Cheap and Easy Way to Make Our Bathroom Much Brighter?
November 15, 2017 8:44 AM   Subscribe

We moved to a new house (yay!) and our toddler is terrified of the bathtub (boo!). Bathtime used to be her favorite and now she won't even get in the tub by herself. I think part of the problem is that the old room was very bright and the new one is much darker (I can see how it would look scary to a little monster). How can I fix this?

It's a bathroom so I can't just throw a floor lamp in there. I'd be happy to put up some lights in the bathtub area but I want to make sure it's safe (we've already spent a lot of money so we're not really in a position to hire an electrician for this and I'm not up to installing anything major). I got a couple of those tap lights but they aren't that bright and I doubt they're safe for the tub. It's pretty dark. There aren't any windows. What can we do to fix this? The brighter and cheaper the better!

Other suggestions for potential solutions to her being afraid of the tub are very much welcome and appreciated, but the issue isn't "toddler hates bathtime" it's "toddler hates this specific bathtub". "More toys" isn't the answer because we've already tried this. We're also trying to acclimate her by being in the tub with her but she really does seem terrified. It makes me so sad because bathtime used to be one of her favorite things. Thank you so much for help you can provide!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you change whatever bulbs are in there to brighter ones? Say LED or something of the like. Can you paint the bathroom walls to be a airy, light color if the room feels dark? I was thinking plug-in lights, sort of like night lights. Maybe in a character your child loves? I don’t know if it would be safe to hang string lights in a bathroom... perhaps if the bathroom was big enough to hang it on the ceiling and wall far away from the tub or other water sources...
posted by buttonedup at 8:48 AM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Poor baby.

Could music help? Like, get her used to some tunes to associate with fun time (dancing, or snuggling, whatever she likes) and then see if it helps to play them (you can get a portable speaker for your phone for $10) during bathtime too?

What about those bath crayons? Hell on your cleaning but could be a distracting novelty?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on November 15, 2017

Lots of mirrors. Can in principle make it fun for kid and fam using with mirror markers to change the decor now and then, write silly messages, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

If she has any lovie (stuffed animal, blankie) you could put it in the bathroom where she can see it from the tub? My kids used to like having their bears and their blankie keeping them company.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2017

This is the driveby musing of a rando and not an electrician/interior-designer's advice, but does your bathroom layout permit something like placing those non-tub-safe lights in a non-tub place and then using mirrors to redirect the light tubwards?
posted by inconstant at 8:51 AM on November 15, 2017

It would be super helpful if you could post photos of the bathroom while it is lit, so we could get an idea of what we're working with here.

Also, what kind of light is there right now? Is it on the ceiling, flush mount, above the sink?

Need more information!
posted by cooker girl at 8:54 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

When we moved into our current home, the owners had the dimmest lights known to mankind in the bathroom. Like, I didn't even know they made bulbs that dim. Get yourself at some bright-as-fuuuuuuck LED or CFL bulbs and replace them in the existing fixtures. This can make a huge difference. We have the technology to make your bathroom bright as the sun, as long as there's a regular bulb fixture in there.

It's a bathroom so I can't just throw a floor lamp in there.

I would disagree with this, but you know your bathroom better than I do. People use hair-dryers and curling irons in bathrooms. Maybe a floor lamp won't work for the layout, but depending on what you have on the walls, you could add a clip on light somewhere, and just plug it in. Suboptimal, maybe, but it might work easily enough.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:00 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: When you open the door the tub is on the far left wall, the toilet is in the middle, and the sink is right in front of you. It's a pretty small bathroom. It has a mirror on the medicine cabinet which you see when you enter. There is a single fixture with three lights above the sink. We want to put in brighter bulbs but it only takes type B which are sort of candle-shaped and I don't think that bright.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:03 AM on November 15, 2017

Response by poster: I would disagree with this, but you know your bathroom better than I do. People use hair-dryers and curling irons in bathrooms. Maybe a floor lamp won't work for the layout, but depending on what you have on the walls, you could add a clip on light somewhere, and just plug it in. Suboptimal, maybe, but it might work easily enough.

