The color of lighting in a room can drastically change how we view a space. A warmer color creates a cozier feel, while a cooler color might make it easier to see while doing tasks. In a bathroom, lighting is one of the most critical features.
The best color temperature for bathroom lighting is 3,000-3,200 Kelvins, which provides bright, crisp light. This light is good for bathroom tasks like styling hair, shaving, or applying makeup. Warmer light, around 2,700 Kelvins, is flattering and creates a better ambiance for bathrooms that are only used for guests.
While 3,000K-3,200K is a good range for bathroom lighting, there are many important factors to consider before deciding on a light temperature.
Color Temperature Basics
Color temperature is the appearance of the color of light and is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K) on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000. This scale was invented by a British scientist, Lord Kelvin.
A lower Kelvin degree means that the light source will appear warmer (or redder), and a higher Kelvin degree will appear cooler (or bluer). For example, candlelight is very warm at about 1,000 Kelvin. Household light bulbs are typically around 3,000 Kelvin, and bright daylight is about 6,500 K.
It is a common misconception that warmer degrees Kelvin gives off more heat and cooler degrees Kelvin gives off less heat. In reality, the cooler light gives off more heat than the warmer light.
Any interior design expert understands how the color temperature in lighting can change the way a space is perceived.
Light Temperature in Bathrooms
Award-winning designer, Lisa Holt, says that the most important thing you can do in your bathroom is to maximize the lighting.
“Bathrooms need to be places that you can really see well. The overall lighting palette should be bright. You want to be able to see dirt in this room. Ceiling lights should be as bright as you can get them.”
To have proper light in the bathroom, you should aim to have at least three types of lighting: ambient lighting, accent lighting, and task lighting. Ambient light is light that comes from all directions (a window, or ceiling light). Accent lighting is softer, diffused lighting from a sconce or pendant light.
The bathroom is an area in the home where task lighting is particularly important. Task lighting is when light sources are placed in specific areas where illumination is needed for specific activities. (Read about how to choose the perfect bathroom sconces in this post.) In a bathroom, for example, task lighting could be from a light bar above the vanity that lets you see yourself clearly in the mirror.
Different types of fixtures are used to accomplish various lighting objectives. To learn more, read 7 Types of Bathroom Lighting Fixtures to Make You Say Wow!
How to Create a Clean Feel in the Bathroom
Bathroom lighting should be bright, and slightly cooler from the lighting in your rooms and hallways. While you don’t want your bathroom to feel like a warehouse, you want it to have a clean feel. If you choose lighting that is warmer than say 3,000K, your bathroom might end up feeling stuffy and small. However, if your bathroom is overly spacious, this might be a good choice. If your bathroom is small and cramped, stick with cooler lights.
You will want to match the color temperature (Kelvin degree) in all three types of lighting in the bathroom, but not necessarily the brightness. Remember, Kelvin doesn’t measure brightness, but higher Kelvin degrees are perceived as having a “brighter” look to them.
Color Temperature Preferences
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. Keep this in mind when choosing color temperatures for different rooms in your house.
We even associate color temperature with different things; an extremely warm light might make you feel like you are at your grandmother’s house, while a very cool light might make you feel like you are at the dentist. Those going for a modern feel in their home might want light temperatures that score higher on the Kelvin scale, while those who want a natural, homey feel should lean towards lights lower on the Kelvin scale.
To find out why color temperature matters when choosing a bathroom sconce, read the post Up or Down? Why Sconce Direction Matters.
Other Bathroom Lighting Considerations
It is also important to consider the brightness of your light sources. Different rooms will require different brightness levels.
The amount of light output is called the lumen, which determines the brightness of a light source. It is important to recognize that the Kelvin degree of your lighting is completely separate from the lumen, or the light output.
It is also common to confuse the brightness of a bulb with the wattage. In the past, the wattage number on a light bulb package represented the brightness of the bulb. Now, technology has made it possible for brighter bulbs to operate on a lower wattage. Watts refers to the amount of power a light bulb uses, not the brightness or light output.
|Color Temperature||The appearance of light color measured on a scale of 1,000-10,000 Kelvin’s|
|Lumens||Measures light output/brightness; 500 lumens suggested for bathroom ceiling fixture and 700 lumens for bathroom task lighting|
|Watts||The amount of power a lightbulb uses|
|Color Rendering Index (CRI)||A scale that measures how well a light source shows the true colors of an object; Incandescent bulbs score 100 which is the best.|
If you are concerned about light being too bright in your bathroom at night, consider installing dimmers. This will allow you to control the light output without changing the color temperature.
In the bathroom, we suggest lighting capable of at least 500 lumens in the ceiling fixture and then at least 700 lumens in the task lighting. You may not always want this amount of light output in the bathroom, which is why dimmers are important. However, if you choose not to install dimmers, you could use a lower lumen level in your accent lighting so that you can just use accent lighting on its own.
Color Rendering in Bathroom Lighting
Have you ever done your makeup in a bathroom with bad lighting, and then walked out into the sunlight looking like you have on clown makeup? Or maybe the shirt you put on looked pink in your house, but it looked red outside.
When designing a room, it is important to recognize that the color of the light will determine how the colors in your bathroom appear to you. Not only will this affect how you get ready for the day, but it will change the way the bathroom paint and decor look, too.
The Color Rendering Index (CRI), is a measurement of how well a light source shows the true colors of an object. A CRI of 100 means a light source is extremely accurate in representing a color.
