Lighting A Bathroom Vanity

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We here to help walk you through some of the best Do’s and Don’t of lighting a bathroom vanity. Whether it’s a new or remodel, we’re here to answer all your vanity lighting questions.

#1 DON’T

Don’t use recessed lighting…by itself

One of the most common mistakes we see in a new home or remodel, is recessed can lighting being used everywhere, including over bathroom vanities. Recessed can lights are inexpensive, easy to install for the electrician or contractor, and provide a decent amount of general light. They do not belong over a bath vanity however.

Take the bathroom pictured on the right, gorgeous right? Yes, but the only lighting for the entire vanity top comes from 2 small recessed cans. The cans do a fantastic job highlighting the cool tile wall behind the vanity, creating a scallop affect, which I love by the way. There’s also a decent amount of lighting on the vanity surface.

However, this setup would be a nightmare for a woman to try and do her makeup and hair. This type of down-lighting causes excessive shadowing on a person’s face, making the processes of doing makeup, hair or even shaving, a difficult undertaking.

Vanity lighting really needs to come from the front, projecting toward you, not down like in this photo. The recessed can are okay to have, but the vanity needs some extra layers of light coming from the wall or mirror. Because of the tile wall I would not recommend doing wall mounted light fixtures, I think it would detract from the look. Instead, I would have gone for a lighted mirror. They are getting more and more popular and it would look fantastic in this modern bathroom. The LED edge lit mirror would provide some much needed light directly on to the person in front of the mirror. Combined with the recessed lighting from above it would create an all around well lit space.

#2 DON’T


Saving energy is awesome, everyone should do their part right? The bathroom vanity is one of those spots in the house where I would put my foot down and say NO! Fluorescent energy saving light bulbs or fixtures do not belong in those spaces. When getting ready for the day your face requires good, soft, natural lighting, and in our opinion, you do not get this from fluorescent lights.

Fluorescent lighting has a very harsh feel and tends to wash out colors and feel very un-natural. However, there are some color options available in fluorescent that are not too bad, but even those don’t feel right. What am I talking about? Kelvin Temperature.




Some important numbers to look at when comparing the color of a light bulb…

  • Incandescent Lighting = 2400-2700 Kelvin – Warm Color
  • Daylight = Approx. 6500 Kelvin – Cold or Blueish color

Fluorescent Lighting comes in temperature colors that range all through this spectrum. So if you are stuck with or have to use fluorescent lighting in your bathroom over the vanity, at the very least use something on the warm end of the chart. We would recommend as close to 2700 Kelvin as you can get.

#3 DON’T


For the longest time dark finished glass was all the rage. Bronze light fixtures with a tea stained or some sort of tinted glass could be found in almost every new home that we helped to design. Unfortunately this is not the best advice we have ever given. This is why we are here, to correct the mistakes of the past. So here’s our correction, don’t use dark glass on your vanity light fixtures!

The photo on the right is good example. I can hear people saying already “but that’s not dark glass!”. I agree, it’s not THAT dark, but it is tinted, and it has a finish on it. You would be shocked at how much light this glass tint will cut out.

Fortunately this type of vanity fixture will take up to 100 watts in each socket, and you’ll need every watt to get a usable amount out of it, because of the glass.

The other issue that’s not talked about a lot is the color of the glass will also affect the color of the light in the room.

There are just too many issues that arise when you try to use a tinted glass, so we recommend you don’t use it.

The theme of this article is to help you with lighting up a space that is critically important in the home. To do that you need light, lots of light. The only way you get that is by using a light fixture that will produce an adequate amount without cutting it off. When using dark glass that is exactly what you are doing. The dark glass will not allow the light to project outward, toward your face… that you’re looking at in the mirror…to do your makeup…to do your hair…or to shave, or do whatever, you get the point. What good is a light fixture that only sends light downward to the surface of your vanity, and not where you need it?

#4 DON’T


This tip is a little flexible. If you are trying to use smaller, single light sconces on the sides of a mirror, it looks great, but it won’t provide enough light…if that’s all you have.