Just to head off suggestions like this, I am 100% NOT putting floor lamps or other unsafe electronics in a bathroom with a toddler. That is absolutely not happening.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:05 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have you tried swapping in newer, brighter bulbs? Say, like LED's with bigger lumen outputs? It's made a huge difference in our bathroom.

The chart a little ways down here might help in figuring what kind of lumens rating to look for.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Outdoor led Christmas lights hold up well in bathrooms, don't have breakable glass, can be plugged in some distance away (like outside in the hall), throw a fair amount of light, are cheap and are even a little festive.
posted by mce at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Can you put a bright lamp in the hallway, directed so it bounces off the bathroom wall or ceiling?
Also, maybe take her shopping and let her choose and "help" you hang (ie, hand you the rings) a pretty shower curtain?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:07 AM on November 15, 2017

Response by poster: Related question and then I'll stop threadsitting: what the very brightest maximum 60 watt type B bulbs? Can I search by lumens?

Thanks to everyone for the help!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2017

What's the shower curtain situation? I never realized how poorly lit my bathtub area was until I put a white but thick fabric shower curtain in to replace a gauzy, light one. Even when mostly pushed to the side, it really darkened the room. We switched back to the gauzy one and it really helps. I'm sure using a clear liner only would amplify that effect.
posted by mosst at 9:12 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

There are brighter Type B lights and dimmer ones! These exact ones may not fit and you probs don't need dimmable, but I'd bet that three of them of them at 60W each will make your bathroom pretty darn bright.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2017

Is it possible to install strip lighting (battery operated kind) that have easy wall mounts and double stick tape, but no cords, like this from Ikea? They're meant to be screwed into cabinets, so they're light - you might be able to put them in on the side of a medicine cabinet (or under it).

They also have some clamp ones that might work if you have a place to clamp it.
posted by barchan at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2017

Waterproof hanging light?
posted by slipthought at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2017

Another idea: what about lighting the actual tub with lights intended for swimming pools? This is battery-operated and seems promising, or there are a variety of floating orb type options (walmart, ugh, seems to have the best selection I could find with a quick search).
posted by mosst at 9:21 AM on November 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

I know you already tried "more toys" but did you try something like these cute non-slip tub grips for the bottom of the tub? I'm sure you can affix a couple to the sides of the tub too.

Bonus: one of the grips is an octopus :)
posted by lyssabee at 9:28 AM on November 15, 2017

Paint. When I moved in to my condo I went out and bought sconce lighting for the bathroom because it was so dark. It was painted a sandy-stone colour. I painted it a slightly lighter sandy-stone colour and painted the ceiling white (it had been the same sandy-stone as the walls before) and ended up returning the sconce lighting because it wasn't necessary. If the ceiling isn't white start there, it will reflect the light down.

Also, brighter bulbs in the existing fixtures.

Finally, you could buy one of those pool disco light things.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:28 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would try going the other way, and making her a glow bath. Run a super bubbly bubble bath, throw a bunch of glow sticks in the tub, maybe turn on one of the cheapo star projector things (I got mine from the dollar store), and then you have an epic glow bath.

I'm a grown up and I have glow baths myself sometimes because they are so fun.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

These lights are also specifically marketed for your needs - I'd want to ensure that they are mounted securely to avoid falling into the tub, but that should be pretty straightforward. There are a lot of similar options from other companies, as well.
posted by mosst at 9:29 AM on November 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

This will depend on where your outlets are in the bathroom, but what about a plug-in wall-mounted light like an IKEA Kvart ? You could maybe plug it in and mount it away from the tub but direct it towards the tub.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our shower is dark and we are unable to get a real light in there, so I bought these Puck Lights. They are battery-operated, but I got rechargeable batteries. The lights have a remote and a timer (I use it to time my shower) and you can choose white, green, blue, and red. They are plenty bright and very cheerful. The bases have an adhesive and the lights themselves are magnetic to the bases. We have had them up for 3 months in a steamy shower area and they are fine.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have an easy way to charge a solar lantern? We use older versions (boring old white) of those in our spa pool, which doesn't have a working light, and they've been tough as hell even in the sun and chlorinated water all the time. Given the length of a bath, you'd probably get a week of baths off a charge.

