Under cabinet lighting is sort of like the unsung hero of kitchen lighting. It’s not as stylish as kitchen island pendants, or as trendy as kitchen table lamps, or as obviously necessary as ambient overhead lighting. But it can still make a big difference in the look and function of your kitchen.
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For one, under-cabinet lighting can help eliminate any shadows in your kitchen so you can actually see what you’re doing when you’re chopping your veggies with that butcher knife. We all have certain spots in the kitchen where, if we stand between the main light source and the surface we’re using, we’re literally blocking the light with our body. In this case, under cabinet lighting acts as a valuable task light of sorts.
But, the other reason I love under-cabinet lighting is because of the ambience it can create. Often times at night, if we’re not using the kitchen, but sitting in the adjacent family room, we’ll turn off the main kitchen lights and just keep the under-cabinet lights on for a warm glow. It’s kind of like a little candlelight in that case.
Overall, if you’re considering under-cabinet lighting, I can say from experience that it’s worth the effort to figure out what will work for your space (and budget).
If you’re struggling to figure out how to choose the right lights for your cabinets, you’re in the right place. Here, I’ll break down everything you need to know, plus some of the best under-cabinet lighting options for every budget.
How to Choose Under Cabinet Kitchen Lights
There are a few things you’ll want to take note of about your kitchen before you start shopping for under-cabinet lights.
Look for outlets
The first is the presence of outlets under or near your upper cabinets. Under-cabinet lighting can usually be hardwired, battery-operated, or plug in. Plug ins work well if you have an outlet strip built in under your cabinets, or close to the underside of your cabinets. If you don’t, battery-powered or hardwired lights will look best, so you don’t have cords hanging all over your backsplash.
Check out the style of your cabinets
The second is the size and style of your cabinets. For example, is there an edge at the bottom of your cabinets, or are they completely flat from from to back? If it’s the latter, you may need a more low-profile lighting option (I’ll cover lighting options below).
You’ll also want to measure the cabinets where you’ll be installing lighting so you know what you need as you’re shopping.
Note color temperature
Finally, take a look around your kitchen and note the color temperature of the other lights. Are they cool, warm, or more neutral? You’ll want to choose lights that offer a similar color tone to keep things cohesive.
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Types of Under Cabinet Lights for Kitchen
There are three types of under-cabinet kitchen lights to choose from and they all have their pros and cons with different price tags.
1: Light Bars
Light bars are probably the most popular type of cabinet lighting, and the option I have in my own kitchen. I like them because they’re easy to conceal, thy offer even light distribution, and there are many options to choose from.
You can find them in hardwire, plug-in and battery-operated versions. Mine are hardwired, and they’re operated by a wall switch. Personally, I think this is the best option, but it’s also the hardest since you’ll need an electrician. If you’re retro-fitting an existing kitchen, battery-operated lights can actually be a good way to go these days, since LEDs are long-lasting and don’t require as much battery power, which means they can last a pretty long time before you need to replace or charge the battery. Many also come with a remote for easy on-off operation.
|-Easily hidden under cabinets
-Preferred by most home buyers
|-Can be more expensive
-May need an outlet
-Cords may be exposed
2: Puck/Can Lights
Puck lights can be easily installed, many are battery-powered, and they come in various color temperatures and styles. They’re another common under cabinet light and give a focused pool of light, which can be good or bad depending on your goals.
Another nice feature you’ll find with certain puck lights is that they can be interconnected, which means you can operate a row of puck lights with a single outlet or remote. This is nice if you have lots of counterspace to cover, and don’t want battery-operated lights, since you can string a set of puck lights together, but you’ll only need one outlet to work the entire set, which minimized the eyesore of multiple cords.
-Common lighting option, so you can find them anywhere, and with lots of variations
-Can be installed on a power source or battery operated
|-Potentially uneven light distribution
-Can look less updated and modern
-Cords may be exposed
3: Strip/Tape Lights
If you’re looking for a truly customizable option, strip lighting is the way to go. It usually comes in a spool, can cover more area than other lighting options, and comes in a wider variety of color options including multi-color.
It’s designed to be cut to your specified length, so you can go corner to corner with it if you want, unlike lights bars or light pucks which are limited to whatever size you buy them in.
We have strip lights in our upper cabinets, and they’re again operated with a wall switch. Again, a hardwired option is nice, but many of these lights come with batteries and a remote nowadays, which can be almost as convenient. I’ve even seen motion-activated versions on Home Depot.
-Easy to DIY and take down
|-Can look “cheap” if not done right
-If not hardwired, cords will be exposed
What to Consider When Picking Out Under Cabinet Lighting
Now that you know your three main options, you need to figure out the other details like how it will fit into your kitchen, what features you want, and more.
Main Purpose of Lighting
The first consideration is what the main purpose of the lighting will be. If you want to use your under-cabinet lighting to supplement overhead lights, you’ll want to ensure it’s bright enough to be helpful.
Size and Placement of the Light
Now it’s time to break out the tape measure. You need to figure out exactly where you want your under cabinet lighting to be, taking the lumens and color temperature into consideration as well. For example, if you’re opting for cool-toned lighting with 1000 lumens per foot, you may find out that going the entire length of your cabinetry will be too much.
Do you want a dimmer installed or to be able to control it with a remote or your phone? Make sure you take note of any features you would like to have in your lighting, but keep in mind that more features usually mean a more expensive setup and more time involved.
