Small Bathroom Lighting Tips: Make Any Space Shine with the Right Lighting

In the bathroom, lighting is an ongoing debate and a topic that many people seek advice on. How much light is too much? Where should the lights be? What types of lights are best? There are so many questions and considerations that it can be mind boggling. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll address everything that you need to know about lighting for small bathrooms, and bathrooms in general, including:

  • Why it’s so difficult to light bathrooms properly
  • The best lighting for small spaces
  • The types of lighting: task, accent, decorative, etc.
  • Popular styles and fixtures
  • And more!

First up, let’s talk about the challenges of bathroom lighting and why it’s such a sore spot in so many home renovations and upgrades.

Related: Bathroom Mirror Lighting Ideas

What are the Challenges of Bathroom and Vanity Lighting?

Bathroom and vanity lighting contain their own set of unique challenges. You want to create the right level of light for the space so that it can be functional, but you also want a calming ambiance so that it’s not a stark or startling space to be in. This is often why people struggle to find the perfect balance.

In a small space, that can become even more of a challenge as you try to find small fixtures that fit into the room without taking over but still providing the light that you need. Most bathroom fixtures are designed for one of the three purposes discussed below (task, accent, and décor), but it can be hard to pick out what’s what.

Add to that the fact that when you walk into a typical home improvement store or lighting showroom, you see the lights in this huge, open space where you can’t really get an idea of how they will look in your bathroom. Because of this, it’s helpful to look around online for bathroom and vanity lighting designs that can help inspire you and give you a better feel for how things will actually look in the completed bathroom.

The other big challenge is that many of these fixtures depend on the other fixtures and furnishings that you install. If you opt for track lighting, for example, you may have to choose a different exhaust or vent fan option. Some people even like the idea of a ceiling fan in the bathroom, which can be great, but you’ll have to decide whether the lighting fits the room or not.

There’s a lot to consider, which is really what it comes down to, and why educating yourself is such an important part of the process.

Related: How to Make a Bathroom Look and Feel Luxurious

What are the Types of Bathroom Lighting?

There are three main types of bathroom lighting that you’ll need to consider. Even in a small space, you might benefit from having all three when it’s done correctly. To decide what you need, let’s look at them all and what they entail.

Task Lighting

This is usually the lighting that is found above the vanity and that is designed to provide adequate light for things like shaving, makeup, doing your hair, and other tasks. It needs to be bright enough so that you can see well, but not so blinding that it’s unpleasant. You’ll be able to choose from single light fixtures or multi bulb lighting, both of which have their place. Choose brighter bulbs, typically between 40 and 60 watts, for these fixtures, depending on how many bulbs are in the fixture total.

4 Light Vanity Strip Lighting Oil Rubbed Bronze

4 Light Vanity Strip Lighting Oil Rubbed Bronze

Accent Lighting

This lighting is typically designed to create the aesthetic in the space and may be used alone when the task lighting is not needed for a calmer or dimmer space. Even in a small bathroom, accent lighting can do a lot to create an inviting space where you can relax, and the task lighting will be there when you need it. You might choose to install accent lighting via recessed cans and then use task lighting around the vanity mirror, for example. Perhaps you’ll choose decorative sconces for accents and then a simple set of track lighting for over the vanity mirror – the accent is about the aesthetic, so just remember that when choosing this lighting.

1 Light Wall Sconce with Lampshade

1 Light Wall Sconce In Brushed Nickel

Decorative Lighting

The final category is reserved for purely decorative lighting. It doesn’t necessarily provide any function, except for general lighting, but it is chosen because of its style and because it adds a touch of decor to the space. Pendant lights and chandeliers are examples of a decorative statement lighting choice that can be used in bathroom spaces. Of course, there’s also a caveat here – there are some instances where lighting can be both decorative and functional. That’s where you can really win with your bathroom lighting in small spaces.

Arbela 1 Light Rust Black Mini Pendant

Arbela 1 Light Rust Black Mini Pendant

Understanding these categories of lighting will help you better choose the fixtures for your new space. You can even find design inspiration on sites like Pinterest to help you get started.

