Bathroom lighting explained

Light your bathroom main image steel-framed glazing pendant

Imagine the scene: you come home from work, want to sink into a relaxing bath… and have to blink against bright lights. Not ideal, right? The lighting in your bathroom is key to create a cosy, inviting scheme – but you’ll also need to see clear for some tasks or to get ready. 

It doesn’t matter how big or small your bathroom is a well thought out lighting scheme will enhance the design of any layout. The key to a successful plan is to create different layers of lighting using multiple light sources from task lighting around mirrors and accent spots to highlight design features to recessed floor lighting to create a low level ambient mood for a hotel spa vibe. 

There are a wide variety of products on the market from illuminated mirrors with integrated LED lights adding a modern twist to the traditional vanity unit as well as a wide range of downlights, uplights, pendants and wall lights. 

For example, a simple way to add flexibility to your bathroom lighting is to incorporate dimmer switches allowing you to easily regulate your lighting to create the perfect atmosphere at any time of day. If you are looking for the latest ideas some of the manufacturers do offer integrated rainfall shower units with colour changing LED light units that fit flush to the ceiling, ideal for a streamlined wetroom concept. 

How do you make it work? 

First of all, you’ll need to make sure any fixtures are safe – after all, electricity and water don’t mix. But how do you do that, I hear you ask? 

Every light comes with an IP rating and the higher the rating the more watertight the light will be. IP stands for ingress protection, which, to put simply, means how much (or little) water will get into the fixture and, as a result, how close to a water source it can be installed. 

If you see the letters IP, they’ll be followed by two numbers – so, for example, IP44. The first number means how protected the light is from anything getting inside. This scale runs from 0 – not at all – to 6, which means dust tight. (Sometimes, this number is not relevant; in that case, it will be replaced with an X.) 

The second number tells you how water tight it is and will be somewhere between 0 – once again, not at all – and 8, which indicates that your chosen bathroom lighting is suitable for complete, longer immersion. 

A spotlight rated IP67, for example, is safe for immersion in up to 1m of water for up to 30 minutes – and a light rated IP68 is hermetically sealed and can be used as a pool light. 

CP Hart Drench shower frame

To create a statement in your bathroom, you’ll need to consider lighting too – but not every lamp can be placed everywhere. Apart from a beautiful pendant, this scheme by CP Hart also features Drench’s Victoria shower screen, £1653 from CP Hart, which adds an Art Deco feel. For a similar pendant, try Wired Designs.

Bathroom lighting zones

It is always best to check with your supplier and electrician as to what lighting products are safe to be installed in different areas of the scheme. A bathroom is made up of different lighting zones so depending on how far the lighting unit is away from the water source will determine what light can be safely used.    

These are areas of your space which are defined by how far away from a water source they are. Your bathtub, for example, will be Zone 0 because no matter what you do, your light will get wet. 

The area above your bath and your shower enclosure, however, will be Zone 1. 

All of these defined areas come with a minimum IP rating that you’ll need to pick to ensure your fittings are safe. 

Completely baffled? Don’t worry – I’m here to break it all down into handy, bite-sized explanations. 

But before we start on the nitty-gritty, one word of advice: think about how you want to control your bathroom lighting early on in your project. This way, you’ll avoid hassle after the installation is done. 

Zone 0

Minimum rating: IP67 or IPX7

This zone covers the area within your bathtub and shower enclosure, where any lamps you choose will regularly find themselves submerged in water. It’s pool light territory, if you wish. 

Any fixtures you install here will need to be low voltage, with a maximum of 12 volts. 

What works? 

Thanks to technical advances, LED solutions are growing ever more popular – from strip lights to spot solutions. They can be integrated into furniture, sanitaryware, or even showerheads. 

Hidden bathroom lighting solution using LEDs

LED strips are a great idea if you want to create hidden lighting. This design uses the LD Line 15 – an ultra-shallow 24volt LED light line – which has a built-in reflector which means you won’t get the spotting other LEDs might create. It is priced £138 for the IP56 or £174 for the IP67 design, from Brilliant Lighting.

Individual uplighters are a nice idea, too, as they can bathe your shower wall in a blanket of light that’s soothing at the top, but not so dark at the bottom that you’ll stumble. 

However, generally speaking the bathroom lighting you choose for these wet areas is more aesthetic than practical and is often more to create a mood than to help you see clearly. 

Bathroom lighting uplights in a shower

Rated IP67, these recessed Terra 42 LED uplighters, around £57 from Astro Lighting, are dimmable, too, so you can create a cosy atmosphere.

Oh, and one tip: if you choose a concealed design, make sure you don’t have super-glossy surfaces, as they are very reflective and can ruin the effect.