Maintenance, Cleaning, and Safety
Some lights are easier to maintain, fix, and clean especially if the under cabinet lighting will be in an area of food prep or by the sink. Things like finishes and types of light do matter in terms of keeping it in tip-top shape. For example, a basic white can light will be easier to wipe clean than a fancier light with an antique bronze finish that may eventually chip or fade. There are also safety factors to keep in mind, too especially if you have little ones who will be able to access the lights. LED light bars or strips are generally safer than bulbs, as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and don’t leave them plugged in for hours on end.
Roundup of the Best Under Cabinet Kitchen Lights of 2023
Here are some of the best kitchen lights for under cabinets, from light bars and can light to lighting strips for any budget and style. Keep in mind that what we consider a pro may actually be a con for you, such as mounting methods and size. We do our best to recommend only products that we believe are worth recommending, but not every product will be right for every reader!
Best Under Cabinet Light Bars
Amazon reviewers say these are “totally worth the money,” and “I love that I control when the light comes on and how long it stays on.”
This is a small but mighty under-cabinet lighting option, and the price is hard to beat which is why it’s at the top of the list.
The Brilliant Evolution LED Light Bar is 8.5 inches and lightweight, so it’s great for smaller areas or anywhere you want focused lighting. Because it’s screw or adhesive mounting, it’s also a great contender if you’re renting or you want a temporary solution while you wait for an official renovation. If you’re worried it won’t be enough light, the four bulbs and 65 lumens that give a warm white glow should change your mind, especially with its tap lens and 100-hour run time.
-Screw or adhesive mounting
-Thin and lightweight
-A good option for renters or DIY newbies
-Batteries not included
-Looks a bit basic and cheap
-May be too small for larger areas
Lowe’s reviewers say: “I found these fixtures to be of quality construction and easy to install, I put on a dimmer circuit and were super happy with the look and performance from theses fixtures. Highly recommended!”
If you’re looking to hardwire your under-cabinet lights, this one is a great option and is priced reasonably, especially compared to other light bars.
The 991 lumens of high-quality, diffused soft white light is sufficient for most kitchens and it can be paired with an in-wall dimmer switch for more lighting options. It also comes with everything you need to mount it, has a convenient on/off switch, steel housing, and beam angle for great under-cabinet lighting. On top of all that, it comes in multiple sizes: 12, 18, 24, 36, and 48 inches for the right fit.
|-Budget-friendly compared to others
-Several color and size options
Energy-efficient LED lights
-All mounting hardware included
-No cords, plug-ins, or adhesive mounting
-UL-list and comes with a lifetime warranty
|-Can be difficult to install
-Wall switch not included
-Best for experienced DIYers or pros
Best Under Cabinet Puck/Can Lights
Another renter or inexperienced DIYer-friendly option is this pack of six 55-lumen, RGB LED puck lights that can be mounted with screws or adhesive.
Each light is 3.5 inches, battery-operated, and can be turned on by touch and remote up to 15 feet away. They also have an optional auto-off timer, can be dimmed, 4 preset colors, and a 16-color cycle. If you want focused lighting with lots of options that won’t break the bank, these are worth adding to your cart.
-Renter and DIY newbie-friendly
-No cords or wires
-Multiple color and cycle options
-Remote or touch controlled
-Comes with everything you need to mount
|-Requires frequent battery replacements and often at different times
-Looks cheap compared to other options
-Batteries not included
-Each light needs three AA batteries
Best Light Strip and Tape for Under Cabinets
If you’re into smart home accessories and want to customize your lighting, this light strip might be the right under-cabinet light pick for you.
It comes with 80 inches of tape-style light strip that you can trim down and an additional 32 feet of strips. Because it can be paired with smart home assistants, you can control the lighting via voice command or the Phillips Hue app. There’s even an option to set it to turn on with the sunrise as if the custom color modes and dimmable settings weren’t enough!
|-80 inches of flexible tape-style light strips
-Fairly simple to trim to size
-Extendable up to 32 feet
-Six color modesDimmable lighting
-Bluetooth enabled to pair with smart home assistants like Alexa
-Comes with a two-year warranty
-Requires the Phillips Hue Bridge Hub (not included)
-Needs to be cut with the end connectors in mind
Wobane Under Cabinet LED Lighting Kit
A much more affordable option is this kit that comes with 6 pre-cut LED light strips that give you 9 feet of strip lighting to work with and three different color temperature options. This is a great option for anyone wanting to save time, money, and effort.
Just because it’s super affordable doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with features, though! This under-cabinet strip lighting can be controlled via a remote up to 60 feet away, has five auto-off timing options, and has ten brightness levels. Even if you get more than one lighting kit, they can all be controlled with one remote.
|Limited length Weak adhesive (may need to buy separate heavy-duty double-sided tape)
Weak adhesive (may need to buy separate heavy-duty double-sided tape)
FAQ About Picking Out Under Cabinet Lights
What kind of under-cabinet lighting should I use?
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to under-cabinet lighting, and the right pick depends on your goals, preferred aesthetics, budget, and more. The beginning of this post gives a step-by-step overview of figuring all of that out.
What color light is best for under kitchen cabinets?
Again, this depends on your goal. If you want your under cabinet lighting to be used for mostly accent or ambiance purposes, a soft warm white will do. There are also multi-color options, lights with dimmer features, and much more to customize your lighting.
Should under cabinet lights be warm or cool?
The under cabinet lighting you choose should be the same level of warmth as the lights in the rest of your space, in order to create a cohesive, uniform look. Personally, I prefer soft light to cool or warm light. It mimics the look of incandescent light best.
How bright should under cabinet lights be?
To light up more than just the counters and replace overhead lights, usually 500-1000 or more lumens per foot is required. For accent or task lighting, 200-500 lumens per foot is a good range, and 100-200 for ambiance lighting.