Related: How to Pick the Right Bathroom Mirror

The Best Lighting Styles and Ideas for Small Spaces

When you’re dealing with a small space, bathroom and vanity lighting is a totally different beast. Not only do you have to light the space properly, but you have to do so while being mindful of the size of the fixtures, the amount of light being put out, and the placement, or layout, of lighting around the room. When you’re limited on space, that can seem like an impossible task.

Fortunately, there are a lot of different options. Combination lighting is always a good place to start, such as the above mention of decorative lighting that’s also purposeful – you can combine your love of a light with its functional use and get the best of both worlds. In smaller bathroom spaces, being able to get more for less with bathroom and vanity lighting is going to make all the difference.

Standard ceiling lights and ceiling/fan combination lights are fairly typical and don’t have a lot to note. There are modern fixtures that are changing the way that bathrooms look, but other than that, you’re not going to find a lot to think about here – it’s just standard lighting and it will get the job done.

Related: 6 Ways to Maximize Bathroom Space

If you’re dealing with a space where you don’t have a lot of room for fixtures to hang, you might consider recessed lighting. This can be a great way to add task lighting and brighten a space without having to have a fixture protruding into the room. Track and pendant lighting, when you have the room, are great for task lighting. They can be installed in precise locations to provide the exact amount of light needed, making them a great choice for a small bathroom.

Sconces are also a popular choice for bathrooms, and they offer a lot of versatility. Depending on the style and placement, they could be used for decorative and accent lighting, or they could even be installed around the vanity mirror for task lighting with the appropriate wattage bulb.

Just about any fixture will do in a small bathroom, but remember the ones that take up more space on the wall or ceiling will need to be factored into your overall design – are they going to overpower the rest of the room or make the space seem smaller? These are things you want to avoid, no matter which lights you choose.

1 Light Wall Sconce in Nickel

1 Light Wall Sconce in Nickel

What Kind of Light Bulbs Should I Use in the Bathroom?

Of course, with all the considerations surrounding the fixtures, you’ll want to make sure that you give as much consideration to the lights themselves. Today’s market offers a lot of options, but modern eco-friendly LEDs are typically your best choice. You can find these in various wattages and bulb styles so that you can outfit all of your new bathroom and vanity lighting with the best bulbs for energy efficiency.

LED light bulbs will last for years when used regularly and properly. You can find them in dimming bulbs, too, if you want to create a unique ambiance in your small bathroom space. Globe bulbs are a popular decorative choice, as they provide ideal lighting for the vanity when you need good task lighting, and also bring a stylish touch.

4 Light Vanity Lighting in Brushed Nickel

4 Light Vanity Lighting in Brushed Nickel

Small Space, Big Impact The Right Lights Matter

Now that you know more about how to choose the best lighting for your bathroom, no matter the size, it should be easier for you to get everything that you need. Remember to explore all of the options and take the time to find inspiration online to help you create your own new design. You’ll want to take advantage of the growing selection to find something totally unique and befitting of your tastes – fortunately, there are tons to choose from.

Consider matching task lighting to the vanity and accent lighting to the rest of the space, or investing in a combination light fixture to save space and still get a decorative touch without losing function. There are just so many ways that you can go. All that matters is that you go carefully and consider all of your options along the way. The right bathroom and vanity lighting can make or break your small bathroom or powder room.

Related: Bathroom Design and Inspiration

My name is Julia Ritzenthaler, Founder and President of Unique Vanities, started in 2005. I started this business as an extension of our residential remodeling business, which focused on the design and build of custom cabinetry and architectural trim. I also worked as a financial advisor for 10 years at Ameriprise Financial, helping clients make sound money decisions, including budgeting for home improvement expenses. This expertise led me to start Unique Vanities, which offers a handpicked selection of high quality bathroom vanities, sinks, mirrors and more. You can find me most days sitting in Starbucks, my second office, or in my car driving my daughter across Dallas to gymnastics training.