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LED kitchen lights: planning and fitting the right lights

Kitchen lighting has the power to turn your kitchen into something truly special. To do this, you will first need to understand how to properly light your kitchen, the different types of lights and how to control them. This guide can show you how to do all these things and more.

To light your kitchen correctly, you need to understand:

Expert contributors

How you use your kitchen

Some people use a kitchen as a social hub or a dining room, others only cook in it. Of course, the size of the kitchen plays a part here. Establishing how you use your kitchen greatly affects the kind of lighting you need.

You need to map out your kitchen into different zones. These are normally along the lines of:

  • food prep zones—countertops and under cabinets/cupboards
  • the oven/hob
  • the sink
  • storage areas
  • dining tables or dining areas

Each zone needs a different type of light to suit different tasks.

Types of kitchen lighting

There are three key types of lighting for kitchens. Each one has its own role in lighting a room in the best way possible.

The three key types are:

  • task—to help perform tasks in the kitchen
  • ambient—to create a desired atmosphere and style
  • accent—to highlight an aspect of the room

The best kitchens use a mixture of all three types, in various locations.

Designer Steph Briggs says: “By layering up different zones of lighting options, you can create different aesthetics at different times of the day and year depending on what natural light is available and what’s going on in the kitchen.

“Using different light sources gives more of a three-dimensional feel and helps you to create the mood you want. You may want it to feel bright and light when preparing food but you may also want it to be cosy and intimate when serving dinner.”

Task lighting

Good for:

  • Under cabinets, to light food prep zones and work surfaces
  • Over your oven/hob
  • Over a sink

Kitchen task lighting does what it promises. The lights are designed to illuminate the tasks at hand. They will be the strongest lights you will need in the kitchen. Task lighting is important in allowing you to safely perform kitchen tasks such as chopping food, washing up and using the hob.

Gilly Craft, President of the British Institute of Interior Design, says: “Task lighting is paramount in the kitchen, and you can achieve it using overhead lighting such as downlights. The positioning of these is crucial—you don’t want the light to be behind you, so make sure you do a lighting plan first.”

Best lights for kitchen task lighting: LED downlights

Downlights are one of the most popular styles of lights in modern homes. They are either recessed in the ceiling or fitted in the corners of the room.

LED downlights are an efficient way to improve the lighting of your kitchen. They come in a variety of colour temperatures and wattages while remaining cool, unlike their halogen counterparts.

Best LED downlights for the kitchen

all solo
Solo All In One 10W LED Downlight

It’s the best because:

  • Dimmable
  • 3-colour temperature with one bulb
  • 5-year warranty
  • Rated 5* on our website
  • One of the most popular downlights available!

£17.99

Click here to visit product page

brightsource
Britesource LED Downlight

It’s the best because:

  • IP65-rated (dust and waterproof)
  • Fire-rated for up to 90 minutes
  • Dimmable
  • 3-year warranty
  • Rated 5*

£6.96

Click here to visit product page

osram
Osram LED Downlight

It’s the best because:

  • Minimal glare
  • Easy installation
  • 50,000-hour lifespan
  • 3-year warranty
  • 70-degree cut-off angle, making them ideal for shelf lighting

£16.49

Click here to visit product page

Under-cabinet/cupboard task lighting

For under-cabinet task lighting, you should choose either a downlight or a strip light…

Under-cabinet lighting is a popular lighting choice in modern kitchens. It gives your kitchen another layer of light by providing ambient lighting as well as task lighting.

What to consider

  1. Colour temperature—The colour temperature will decide whether your lights act as ambient lighting or task lighting. Warmer colours work as ambient lighting while cooler colours work for task lighting. If you want a combination of both, go for a Kelvin level of around 3500k–4200k.
  2. Countertops—The style or finish of your countertop will affect your under-cabinet lighting. Shiny finishes and light-coloured countertops can create glare if you use bulbs that are too bright. Dark colours can absorb the light, meaning you’ll want brighter lighting. A light matte finish is a popular style of countertop because it doesn’t absorb light or cause glare.
  3. Battery or mains powered?—Battery-operated is the easiest for DIY ventures as you won’t need to faff around too much with wires. However, battery-operated lights will need replacing somewhat regularly. Mains-powered is useful because there is no battery to replace, but you may need to drill or cut out an entry point for wiring.