You probably still should hang them until any kids in the vicinity understand the difference between lights that go in the water and lights that do not, but there would certainly be no problem if one fell or got splashed.

(I'm going to buy a new set of these, and get one for the shower for my husband's early workdays!)

I do also own one of these, but hate it because it's so damn bright and not frosted so you're looking at the LEDs. Might actually be preferable for you though, and point the LEDs up at the ceiling.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2017

definitely if the ceiling isn't white already, paint it bright white. It will make a huge difference if it isn't white now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:38 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

A possibility that you might or might not considered -- have you checked to see if the drain is the issue? A lot of toddlers are afraid of certain bathtubs because the open-looking drain looks scary to them; they feel they might be sucked down with the water. If so, perhaps changing the drain fixture (or even throwing a washcloth over the drain) and/or getting the toddler out of the bathroom before you pull the plug might solve it for you.
posted by cgs06 at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I do this by plugging a lightbulb right into one of those outlet light sockets. There's no way for it to get dislodged or fall, etc. It's a bit of a pain, because the whole socket has to be unplugged/plugged in to turn it on/off, but maybe you can find one with a switch. It has completely changed the vibe of my bathroom from grim and decrepit, to bright and cute. I found mine at a hardware store and am very happy with it. This one lets you change the direction of the light.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2017

Philips started making the Hue bulbs in that size recently. Get some music and the app and make her a light show?

They also make the Hue strip which is LED and self stick (though I'd still not want it over the tub) but I can vouch for the fact that it can be INTENSELY bright.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 9:42 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just change out the light fixtureto something normal that takes brighter bulbs.

At the hardware store there are stick-on tap lights that take batteries and can be very very bright depending on brand. Go check them out.

Lastly, you can and should do some sort of ritual or blessing to make the new bathroom clean and clear, this shouldne something silly, joyful and child inspired that your toddler can participate in because the subconscious is a powerful thing.
posted by jbenben at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I changed the lamp in our toilet to an outdoor lamp, with inbuilt LED. It's really, really bright. Amazing actually. It'll last something like 50 years, according to the manufacturer. And it was cheap.
Also paint.

In our actual bathroom, we don't have the best light, but it is very flattering which is nice in the morning, so our household of mum and daughter decided to leave it that way, and do our eyebrows in the other room.
posted by mumimor at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2017

It’s dead easy to change out a fixture and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Change the fixture to something that takes normal bulbs and light that bathroom up like the sun!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:06 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

In addition to looking for lumens when replacing the bulbs, look at the color of the light. Incandescent bulbs are generally soft white, which is 2700k, and somewhat yellow. The higher the number, the whiter the light. You could try bulbs like this, which are 5000k (daylight). Even with the same lumens, it will make a huge difference.

We swapped out some soft white recessed lights in our basement with 3000k LEDs, and it made it feel so much cleaner and less creepy. So going all the way to 5000k should be pretty insanely bright (possibly too much).
posted by thejanna at 10:09 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you paint the bathroom walls to be a airy, light color if the room feels dark?

This is what I was thinking too. What color are the walls in there? Could they go lighter?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2017

Our little monsters are generally fans of the bath, but monster jr., who is almost 3, is particularly obsessed with adding bubbles and colors himself. Bubbles are just some extra shampoo so it's not particularly bubbly, but he does it himself, which makes him happy. And for colors, we use Color My Bath Color Changing Bath Tablets (Amazon link to 300 piece count). The prior container we had included a ton of little pods and a good number of larger ones. To coax bath time from reluctant monsters, we ask them what color bath they want, so we have fun playing with color mixing.

