Bathroom Lighting Ideas & Tips

Achieving the right mixture of aesthetics and safety is essential to any lighting installation. Choosing and installing light fixtures for a bathroom requires a bit more thought than other rooms as it contains water. The definition of a bathroom is a location that contains a bath or shower, rooms with just a sink or toilet are not classed as bathrooms. No matter whether you plan to install recessed downlights or surface spotlights in your bathroom you need to follow the rules.

The Rules (In Short)

Bathrooms are split it into three zones which are 0, 1 and 2. If you’re installing lights over a bath, shower or sink they need to be rated at IP44 or above which is splash proof. This is often referred to as IPX4, the X is for the dust rating which is not classed as important for these purposes so is given the X to show it's not relevant. The second digit which is the 4 denotes it’s resistance to water. The drawing below shows each bathroom zone and the distances that need to be maintained from the bath, sink and shower area:

(click on the image to view the official document from the LIA)

Some areas of a bathroom are not classed as a zone so you don't have to install IP rated lights everywhere. If you're purchasing expensive LEDs I'd recommend protecting them from steam and going with water resistant lights throughout. They will also match each other, look much better and only cost a little bit extra. If you plan to install integrated LED downlights most of them are IP65 as standard anyway.

There is often a lot of confusion about bathroom zones, some electrical contractors and lighting manufacturers will tell you conflicting information that recessed downlights need to be rated at IP65. This is incorrect as IP44 is water resistant enough for zones 1 and 2. This is unless you plan on cleaning your ceiling with a power wash. A rating of IP44 is splash proof which is sufficient.

If you plan to install any light fixtures that are positioned inside zone 0 which would be inside the bath and submersed under water, they would then need to be rated at IP67. For zone 0 the light fixtures must also need to be safety extra low voltage (SELV).

The drawing above is from the UK’s LIA (Lighting Industry Association) and is the source of most of our official data; it is not just an opinion of, further information about bathroom zones can be here in our 'What are bathroom zones' FAQ which also explains the IP rating system.

It also makes you wonder; why would lighting manufacturers like Ansell Lighting produce downlights that are only IP44 to begin with? Wouldn’t they be illegal? And did you know that most electric showers are rated at IP44 so why would a recessed downlight need to be more water resistant than a shower that is going to be positioned in the heart of zone 1?

Colour Temperatures

Choosing the right colour temperature is important and the choice is down to you. The information below compares the warmest of warm white and the modernist of cold white. 

Dim to Warm – Setting a Relaxing Ambience

When you dim the brightness level of a halogen or incandescent light bulb you will notice that colour temperature starts to appear warmer the dimmer it becomes. When you dim an LED the colour temperature remains consistent, dimming it only dims the brightness. In bathrooms and especially when you’re bathing most people like to produce a relaxing candlelight effect. This can be done either by using ordinary wax candles which would appear like an ultra warm 2200K. Or by installing LEDs that have this setting built into them.

Philips Lighting developed this technology back in 2011 and named it ‘Dimtone’ which was utilised in specific versions of their 8W GU10 and also in a 8W BC and ES style light bulb. The 8W GU10 has recently been superseded by a brand new 5.5W GU10 which now contains ‘DimTone’ technology as standard and will also be featured in their latest LED candle bulbs, due out later in 2015.

Megaman Lighting have also just launched their own version of this which is called ‘Dim to Warm’ and is available in a 6W GU10 LED. The colour temperature starts at 2800K warm white, the lower it gets dimmed in brightness, it becomes warmer until it reaches an ultra warm 1800K. This dimming appearance is done by using a conventional LED dimmer switch and doesn't require a special controller.

Cold White

The opposite end of the colour temperature spectrum is to go with a cleaner, cool / neutral white approach, this is often refereed to as cold white. By installing 4000K LEDs such as the Halers H2 Pro or H4FF shown in these images you can achieve a more modern appearance but it can also make a room feel clinical and sterile. Cool white is around 5% brighter than warm white as it has less phosphor over the LED chip, although due to the clearer light appearance it will appear even brighter.