I mentioned this tip is a little flexible because if you do happen to have some other layers of light then it might be okay. So if you have a couple sconces plus some recessed lighting, or sconces and an overhead light, then you should have an adequate amount.

We also see another error when it comes to sconces, candelabra bulbs. Candelabra base bulbs will only go up to 60 watts, and that’s it. Try to stay away from using anything with a candelabra base, you will be very disappointed with the amount of light.

I also want to clarify one thing, this is for a large vanity area like a master bath or main bath. If this is in a half bath with a small sink only and a mirror, you wouldn’t need to worry too much about the amount of light, it’s not that important in that setup.

#1 DO


If it’s possible to plan and execute several layers of light in the bathroom vanity, do it!

This may not be a possibility if all you’re doing is updating or replacing and existing light fixture. However, if you are renovating a bathroom or have a brand new project, then incorporating layers of light into the bathroom is essential.

What do we mean by layers?

Most of the time builders, electricians, and homeowners fall into the same old routine of installing only 1 or 2 vanity light fixtures above the sink area, and that’s it. We teach our customers that by adding more light option in the room you will get a much better overall lighting experience for the space. Add some recessed can lighting in the general area of the bathroom, or over the sink area, along with the wall mounted vanity light. Another option, add a chandelier or a semi flush mount fixture to the middle of the room, this provides not only a decorative aspect, but will also help support the main lighting over the vanity.

Switching these fixtures separately would also give you the added benefit of turning it on when needed, or not when you don’t. It’s easier to have the option to begin with, than not have it, and want it later on.

#2 DO


The vast majority of vanity light fixtures have glass on them. Don’t make the mistake of choosing something with a darker colored shade on it.

Dark shades will significantly cut the amount of the light that the fixture will provide. Depending on the color or tint of the shade, it will also cause a discoloration of the light in the room. So instead of a warm soft natural light, you may get a yellow, brown, or odd color in the room. This could wreak havoc with trying to apply makeup and do hair.

The other issue is the direction the light will travel. Because the shade is darker, it will force the light from the bulb, either up or down, depending on which way your fixture is facing. If the light is forced downward, there’s a chance it could cause some shadowing on your face.

Using a white glass will give you a very even distribution of light throughout the room. It won’t discolor the room and will appear brighter to the eye. Lighting manufacturers know this and you’ll notice that there is more selection with frosted or white glass then tinted or dark.

Clear glass is also an option. Clear glass will obviously give you the most amount of light possible. However, sometimes it can get a bit too bright, or glarey. Staring at a light bulb filament isn’t the best but if you’re looking for a lot of light, this is a good way to go.

#3 DO


LED lighting has come a long way in the last couple years. Not only has the price come down significantly, but the colors produced are much better than they used to be.

When using LED be very mindful of the color you are purchasing. Make sure you follow our guidance above when it comes to the color chart, and stay with an LED color in the warm area of the spectrum. That means you will want an LED bulb that’s at a maximum 3000 Kelvin, with lower being even warmer. I recommend 2400 – 2700 Kelvin for a home application.

LED is going to last you basically a lifetime, with no need to replace. Most LED light sources have a life of 20k to 50k hours. That’s a lot of hours to have a light fixture on!

One of the most exciting things about this new technology is that the size and design of LED bulbs also allow for some really unique and cool fixtures that are not possible using regular incandescent bulbs.

#4 DO


Lighted mirrors are amazing for a bathroom vanity! Mostly used in hotel settings for years, their popularity has exploded for residential use. The ability to use led bulbs in these mirrors has really opened up the market and made these affordable for everyday use.

Edge lit, led mirrors have a band of LED’s that run around the entire perimeter of the mirror. This is the perfect setup for lighting a vanity, getting light from every angle projecting toward your face, which is the end goal when it comes to lighting design.

These types of mirrors come in various sizes and shapes to meet every application. Prices for a lighted mirror are going to range depending on the size. Smaller mirrors, for a 1/2 bath vanity for example, are going to start around $150 and go up to $300 on average. Larger ones are going to start around $300 and can go up to $1000 or more depending on the brand, size and style.

You can find a huge selection for lighted mirrors at Amazon .
















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