In a bathroom, you will want to keep in mind that you want to choose lighting that has a higher CRI rating. Incandescent bulbs always measure 100, which is the best. Typically LEDs will measure from 80-95 CRI, which is great, too. But fluorescent bulbs measure around 60, which is not good. So, consider using Incandescent bulbs or LEDs in your bathroom to get the most accurate colors.
Light Bulb Types
The most common light bulb type used in bathroom fixtures is LED. There is a large selection of colors in LED bulbs that range the entire color spectrum. LED bulbs have high light output and low power consumption. This is a great option for bathrooms. They also last much longer than other options, and won’t need to be replaced as often.
Incandescent bulbs are also common but are not a great option because they do not come in a selection of colors and tend to be fairly dim. Another problem with incandescent bulbs is that they put out light at all angles, so they can be good for ambiance lighting, but not for task lighting.
Fluorescent light is not recommended for household use because they emit a very cool, blue light. This does not create a very welcoming space, and research even shows that this type of light may have a negative impact on health.
It is best to use the same type of light bulb in a room, especially within a single light fixture. Still confused? Find out more about the best bulbs for your bathroom vanity.
Guidelines for Purchasing Lighting
Sometimes light fixtures come with light bulbs, but most often you will have to purchase the bulbs separately. Your local hardware retailer likely has a long aisle with hundreds of different types of light bulbs. If you pick up a package and have a hard time finding the Kelvin degree, lumen levels, and CRI, you aren’t the only one.
Here is a guide to understanding the product package, so you can avoid needing to return your purchase after you get home and realize it wasn’t what you wanted.
These are the steps you need to take to make sure you purchase the right light bulb for your bathroom lighting:
- First, determine the size of the light socket on your fixture. The standard size is E-26, but depending on the fixture, it might be different. Check the label on your light fixture to see what type of socket you will need, and what kind of wattage it will support. If you have the old light bulb, bring it to the store with you.
- Determine what bulb shape your fixture needs. Again, this will be on the package.
- Decide if you want to be able to dim your light. If so, you will need to purchase a light bulb that says “dimmable” or “3- way” on the package. While dimmable lights are more expensive upfront, they will save you money in the long run because they will use less energy when dimmed.
- Occasionally, you will see the Kelvin measurement right on the package. But more often, the package will use the terms in the table below to refer to the degrees Kelvin. Remember that the best option for bathroom lighting is around 3,200K, so look for warm or soft white bulbs. This will probably be the coolest color bulb in your home unless you are going for an extremely modern or industrial bathroom look.
|COLOR TEMPERATURE||DEGREES KELVIN|
|Warm Glow||2,000K - 2,499K
|Warm White||2,500K - 2,999K|
|Soft White||3,000K - 3,499K|
|Neutral White||3,500K - 3,999K|
|Bright White||4,000K - 4,449K|
|Cool White||4,500K - 4,999K|
|Daylight||5,000K - 5,500K|
Color and temperature-changing LED light bulbs are becoming increasingly popular, allowing homeowners to completely customize the lighting in their homes. These work just like normal light bulbs, but can be adjusted through an app via Wifi. Many of these smart bulbs can be programmed to operate on a schedule that accommodates your needs.
Many of these smart bulbs let you choose from thousands of color temperatures. Better yet, they are energy efficient, helping to save the earth and your budget at the same time.
The Philips Hue smart bulb system has several preset color temperatures that match whatever is going on in a room. These smart bulbs aren’t cheap, costing about $45.00, but they are such a cool way to customize your home. You might program the light bulbs in your bedroom to dim or become warmer when it gets close to bedtime and brighten or become cooler in the morning to mimic sunlight. You can even set the lights to crazier colors to create a festive look for a special occasion.
Get ideas for smart bathroom fixtures in my post How Smart Bathroom Lights Brighten Your Life. Then learn how to safely install lights in the bathroom, following IP ratings for wet and damp locations.
If you aren’t keen on spending hundreds of dollars replacing your normal light bulbs with smart bulbs, purchase dimmable light bulbs in the color temperature of your choice. Dimmer switches don’t let you change the color temperature of your lighting, but they do let you change the light output, or lumen capacity, of your lighting.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I don’t like a lot of light because I want to stay in my sleepy state. That’s why I’ve got dimmer switches in my bathrooms.
Dimmer switches come in a variety of different styles and types. Some work by connecting to an app, while others are mechanically operated. The most common dimmers work by adjusting a sliding notch or turning a knob on the light switch panel. The switch itself typically will cost from $10-$35 each. This Maxxima Dimmer Switch costs $12.99. You can easily install a dimmer switch by yourself. Make sure to buy light bulbs that are compatible with dimmers.
So What’s the Best Color Temperature for Your Bathroom?
When people walk into your home, they probably won’t comment on your selection of Kelvin color temperature. But they will notice how the lighting in the room makes them feel and how it functions for a given task. Your friends may start to compliment how nice your bathroom is! These small details will transform your living space from basic to sophisticated and customized.
Choosing the right color temperature will make your bathroom or any room in your house pop. Lighting can make a huge difference in the functionality and feel of your space! For more help with bathroom lighting, read a bathroom designer’s picks for the best bathroom lighting fixtures.
Note: If you’re about to embark on a bathroom remodel, get my Save Big $$$ Cheat Sheet. It’s free. Just fill out the form below and I’ll send you designer hacks that can literally help you save thousands of dollars.