Are Recessed Lights Good For My Bathroom? (Quick Read)

We’re fitting out our new bathroom at the time of writing, and a big issue is the lighting. Shall we use recessed lights or not?

Recessed lights are ideal for bathroom ceilings, inside shower stalls, and over bathtubs. Recessed lighting in the bathroom is excellent for ambient lighting, especially with eco-friendly, low-maintenance, long-lasting LED bulbs. They may cause unwanted shadows over your vanity unit though.

Let’s dive down into the subject of recessed lights in more detail, and discover how to use them in various locations within the bathroom…

Are Recessed Lights Good For My Bathroom?

Do I Need Special Recessed Lights for a Bathroom?

Recessed lights are ideal for inside shower stalls or bathtub/shower combination units. But you will need a specially rated fixture for such a wet location.

If you are considering a recessed light inside your shower, you should find one that is wet-rated. Wet rated means that it will be safe even if water splashes directly onto it. You can add another layer of waterproofing to your shower’s recessed light with water-proof trim. 

For the rest of the bathroom, damp-rated may be good enough. A damp rating means that the fixture will be safe even if some water droplets condense on it – like in a steamy bathroom.

How Do I Choose Recessed Lighting for a Bathroom?

Recessed lighting is simple. The fixture mounts up in the ceiling, so all you see is the light and some trim. Recessed lighting is neat, clean, and classy. It can blend with any other lighting style. 

Recessed lighting is perfect for kitchens, basements – and bathrooms.

Room lighting is generally broken into three types: ambient, task, and accent. Ambient, or general, lighting is designed to brighten the entire room. Task lighting is placed for a certain task – like doing dishes in the kitchen sink or applying makeup at a bathroom vanity mirror. 

Accent lighting allows you to highlight certain things, like a painting or a collection. Some accent light fixtures themselves are works of art. These accent fixtures should be hung where they will be seen.

Recessed lighting in the bathroom is excellent for ambient lighting. 

Recessed lighting choices are easy. Choose the size of the fixture you need, which will depend on how much light your space requires. Then, choose the trim type. 

There are still some incandescent recessed lighting fixtures out there, but you will probably want to choose eco-friendly, low-maintenance, long-lasting LED ones. 

Is Recessed Lighting Outdated? (Should I Even Use it?)

Most experts agree that recessed lighting will never go out of style. 

If you have old recessed light fixtures with outdated trims and incandescent bulbs, check out the new ones. Fixture manufacturers have made it easy to change out the trim and replace those energy-inefficient light bulbs with low care, long-lived LED ones.

You can even customize new LED bulbs for the hue you like and that goes with the color of the room – from your phone.

Here’s a video on 5 things you should know about LED can lights – including the shower can fixture that has Bluetooth speakers. We want one!

What Is the Difference Between Can Lights and Recessed Lights?

No difference. Can lights, downlights, recessed lights or pot lights.

How Long Do Recessed Lights Last? (Especially in a Bathroom?)

LED lights last for an amazing amount of years. In a bathroom, an LED light will last even longer because most of us don’t leave the lights on in there for very many hours. 

If the LED bulbs are on for one hour in your bathroom per day, the bulbs will last over 70 years.

Where Do I Place Recessed Lights in My Bathroom?

Think of your bathroom in zones. Where does stuff happen? There’s the shower or bath zone, the toilet zone, the vanity mirror zone, then there’s the everywhere else zone. 

If you have a cabinet or shelving for towels, or a lovely piece of art on the bathroom wall, they may need their own zone. If you don’t actually read on the toilet – and you don’t like the idea of spotlighting the porcelain throne – take away that zone.

When you have zoned your bathroom, measure the ceiling space. A lighting expert rule of thumb is to place recessed cans every four feet apart. They recommend staying at least 2 feet from the wall, or you may end up seeing wall bumps and divots you’d rather not.

Here’s another recessed lighting rule of thumb to consider – to light up a room, experts say you’ll need 2 watts (or the lumens equivalent) for every square foot.

Other experts recommend using this formula: measure the height of your ceiling and divide by two. The resultant number is the spacing between each recessed light fixture. For example, if your bathroom ceilings are nine feet high, then the spacing that will give you even, ambient light is 4.5 feet.

If you have a bathtub/shower combination zone, experts recommend using two six-inch fixtures, one at either end of the tub, to safely illuminate the space.

Use the rules of thumb to make sure every zone will have enough ambient light. 

How Do I Place Recessed Lighting Over My Bathroom Vanity?

We looked for expert advice on this subject, but not all experts agree. The problem is with shadows.

Vanities and their mirrors are the focal points of the bathroom. Not only do we want to light up the vanity, we need to see our face and hair in the mirror, to wash our hands at the sink and to brush our teeth. 

Light fixtures can direct light up, down or forward. Recessed lighting is most often directed down, while sconces or vanity strip lights direct light forward.

If you have a huge bathroom with tall ceilings, then adding some recessed lights above the vanity area is a great idea. For bathrooms with tall ceilings, recessed lights over the vanity becomes ambient lighting.

But even in a large bathroom with high ceilings, you will still want to add some sconces for forward light on either side of the mirror. Check out the resource below to help you decide how high to install sconces.

But let’s say you have a dinky bathroom with a fairly low ceiling. If you are washing your hands, a recessed light located directly above the sink may help. But that same light won’t help illuminate your face in the mirror. 

Instead, it will illuminate the top of your head but leave parts of your face in shadow – not your best look. Plus, super unhelpful for tasks like shaving or makeup.

What to do? Use downlights together with forward lights. 

In a small bathroom, you could use canned lights on either side of your vanity – not in the middle – to provide ambient light and then use a vanity strip in the middle or two sconces on either side to provide the forward light.

Here’s a great resource, with diagrams, on how to plan out downlights and forward lights for your vanity.

Recessed lights in bathroom

What Size Recessed Lights Do I Need for a Bathroom?

Fixture sizes vary between 3 and 7 inches. Most large bathrooms use 6-inch fixtures, while small bathrooms will use 3 or 4-inch fixtures. The fixture size refers to the inside diameter of the can, or housing.

Experts say that, even if you buy a small fixture, you may still find your LED light to be too bright. Consider buying LED can lights that can dim. Then, get a dimmer switch that is compatible.

How Many Recessed Lights Do I Need in a Small Bathroom?

That depends on whether you have any windows or skylights, how large your bathroom is, and how tall the ceilings are. Check out the calculator link below.

For example, if your bathroom has a flat, normal height ceiling and measures 5 feet by 7 feet, you would need two 2 recessed lights (with a minimum of 600 lumens) to illuminate the space.

This website helps you calculate how many recessed lights you’ll need to illuminate your bathroom, based on the room dimensions.


After all this research I think it’s a no-brainer to use recessed LED lighting in our new bathroom. There are so many great options to create an ambient atmosphere with them – especially if we plan their location carefully.

However, we’ve agreed we probably won’t use them over the vanity unit, as the shadows they throw out could get seriously irritating when trying to use the mirror.