
Natural light is one of the easiest lighting options to enhance a space. It is free and just requires using windows or skylights. This lighting has a lot of bonuses, simply because it highlights objects and people in the same way that it will outside. This makes it optimal for areas where personal grooming occurs because makeup colors will look the same inside and outside.
The only thing about natural light is that it only lasts so long, so make sure you have another light source for when it gets dark outside. You may want to consider installing a bathroom skylight. And no, your bathroom doesn’t need to be on a top floor to do this. Read my post on bathroom skylights to find out more.
So What Bathroom Vanity Lights Will You Choose?
Hopefully, this post gave you some useful strategies regarding how to choose bathroom vanity lights. Answer the following questions and you will be well on your way:
1. What is the style of your bathroom?
2. What is your budget for bathroom vanity lighting, including installation?
3. Do you prefer to install a light on either side of the bathroom mirror or vanity lights above the bathroom mirror?
4. What type of bathroom vanity lights do you prefer?
5. What are the best bulbs for you?
For more bathroom lighting ideas as well as more product picks, read my post 7 Types of Bathroom Lighting Fixtures to Make You Say WOW!
And get my step-by-step guide to the best lighting for your bathroom in a way that’s both practical and pretty.
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