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.
So 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. 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.
Bathroom lighting zones
To help make buying the right fittings easier, electricians, bathroom designers, and lighting experts will often refer to distinct zones.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, what will you choose?