Also, Mrs. flt got a bunch of little bath bomb things, including some scents she doesn't really like, so those became little monster bath bombs.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2017

plug-in wall-mounted light
We have these in our bedroom and they were not difficult to install, as it is just like hanging a towel bar. I would not replace a fixture by myself, but I would have installed these. We got ours at Lowe's and they had a lot of variety.
posted by soelo at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2017

Three candelabra bulbs is not sufficient lighting for a bathroom. If changing the fixture is not possible, I suggest not getting LED bulbs. I have found that LED bulbs are not very accurate about their "wattage equivalent" when you look at lumen output. Plus, there doesn't seem to be options for high lumen LED candelabra bulbs. The most I can find is around 500 lumens. You could get around 600 lumens with incandescent, although they are much less energy efficient.
posted by demiurge at 11:43 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not telling you to replace a lighting fixture without an electrician, but if you are reasonably handy, you can totally replace a lighting fixture without an electrician.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:54 PM on November 15, 2017

Just for the record, it's pretty common for Happy Bathing Babies to turn into Terrified Water Resisters for a few months with no particular cause. So, while I applaud your attempt to make your bathroom cheery, be prepared for the possibility that this is just an Irrational Kid Thing that might need to be weathered and allowed to pass on its own. Sometimes bubbles or something can break the cycle, or taking a couple of days off, or switching to a shower or sponge bath. Then one day, you know, yay, bathtime!! #headdesk
posted by acm at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

We have a string of IKEA star shaped lights that change color that we keep lit overnight, they are soft enough that they can be left on without inspiring wakefulness at night and could be a comforting cheery brightness if she’s wandering in. We have college kids who use them in their dorms, so they could have long term interest. Also, our kids liked the Skola portable night lights at that age, which still charged and lit up 6 years later when we donated them!

Also if you are adding lighting we’be been impressed with IKEA’s offering and prices
posted by childofTethys at 5:17 PM on November 15, 2017

Water-resistant lanterns, and waterproof lanterns, cubes and spheres.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2017

If you are going the painting route (and I recommend it, because it is a game-changer and dead simple), then be aware that kitchens and bathrooms take a little more effort due to moisture. As in peeling paint, paint that never seems to dry, etc.
So here's a Consumers Report article about picking the paint, prepping the surfaces, and getting a good smooth finish with little hassle.

Basically make sure your surfaces are clean and dry, scuff up semigloss and gloss surfaces so that paint will adhere (I hope that ceiling isn't popcorn which is a whole mess in itself -- and while I've sprayed more popcorn on after the Great Water Pistol Incident, it has never looked the same above the bathtub), tape off surfaces not to be painted, cut in with a square edging tool (in small spaces this is all I use -- so easy!) and roll that sucker on!
I'd wait 24 hours -- because it's a moisture-prone area, so give it plenty of time to dry, not just dry on the surface -- and then go over it again. Thin layers are the trick.
And remove the tape within a reasonable time so that it does not cause more problems down the road.

White -- blinding snowman white -- is a good choice. I use Valspar Signature latex paint from Lowes, and while they no longer have the Kitchen and Bath, the latest version is supposed to be as good. I've used both the ceiling paint and primer, and just the white Signature on bathroom, kitchen and laundry room ceilings.

If you are going over medium to dark colors, or have some mold or discoloration issues, add a coat of Kilz primer on before the paint. Don't trust all-in-one paint and primer combos for that.
posted by TrishaU at 6:44 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've heard if people putting glow sticks in the tub for bathime play. Although that may be too temporary a solution for you.

If you've got a counter-height outlet not near the tub you could try hanging a small string of lights, akin to Christmas lights but shorter. You could suspend them up higher using clear 3M hooks.

Longer-term, for our windowless bathroom we had a solar tube installed and it is fantastic, at least during the day (by then I expect toddler would outgrow this issue.
posted by vignettist at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2017

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