Our Guide to Under-Cabinet Lighting

Add practical illumination to your kitchen, office, and more with these easy ideas.

white kitchen, kitchen island, chandelier

Shed light on dark nooks and crannies in your kitchen, office, and other rooms with our under-cabinet lighting ideas. Designed to fit in small spaces and provide accent or task lighting, these fixtures can be used under kitchen cabinets, on bookshelves, in curio cabinets, and more.

Kitchen under-cabinet lighting enhances the practicality of your kitchen. While dramatic pendants and chandeliers are fun and show-stoppers, workhorse under-cabinet lights do their job without much fanfare. Overhead fixtures and natural light stand in as ambient lighting, illuminating a room overall. But shadows cast by upper cabinets can make precision countertop tasks such as slicing and dicing tricky. This less noticeable, subtle kitchen feature may just become one of your favorites, thanks to how much easier it will make your kitchen tasks. Plus, a solution doesn't require a full-scale remodel.

Placement is also key. Make your core prep places a priority because this is where under-cabinet lighting will be most essential. You may also consider installing fixtures above a display space, such as on a sideboard built-in. In an instance like this, under-cabinet lighting becomes a form of accent lighting, to highlight a display of vintage cookbooks or beloved pottery.

Depending on the look you're going for, installing under-cupboard lighting can be a simple DIY project, or it can require professional installation. We'll walk you through the different options, plus provide tips for picking the right lightbulbs for your under-cabinet lighting.

Types of Under-Cabinet Lighting

two-tone blue and white kitchen cabinets with lighting strips

DIY Plug-in Lights

If you want to install under-cabinet lighting ASAP, select the easiest option. Learning how to install under-cabinet lighting is simple. A plug-in fixture attaches to the underside of a cabinet or shelf and can be inserted into any nearby electrical outlet. These fixtures must be turned on and off using a switch on the unit, and the wires are not hidden. Tape or rope lights are one plug-in, LED under-cabinet lighting option. These clear plastic tubes are filled with small LED bulbs that cast a soft glow.

Mounted Strip Lights

Task Lighting above kitchen counter

For more serious under-counter lighting, choose a fluorescent strip, a track light with halogen bulbs, or puck lights with halogen bulbs. These touch-operated disks are surface-mounted, easy to install, and are a wireless under-cabinet lighting option. The lights are battery-operated and come in several wattages to provide bright light. Be careful with under-cabinet lighting placement, however, as high-wattage halogen bulbs can put off a lot of heat and shouldn't be installed near anything flammable.

Professionally Hard-Wired Lights

Blue Kitchen cabinets

For a seamless look, consider investing in hard-wired light fixtures, which become virtually invisible once installed. Recessed puck lights are low-profile lights that must be installed directly into shelves and, if not done during new home construction or a kitchen remodel, require modifications to the cabinet. Unless you have experience doing electrical work, a professional will need to install these and other hard-wired models, which must tap into a power source or have a new circuit added to the area. A professional will also know what building codes and regulations must be followed for the lighting to be up to code. Other hard-wired options include custom-size under cabinet track lighting and slim-line strip lights. Consider the light switch placement when installing hard-wired lights, too. You'll want to ensure the switch is in an easy-to-reach place.

Different Types of Lightbulbs

gray kitchen cabinets with glass paneled doors and under cabinet lights

When choosing an under-cabinet light fixture, it's important to understand the various types of lightbulbs each uses so you can pick the one that best suits your needs. Different types of light bulbs will also cast different shades and temperatures of light. The price of the bulb may also figure into your decision. Some, like LED bulbs, are more expensive to purchase but will last longer.

  • Traditional incandescent bulbs are the most affordable option and provide a bright, warm light, but they have the shortest lifespan and use more energy than other lights.
  • LED under-cabinet lighting is extremely efficient and generates little heat, but its light isn't as natural as other options. Their expensive price tag is offset by a long life span.
  • Halogen lights are efficient, long-lasting, bright, and emit a natural yellow-white light. Excessive heat can be a problem, so they are best used with a dimmer.
  • Xenon lights are similar to halogen lights but burn brighter and put off less heat. They are expensive but have the longest lifespan of all bulbs.
  • Fluorescent lights are extremely energy efficient, long-lasting, and low heat. Fluorescent lights emit a cool, greenish-blue hue.

Bonus: Two Easy Ways to Add Under-Cabinet Lighting

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