Soft White Vs Daylight – How Do These Lights Differ?

While many of the products we review here are readily available to purchase and operate without a license, we always recommend hiring a qualified electrician to install and demonstrate their use.

In some cases, improper use and installation may result in a breach of insurance. Even worse, you could be putting yourself or your family at risk as an incorrectly installed electrical device could start a fire. So, don’t risk it - seek the services of a fully licensed electrician instead.

It’s easy to get carried away seeking out the light that offers the perfect brightness, but perhaps just as crucial as the lumens of a bulb is its color temperature.

For those who don’t know, color temperature refers to the character of a light’s hue. It can completely change the mood and functionality of a space, making it an essential consideration.

Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale, which runs from 1000K to 10,000K, but to give us more of a grasp on what these figures mean, manufacturers will often use sensory language, such as “soft white” or “daylight”.

Soft White Vs Daylight - How Do These Lights Differ?

The specifics of the language employed may differ from brand to brand, but it all refers to a single polarity, with one pole being a very warm tone and the other being very cool. As you’d imagine, the tones in between ease us gently from one extreme to the other.

Generally speaking, warm tones begin at 2700K (with soft white starting at 3000K), while daylight typically refers to somewhere around the 6000K mark on the Kelvin scale. Both terms refer more to a range of Kelvin scores rather than one in particular.

  • By “Soft White”, we can assume most companies mean 3000–3500K.
  • By “Daylight”, we can assume most companies mean 5500–6500K.

Soft White VS Daylight: What’s The Difference?

As established, these terms reference almost completely different ends of the usable color temperature spectrum, which means the difference between them is quite stark.

Put it this way; if you normally had a soft white bulb in your living room, then someone replaced it with a daylight bulb when you left the room, when you returned, you’d definitely notice!

Soft white brings much – you’ve guessed it – softer undertones to the equation. You can expect the light to appear mildly yellow. Daylight, on the other hand, will be faintly blue.

It’s common to use soft white tones for certain residential settings, such as living rooms and bedrooms, while daylight tones are usually reserved for commercial settings, such as industrial environments, medical facilities, and retail spaces.

Having said that, there is some overlap depending on the location of the light. For instance, many prefer a cooler light in the kitchen and bathroom, as people appreciate the focused photic character in a more active, hands-on space.

Similarly, many commercial spaces benefit from softer tones. The hospitality industry, for instance, uses them to make guests feel more comfortable, relaxed, and welcome.

Soft white lighting is best used for…

  • Bedrooms
  • Living rooms
  • Closets
  • Traditional kitchens
  • Cabinetry
  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Hotels

Daylight lighting is best used for…

  • Garages
  • Warehouses
  • Display cases
  • Signage
  • Office spaces
  • Medical facilities

Side Note — These are just commonalities; you don’t have to abide by these guidelines. If you want to shake the standard up a bit then more power to you!

Bathrooms: Should I Go For Soft White Or Daylight?

Bathrooms are about as clinical an environment as most will have in their home, so it’s a good idea to opt for a slightly cooler temperature, but that’s not to say you should choose daylight bulbs.

Daylight is too far in the other direction. I’d aim for between 4000 and 5000K for a bathroom, as this will be focused enough for you to examine yourself closely in a mirror and execute your dental and skincare routines with precision.

3000K on the dot isn’t completely out of the question for a bathroom. It’s a little warm for such a space, but it’s certainly a better move than daylight.

Daylight measures 6000K, which is insanely clinical — we’re talking hospital-grade lighting. You most likely do not want that anywhere in your home.

As you’ll likely have some earthy and wooden tones in your bathroom, it’s best to stay in the middle or on the warmer side of the spectrum.

I’d also like to add that it’s best not to focus on generalities. Consider some of the specifics of your room to help you decide what color temperature will work best. Some tips are to think about…

  • Paint color
  • Room size
  • Percentage of natural light
  • Cabinetry colors
  • If you have any countertops in there, consider those too.