How to install strip lights under kitchen cabinets

  1. Switch off power at the mains.
  2. Check the full wattage of the system you want to install. Ideally you should not run more than 10 fittings from a single wall switch
  3. Locate wiring from old fittings (if replacing) or if it’s a new install run a suitable stem from the mains 240v power supply. Measure twice and cut once on all lengths of wire
  4. Once everything is working safely, fix the fittings to underside of the cabinets with parts supplied such as brackets and screws.
  5. If walls have been damaged in the process then re-plastering and painting can be done at a later stage. Check the lights are not flickering and working as they should, if they aren’t go back to step 4 and check the wiring.

As a general rule of thumb: If you have issues consult a qualified electrician. If the problem lies with the product, contact your supplier.

Ambient lighting

Good for:

  • Under cupboards/cabinets to break up intense task lighting
  • Behind shelving
  • Near the ceiling

Ambient lighting is generally intended to be as unobtrusive as possible and installed above or below cupboards and units. It is often overlooked as a type of lighting, in all rooms, but when done properly can completely transform a room.

Designer Emile Azan says: “Ambient lighting is key for creating a laid-back feel and is essential as kitchens become the primary social space in our homes. Look for softer solutions such as dimmable wall lights, as well as decorative systems, like shelf lighting and in-cabinet lights.”

We talk about lighting for cabinets and cupboards below, so to find out more, keep reading.

Best lights for kitchen ambient lighting: strip lights

Strip lights (also known as ribbon lights) are an excellent way to provide ambient lighting in shallow or flat recesses. They are easy to install and fit into hard-to-reach places. While great for ambient lighting, they can also be a good addition for task/accent lighting too (although you will want some downlights/brighter lighting to help).

Strip lights are incredibly versatile and affordable. It is definitely worth considering purchasing strip lights and experimenting with where to use them in the kitchen.

Best strip lights

red led
Red LED Strip Light Ribbon

It’s the best because:

  • 5-metre length—suitable for large lighting areas
  • LED is cuttable every 3 LEDs for choice
  • 3-metre adhesive back
  • 50,000-hour lifespan

£9.60

Click here to visit product page

warm white
Warm white LED Strip Light

It’s the best because:

  • Waterproof
  • Warm white creates a comforting atmosphere
  • Runs on DC 12V
  • 5-metre length for large lighting areas

£18.00

Click here to visit product page

colour changing
Colour Changing LED strip light

It’s the best because:

  • Change the colours based on your mood
  • An entire colour wheel to choose from
  • Comes with a remote
  • 5-star reviews

£24.54

Click here to visit product page

Best strip light for under the kitchen cabinet: Warm white LED strip light ribbon

This warm white strip light is excellent at providing a soothing atmosphere. The ribbon design means it’s perfect for the shallow recesses often found under cabinets. The simple DC 12V means no complicated wiring—just make sure you have a plug nearby.

Under-cabinet lighting can also provide ambient lighting for when you are eating at the countertop, socialising or performing other daily activities. It can also lessen the intensity of lighting if you have a lot of surface area across your countertops.

Jump down to our section on ambient lighting to find the best under-cabinet ambient lights.

Accent lighting

Good for:

  • Illuminating expensive/key objects
  • Kitchen islands
  • Walls

Accent lighting helps accentuate an object in a room. The easiest way to imagine it is to think of the kind of lighting you see in museums and galleries, where it is designed to illuminate the displays in the best way possible.

However, accent lighting can also help add an extra dimension to your kitchen and show off aspects of the room you like.

Designer Emile Azan says: “If you have a period property or interesting features that you’d like to highlight—such as an exposed brick wall—consider accent lighting that you can use to focus on a particular area or design element in the room.”

“Open-plan kitchens with a dining area or those with a breakfast bar need a combination of adequate lighting for eating, with softer lighting for after-dinner conversation. Dining tables and island units will benefit from a series of overhead pendant lamps (rise-and-fall versions can be moved up or down when needed) while lamps and wall lights will create a warm glow that sets the mood.”

-  Emile Azan

Designer at Chameleon Interior Design

Kitchen light locations

There are two key areas for lights in a kitchen:

  • Ceilings
  • Cabinets/cupboards

In this section we discuss what you need to consider, the best lights and installation advice.

Ceilings

The ceiling is a prime light location for almost every room. It’s an easy place for electricians to hide wiring, or even the lights themselves (if they are recessed). It also means the lighting rigs are out of the way and using as little of the room space as possible.

Another benefit is that you can place these lights almost anywhere across the ceiling to create targeted lighting, without having to worry about objects being the way. This takes some pre-planning as you will want to ensure that your lights are in the best location before you fit your kitchen.

What to consider

  1. Recessed or non-recessed?—If you want to hide your lights in the ceiling, look for recessed lights.
  2. Location—You need to ensure your lights are placed correctly to provide effective lighting. Try to place your downlights two feet way from the wall and space them out evenly. Avoid creating shadows at all costs!
  3. Colour temperature—What type of light are you looking for? Task lighting requires a cooler colour temperature while ambient lighting works best with warmer tones.

