Doing the laundry is a weekly task for Amish housewives

amish wash clothesHow do the Amish do the laundry?   Some might imagine that they use water from running streams, or some other “natural” method.  In fact, Amish use a mixture of technology and nature to clean their clothing.

Laundry day

If you visit an Amish community, it’s likely you will see the ubiquitous clotheslines, sometimes stretching high up into the trees, hung with pants, shirts, and dresses of various colors.  This iconic image of Amish society is the result of decisions made collectively by the Amish to forgo the use of public electricity.

The job of doing the laundry falls to Amish housewives, a standard task of running a household.  Amish homemakers often have a scheduled day of the week on which they try to get all the laundry done.  In some communities, this may be the same day of the week for most or all households.

On Sundays, Amish do not do housework or tasks other than indispensable ones such as milking, and Saturdays are often spent preparing for church the next day, which may involve washing buggies or cleaning a home.  Often laundry day falls on Monday.

amish laundry

Amish laundry lines may stretch high into the trees

Doing laundry for a large family is a lot of work.  Since the Amish average 6-7 children per family (Some families may have 8-10 or more), and since clothes get dirty quickly on the farm and in the manual trades Amish pursue, soiled clothing can pile up quickly.  Fortunately, the Amish housewife has a piece of technology to help her in this task.

Amish use wringer washers

The vast majority of Amish housewives use the classic wringer washers, once popular in the post-war era in America.  These are used as they are of a simple design and able to be adapted to take into account Amish technological restrictions.

Since Amish do not use public electricity, how do they power washers?  Most Amish get power for their washing machines from a diesel generator, which is typically used to generate electrical power or to drive a pneumatic (air) motor.  This can involve a good bit of noise and hassle, but is a tangible example of the Amish compromise over electricity.  To get all the laundry done may take a few loads.

Amish-run washer businesses exist in many of the more sizeable communities, where Amish sell and repair these typically Maytag-brand washing machines.  This is another example of a seemingly archaic business, like those making horse-drawn equipment or carriages, which has survived and flourished in Amish society even while it has died in the surrounding society as the need for its services has disappeared.

How do Amish dry clothes?

Adding to the Amish housewife’s workload is the fact that Amish do not use mechanical dryers (though some Amish use “spinners” which spin water out of clothes to make the drying process go faster).  Thus the Amish use the traditional method of hanging clothes out to dry.

amish clothes line

Amish often hang laundry on traditional "T" lines

Nearly all Amish yards will have some form of a clothesline.  Some of these are the typical “T” clotheslines that hang clothes at eye-level.  Another interesting innovation, created by an Amishman, is the spool that allows a long line of laundry to be strung from one point near the home to a second point high up in a tree or on the side of a barn.

The Amish housewife turns the crank to bring the double-lined clothesline in and out.  Thus many clothes can be hung without tying up space on the lawn (which can be in short supply in some settlements).

Using this classic method of drying clothes means being at the mercy of the elements, of course.  Rainy days prevent hanging clothes outside.  Some Amish hang small batches of clothes underneath overhangs or even in enclosed porches when rain threatens.

Amish may sometimes be spotted in local laundromats, doing small loads of “emergency” laundry, when there is not enough time to dry or if weather conditions do not permit it.


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