You’ll also want to consider the paint type in your bathroom. If you’ve got gloss, it’s going to reflect a lot of light, meaning that a particularly crisp glow may cause some glare.

Just to reiterate, at least in my opinion, the best move here is to choose something in between these two extremes. Something like this 4000K LED light bulb will be just the ticket.

Kitchens: Should I Go For Soft White Or Daylight?

Traditional kitchens with lots of character and wood tones will benefit from a slightly warmer light, but much like the bathroom, soft white may be a tad too warm.

Once again, I have to advise a happy middle ground between the soft and daylight glow, but not always!

For modern kitchens with lots of metallic finishes and bold, dark colors, a cooler light is 100% the way to go.

4000K is a good balance. It’s not going to make your kitchen seem too sterile or make it seem awkward juxtaposed with the rest of your house, something you’ll be stoked about if you’ve got an open plan thing going on.

Another benefit of cooler lights in a kitchen is that they will create a more functional space, and as the kitchen is a very hands-on environment (full of sharp stuff), the focused light can help you bring your culinary A-game.

Daylight is often beyond the 6000K mark, and to me, even if you’ve got a modern kitchen, that’s simply too much, especially if you want to make your kitchen a social focal point when you host gatherings.

Soft white, although quite fuzzy and warm, is a much better choice if you have a lot of natural features in your kitchen, as it will really make the grain in wood pop.

Granted, it’s not very “task-oriented”, but in terms of pure aesthetics, it’s much more pleasing to the eye.

That said, even if you’ve got some pure white fittings, going too cool with the light isn’t a great move. 3500 to 5000K will be a decent choice, but 5500+ is probably pushing it.

Much like with the bathroom, it’s best not to think of a kitchen in general terms. Really try to consider the finer points of your kitchen.

What makes it special? What are your favorite parts? What sort of environment are you trying to cultivate? The answers to these questions should guide you straight to the perfect color temperature for you.

Bedrooms: Should I Go For Soft White Or Daylight?

Modern bedrooms full of cold gray tones and perhaps even metallic surfaces are all the rage right now, but even so, these are still spaces in which we like to wind down and find some rest.

As such, I’m always going to recommend soft white over daylight, or anything on that end of the spectrum for that matter.

You may even want to go warmer than soft white or perhaps even “warm white”, which starts at approximately 2500K.

2000K would be a lovely choice, especially for bedrooms that already have an established cozy vibe.

The softer, yellow-tinted light is exactly what we need to take the edge off and create a welcoming retreat we can curl up in after a tough day.

Do bear in mind, though, that to go beyond the warm white threshold, it’s best if you have a decent amount of natural light coming through during the day, so you can still pick out your outfits.

Daylight, by contrast, is not a smart move in the bedroom. This is the one aspect of your lighting that shouldn’t come down to personal preference.

Why? Well, you know when you’ve spent too long scrolling on your phone and you just can’t drift off? That’s because of the blue light emitted by the screen.

Blue light directly counteracts hormones that help us sleep, and daylight lighting is very blue in tone.

Soft White Lights: The Lowdown

To summarize, soft white lights are the most popular choice for residential use. Some people consider it to cover between 2700 and 3000K, but most use the term to reference temperatures between 3000 and 3500K.

Soft white is far more versatile than daylight, which is why you get such a wide choice of fixtures and styles.

Daylight Lights: The Lowdown

Even though daylight lights aren’t quite as popular for most applications, there is still a pretty decent variety available.

These lights are best used in commercial or clinical settings, and most understand the term to refer to 5500 to 6500K color temperatures.

If you want the best of both worlds, I’d recommend investing in an adjustable temperature light.

This would be perfect in a kitchen, as you could keep the temp cool for tricky culinary tasks, and then warm it up for sharing a glass of wine or whiskey with friends.

Final Thoughts

I know I’ve laid some pretty strong opinions on you here today, and although there is a general consensus that this is the way things should be done, there are no rules.

The whole point of choosing color temperatures is to give you more control over your space, so feel free to exercise your creativity!