Inside an Amish home: Washing Machine and Basement
Mary Brandenburg shares photos of a basement and washing machine from an Ohio Old Order Amish home.
Basements in Amish homes typically have cinder block walls and cement floors. You’ll have a sink and an area to process food. You’ll also have a stove of some sort piping heat throughout the house in winter.
Card tables for summer lunches and games like ping pong are common. You may have an old couch or two for naps. Canned goods line the walls of many Amish basements.
They’re typically spacious, airy and uncluttered. Rather than being used primarily as storage, as many non-Amish basements are, the Amish basement is a frequently visited and occupied space.
In some Amish homes church is held in the basement. Some families spend a lot of time in them, especially during scorching weather like we’ve been having lately. Children play in them.
The basement is also the usual place for doing laundry.
Read more on how Amish women wash clothes.
And for more on basements, try this piece from a couple years ago: Basements in Amish homes.
I enjoyed looking at these good pictures. The basement view in
the second picture looks like a really good place to have church.
When I make my weekly visits to my Swartzentruber Amish friends
to pick up a load of produce,I often find that they keep freshly
picked produce in their basements to keep as cool as possible.
The pictures bring back memories of the farming community where
I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. At that time, it seemed like
all farm families had basements full of home-canned goods,
their washing machines, and perhaps some small woodworking
equiment like jigsaws. When I would visit schoolmates homes
“in town” I remember how different their basements were — seemed
like they were just full of “stuff”. I loved to go the basement of
my aunt who lived on a farm down the road from us. She canned
over four hundred jars of fruits and vegetables each summer.
There was nothing more beautiful in her house than to look at her wooden shelves full of canned peaches, tomatoes, corn, jams, pickles, etc.
Is the Swartzentruber group in Nebraska? And if so what town are they close to? I’d love to get some produce from them.
Beth — The Swartz. Amish group where I get produce live in Orange
County, Indiana. I would suggest you look at information under
the Nebraska heading in the Amish State Guide here at Amish
America to find where the nearest Amish settlement is in your area. I hope they have some good produce for you!
The Amish area in the basement for washing clothes is much like what my Mother used for over 30 years. When I was young we had only a dirt floor and a little stream flowed through it when rains were heavy. If you dropped anything on the floor it had to go back through the wash again. So this basements looks like a great upgrade! We also kept our canned vegetables in the basement. The coal bin occupied a part of it, and watching them dump the truck of coal through the shoot to the basement each fall was a highlight of our young lives.
5 second rule
Roberta, great memories, sounds like you learn to keep a grip on those clothes.
Some of these basement floors are so shiny and clean-looking I would feel comfortable following the “5-second” rule if I dropped any food on them 🙂
Your memories of growing up are like mine. My mother also had a washing machine like the one in the photo. Our basement had cement floors though and we had a coal room and shoot as well. Huge furnace in the basement that threw out awful black soot. My parents still have a room with wood shelves for canning fruits and veggies. Dad also has a big potato pit in there where he puts the potatoes when he digs them from the garden.
I wish my basement looked like that! Maybe someday. I remember having a washing machine like that when I was little. That was a chore doing the clothes in one of those for 7 people. We had it in the kitchen though.
My canned goods line the walls in a storage room in the basement where it is kept cool and dark most of the time. Looks like a small grocery store when you go in there.
The pictures were awesome and brought back some fond memories for me, thanks for posting them Erik!
Glad you enjoyed them Alice and thanks to Mary for sharing them with us. I think she was just in Holmes County again, maybe we’ll see more of these 🙂
Reproductions of the wringer washers being made today......
Nice post Erik and a cool fact about wringer washers is that they still make them today, well in a reproduction only for around 900.00 dollars and up. Maytag which made these wringer washer for so many years stopped production in 1983. And when i used to go to Pinecraft in Florida for example id see these outside the homes near the garage or storage area. I think since a lot of those older homes in Pinecraft were on the smaller side there was little room for anything else really . If you take care of them they can outlast their owners very easily and I’m sure are passed down to the next Amish generation. Richard from http://www.Amishstorys.com
Amish washer repair shop
Thanks for the info on the reproductions Richard. I think 900 bucks is a bit more than they used to cost though 🙂
You do have washer repair shops in a lot of communities. And Amish do get a lot of mileage out of them. You can see a photo of one of these businesses on the Juniata County Amish post:
They’re not the safest machines and you occasionally hear of accidents occurring.
Where do they buy the wringer washing machines
Hello! Just an update on the photos posted above. In the middle photo, where you see the ping-pong table, there is now a full-size sofa, a large love-seat and two over stuffed chairs. Our friends got them at a second-hand salvage shop so that they would have comfortable furniture in the basement to sleep on/in when the hot weather rolled around. WEll, let me tell you, the hot weather rolled around two weeks ago when we were there and the boys were sacked out in the basement on air mattresses so that mom and dad could have the furniture. It had to be 15 degrees cooler in their basement over being upstairs! Hopefully Ohio has cooled down some. I do have more photos from the trip two weeks ago – I just have to get them over to Erik…. all in due time.