Whichever option you decide to go for I’d recommend getting each light in the room to match. If you were to have a mixture of colour temperatures in the same room it won’t look right and the contrast of colour temperatures will really stand out. This contrast can also happen when you’ve got one colour temperature in one room and another in an adjoining room. You may have selected warm white for the hallway and cool white for the bathroom for example.

Which Finish?

I'm not a fan of polished chrome downlights or switches as I prefer the more contemporary feel that brushed steel offers. On my own recent bathroom project I discovered that it was very difficult to get brushed chrome taps, fans and other bathroom accessories. As I wanted everything to match I decided to go with polished chrome downlights, making all of the finishes match looked much better than introducing a new finish to the design.

Alternatively white downlights blend in, less noticeably into a ceiling space. They and don't stand out as much especially in the daytime when the lights aren't in use.

Bathroom LED Spotlights

Just like with recessed downlights, if you're placing spotlights inside zones 1 or 2 they will also need to be rated at IP44 or above. Our Astro Como or Forum Scorpius can be placed in bathroom zones 1 or 2. However because they are not recess and can be touched with wet hands Astro Lighting only recommends them for use in zone 2. A standard ceiling height is 2.4 metres and zone 1 and 2 ends at 2.25 metres so there shouldn't be a need for a zone 1 rated spotlight. A surface mounted bathroom spotlight wouldn't be appropriate above a shower or bath anyway, it would look tacky.


Adjustable Bathroom Downlights

Unlike fixed downlights which direct the light directly down in a 3D cone shaped beam, adjustable (known as gimbal) downlights all you to direct the angle of light. Adjustable downlights can also be used to off-set the angle of a vaulted ceiling. 

Adjustable Bathroom GU10 Downlights IP65 Forum Spa

We offer a selection of downlights that are both adjustable and IP65 rated that are ideal for use in this environment. Click here to view our most popular GU10 non fire rated version shown above. Or click here to view an IP65 integrated version which is also fully fire rated.

Fire Rated & Insulation Coverable

As bathrooms are mainly located in homes, they are classed domestic installations, downlights in homes should be fire rated. Once you cut a hole into your ceiling you need to restore it's original fire rating, otherwise in the event of a fire, the fire may spread through the downlighter holes and onto ceiling joists. More information about fire rated downlights can be found here.

Whether you choose not to go for fire rated downlights or not, your bathroom will most likely be situated on an upper floor below your loft space. Loft spaces are cold and require thermal insulation. If you cut around the insulation it renders it almost useless and warm air will escape through the downlight holes. This is why we have dedicated insulation coverable downlights or we have accessories such as loft caps or SpotClips that allow downlights like the Halers H2 Pro to be covered with insulation.

Bathroom Dimmer Switches

UK Wiring Regulations don't allow mains powered switches and power sockets to be installed inside a bathroom unless they are 3 metres away from a bath or shower, CLICK HERE to view the Electrical Safety First website for further evidence. This is quite a long distance, most bathrooms are barely 3 metres wide to begin with. In a bathroom all mains voltage circuits should be protected by a residual circuit device (RCD).

If you want a bathroom dimmer switch you could install a wireless dimmer switch. This can now be done very easily and is now affordable thanks to Lightwave RF. You can simply stick a wireless dimmer switch on a wall which is battery powered. You'll also need a receiver which is wired into the lighting circuit in the ceiling void. The wireless dimmer switch sends a radio frequency (RF) signal to the receiver which dims the lights.

Bathroom Fixtures & Project Costs

If you're planning a totally new bathroom overhaul and want to plan your budget, this interesting article explains how much a new bathroom can cost. It includes baths, showers, tiles and more which can really help you budget for your project.


As long as you follow the rules and Wiring Regulations there are no right or wrong choices. Although it's your bathroom and your choice, it is worth consulting with your electrician first as sometimes no matter what evidence you show them they will only install what they know to be safe. If you want to create a warmer, relaxing setting go with a warmer white colour temperature and if you want a more modern, cleaner look choose cool white. If you really can't choose a colour temperature why not select the 3000K version and see how you like it?

[click on the image above to view our range of bathroom rated spotlights and downlights]

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