Zone 1

Minimum rating: IP44

This is the area above your bath and your shower, up to 2.25m above the floor and at a radius of 1.2m from the water source. 

As these areas will not see your lights permanently submerged, you will find yourself having greater freedom when it comes to design choices. 

What works?

Flexible LED rope lights and strings of individual diodes – sometimes in a variety of colours, and many of them with remote control capabilities too – look nice and, when fitting under the lip of a roll-top bath, along a plinth, or within an alcove, can create a dramatic effect. 

You could also choose a pair of symmetrically positioned wall lights next to your mirror or above the bath, to make a strong design statement. 

Shower ledge featuring LED lighting

An alcove in your shower is already a practical idea to store bottles of shampoo and soap – but adding LED downlights makes it easy to see, too. These are Malmberg’s MD-29 Mini Puck LED designs, around £10.44 each, in a scheme by Ripples.

Industrial bulkhead designs are incredibly popular at the moment, but there’s something for every taste. The bonus? As they were originally intended to be purely practical, they often boast clean lines and are neatly sealed, so can withstand the odd splash quite easily.

Outdoor lights are also ideal for use in Zone 1, as most of them will be rated IP67 – we are in Britain, after all, where the next rain shower is only a matter of time. So if you’ve seen a lamp you light but can’t fit it into your garden, you could always have it indoors instead.

To shake up your scheme, why not choose contrasting styles rather than matching them to the existing look?

Zone 2

Minimum rating: IP44, but IP56 and IP65 are also ideal

Zone 2, essentially, extends Zone 1 by another 60cm. It also includes the area around your basin, with a radius of 60cm from each tap or other water source.

Backlit mirror Original Style

A backlit mirror is not only practical, it also adds a soft, atmospheric glow to your scheme. This one has been paired with Boreal Natural wood-effect tiles and Bianco Oro wall tiles, £49.95 per sq m, from Original Style.

In most bathrooms, this area is the focal point. Think about it: your basin most likely has a big mirror above it, which automatically draws the eye. It’s a kingdom for a statement light.

What works?

There are plenty of options to match all styles. Personally, I’m a fan of a mirror with integrated lighting, but you could also opt for fixture above or, to frame the wash area, a pair of wall lights. 

However, if you do this, make sure the fixtures are symmetric so you avoid an uneven glow, which could create shadows and make applying makeup or shaving a bit of a challenge. 

Bathroom lighting wall fittings

Rated IP68, these non-dimmable Mondrian wall lights, around £417.85 (€498) each from Nedgis, work in every zone – but we think they look very stylish next to a mirror.

Unzoned

Minimum rating: IP20

Any light outside the three zones we mentioned before falls into this. Located well away from wet areas, and at very little risk of splashing, you can use any light fitting that is rated at least IP20 here. 

What works?

When I spoke to Katie Agombar, designer at West One Bathrooms, she told me that this is the ideal area to get a feature solution in. “I love the striking pendants with exposed light bulbs or the pretty, ornate classing wall lights,” she told me. 

Of course your space dictates what’s possible, but if you have high ceiling, this is your chance to bring in a chandelier or cluster pendant. All bathroom lights will have an IP rating and the higher the rating the more watertight the light will be. 

Design decisions  

It is not only the type and design of the individual lights that are crucial but also where you position them in a layout.  Don’t be tempted to fit downlights directly above a vanity unit or mirror as they will cast shadows below your eyes, nose and chin making it difficult to shave or apply makeup properly instead you could mount wall lights at eye level either side of a mirror to achieve the best lighting. If you have the space and ceiling height consider a glass drop chandelier over a standalone bath to create a dramatic atmosphere.  

Another popular choice are LEDs, which can last up to 25 years and significantly reduce your energy usage so look out for built-in LEDs in mirrors, bathroom furniture, drawers, sanitaryware and showers most with touch-screen controls to include in your scheme. 

Pricing  

Lighting a bathroom doesn’t have to be expensive as you can add the latest wall lights either side of a mirror to update the space for a few hundred pounds. However, if you want a complete redesign then you’ll need to take expert advice to create a dimmable layered lighting scheme and this can cost thousands.  

So, what will you choose? 

You may also enjoy: Bedroom lighting: the key must-haves for a layered scheme

Featured image: Add a wall-mounted fixture over the bath to change your scheme’s style – from industrial to more elegant looks. This is the Brooklyn 8in bathroom light in Pewter, £139, from Industville. Plenty of lush greenery brings nature into the room and creates a welcoming atmosphere. 

Post updated on: 04/06/2020 

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