Best lights for the ceiling: GU10s and downlights

Downlights are perfect for the ceiling as they offer recessed and non-recessed options. They are one of the most popular types of lights for this very reason—along with the range of choice and affordability.

GU10s can be fitted into downlight fittings and can offer different colour temperatures, wattages and dimming options.

round led
Round LED Panel PL Replacement

It’s the best because:

  • Ideal replacement for compact fluorescent fittings
  • Perfect for shallow ceiling voids
  • Driver included in price

£10.52

Click here to visit product range

sylvania
Sylvania GU10

It’s the best because:

  • Energy rating A+
  • 90% savings compared to halogen
  • Light is spread widely across the area of direction

£2.60

Click here to visit product range

britesource
Britesource Eco LED downlight

It’s the best because:

  • Range of colour temperatures
  • Fully dimmable
  • A++ energy rating
  • 3-year warranty

£2.60

Click here to visit product range

How to install downlights in a ceiling

The following is a quick guide to installing LED downlights into the ceiling. Always follow the instructions from the manufacturer. If you are unsure or not DIY-confident, hire a professional.

  1. Switch off the mains power.
  2. Disconnect the power cord and remove the old downlight.
  3. Unscrew the driver cover.
  4. Connect the euro cord: brown cable goes on L, blue cable goes on N.
  5. Screw the driver cover back on the downlight.
  6. Connect the new power cord to the mains.
  7. Push the clips on the side of the downlight in completely and place the downlight in your ceiling.
  8. Turn the power back on.

Controlling your lights

LED offers both simple on/off bulb functions to dimmable lights. Dimmable bulbs are great if you plan on making your kitchen somewhere to socialise as well as cook. They can create a warm, gentle atmosphere that will give your kitchen a striking appearance.

Dimmable

Modern LED dimmable lights do not buzz or flicker like old halogens. This is because LEDs use a different process via their drivers. It’s important to make sure that you not only purchase dimmer switches but dimmable bulbs as well. If a bulb is non-dimmable, it won’t work, even with a dimmer switch.

Most bulbs very clearly indicate whether they are dimmer-friendly or not.

Best dimmable lights/bulbs

osram

Osram 8w LED GU10

It’s the best because:

  • 535 lumens, making it one of the brightest dimmable LEDs
  • Average life span of 25,000 hours
  • 2700k—warm white colour

£4.98

Click here to visit product page

all solo

SOLO All In One LED Dimmable

It’s the best because:

  • 3 colour temperatures—warm to cool
  • 3 different finishes
  • 5 year warranty
  • Suitable for recessed fitting

£19.80

Click here to visit product page

phillips

Philips 6w LED Coreline Recessed Spot

It’s the best because:

  • 30,000—50,000 hour lifespan
  • Up to 5 year warranty
  • High quality
  • Easy to install

£25.00

Click here to visit product page

LED kitchen lights FAQ

What IP rating is required for kitchen lights?

There is not a strict guideline dictating the IP rating of kitchen lights. However, you should pay particular attention to the second number in the IP rating.

IP rating numbers:

Number

First digit

(protection against solids)

Second digit

(protection against water)

0

No protection

No protection

1

Objects over 50mm in size

Falling drops of water

2

Objects over 12mm

Direct sprays of water with light tilted 15 degrees

3

Objects over 2.5mm in size

Direct sprays of water with light titled 60 degrees

4

Objects over 1mm in size

Sprays of water from all directions

5

Limited protection against dust ingress

Low pressure washer jets from any direction

6

Totally protected against dust

High pressure wash jets from any direction

7

N/A

Short periods of immersion in water

8

N/A

Long periods of immersion in water

You will want to make sure that your lights are protected against condensation or water drips. We’d recommend a minimum of IP20 in areas away from potential steam sources. Consider higher IP ratings for lights placed closer to the cooker/washing basin.

Find out more in our guide: IP ratings for LED guides

How high above the kitchen island should lights be?

If you are planning to use downlights, the standard height of your ceiling will be enough to protect your lights. If you use pendant lights, you will want them to be approximately 30–36 inches or 76–91 cm from any counters/appliances.

Do I need fire-rated downlights in the kitchen?

If you are using recessed downlights, you will need to ensure that your LEDs are fire-rated. Again, it is quite clearly marked whether the bulbs and fixture are fire-rated.

Because LED is a modern technology, you are unlikely to find non-fire rated recessed LED fixtures—but it’s always good to check!