Thanks for the update Mary–at one Amish friend’s I used to sleep on a basement couch (it was a full house, 8 kids, so I took what I could get), but it was what I call a “farmer couch”–a place for my dairy farming friend to sack out for a nap (often in milking clothes, by the smell of it!) It wasn’t the Ritz 🙂
We moved into a house with a washer and dryer,but I almost never use the dryer. I don’t really like to use the washer, but the goats are using my washtubs right now as individual stock tanks. Handwashed clothes are much cleaner. I use grated laundry soap and borax when I wash, dissolving them in a quart of hot water before adding to the machine or the washtub. Right now I have some old pillowcases and a vintage apron soaking in a borax mixture to take out stains and whiten them. A wringer washer would be nice, but I have an antique handwringer that clamps onto the washtubs. It is really a pleasant chore to wash clothes by hand, especially on a nice sunny day outdoors.
We had a wash machine like that when I was little. One day I got the idea to wash my doll clothes while my mom took a nap like I was supposed to be doing. As I put them through the wringer my had got caught. Needless to say I started screaming and off to emergency I went. Didn’t break my arm but it sure smashed it. I will never forget that experience
Oh my, Lisa – how frightening. That’s one thing my mother watched carefully and kept warning me about when I helped with the wash. She gave me a good healthy fear of that wringer. I do remember the red thing on the top of it that you hit hard which unlocked it if anything began to get stuck. I just love how these conversations are bringing back all of the memories. I used to feel we were very deprived as a child, but now I see how blessed I was to live out in the country with nature and more simple things. No, we weren’t Amish or Mennonite – but I surely had an adventurous mother who seemed to survive well, with joy and thanksgiving, with a minimum of material things.
That is one clean looking basement! I wish we even had a basement, but they are not very common here in western Washington state due to all the rain that we get. Many basements end up getting flooded. The house I grew up in had one though and it was nice and cool in the summer.
I love the smell of clothes that have dried out on the line! AND, if you haven’t ever put them into the dryer, they don’t dry crispy. I don’t know how else to describe that, but when I was growing up, my best friend’s family used to put the clothes out on the line in the summer and use the dryer in the winter. Her towels and jeans were always stiff and scratchy.
What a beautiful home in the first picture. I love the huge deck, landscaping. This article also brings back memories from my childhood. Though I was a “city” girl, we didn’t have air conditioning in the 1950s and 1960s so we’d retreat to the basement to cool off. My mother also used her wringer washing machine in that very same basement until around 1961 when she got her automatic. However, she still hug our laundry outside to dry and if the weather didn’t permit that, it hung in the basement. I can see Momma now, reclined on her lounge chair and her glass of iced lemon water in hand, along with her Readers Digest. I grew up outside of Washington, DC. How I wish I had a basement today. We don’t have them here in Virginia Beach … afterall, we are at sea level.
My mother used a wringer washer and rinse tubs until the early 1980’s. This article brings back memories. There were also clotheslines stretched back and forth throughout the basement. She didn’t get a dryer until younger sister gave her a used one. Even then, she still used the clotheslines a lot. No, we weren’t Amish or Mennonite, but sometimes I think we would have fit right in.
Where is basement
Not any experience with basements jere om La. In the first picture (the outside of the house) is that viewable bottom floor considered the basement of is there another unseen level below that?
Charlotte that is a good question, I’ve always thought of all rooms in Amish homes that are like this one as “basements”–even though they may only be partially below ground, and usually have a door to the outside at ground level as well. There might be a better term for this type of room but right now I’m drawing a blank.
I have never seen an Amish home like this !!!!And the basement floor..looks clean enough to eat off of……it looks to me like it has tile over the cement……I used to use those washing machines and my daughter still has one that I gave her years ago….would anyone want to buy one ?And remember the BLONDE furniture ? She has a bedroom set for sale too…..just thought I’d throw that in :)…….
Enjoyed this article Erik, love these pictures…..keep them coming…will be looking forward to the others…..
And even tho I have a washer & dryer, I still hang up a lot of my washing……and then I throw them in the dryer and spritz them with water and then dry about 5 mins. and they come out as good as if I had dried them entirely in the dryer…..just think, that’s a way to save on electricity….and I never let my A/C run all day either….I turn it on and when it reaches the coolness I want I turn it off and it stays cool inside for a long time…..never run it at nite….turn off my heat at nite too in the winter…..can’t stand the furnace running :)I sleep better in a cool room, plus I have electric blanket, that I turn on just to warm up the bed, then turn it off…..don’t know how I got into this subject LOL just sayin……………….
Great hints, Mona
I loved hearing your ideas of using less electricity. I could not have reduced heat that way this year, it has been so hot. But our son’s family does not have air conditioning except in the upstairs bedrooms. (I call them “our Mennonite family” because they farm and have many characteristics they share with Amish and Mennonites.)
I’m not up to hanging many clothes out any more, but may try some on the short line I can handle and use your spritz and dry 5 min. idea.
I am loving this exchange! Thanks, Eric, for initiating.
I can still remember being at a quilt shop in an Amish home and needed to use the restroom. They allowed me to go into the one in their home and I was so surprised at all of the modern, very beautiful bathroom. It was much more updated than ours. They had used teal with burgundy sinks, etc. and it was beautiful. I guess that may be one place they permit contemporary colors.
I have learned a lot from the novels by Beverly Lewis and reading that there are many stratas of orders of Amish and Mennonites, from the very strict to the groups that have more relaxed rules. The thing I love most is the peace – just driving through the roads transports me to a lovely place of peace and God’s order of things.
SUPER CLEAN FLOORS
Just to clear a couple of mis-conceptions about the floors; the floor in the laundry room is just WET, really wet. My friend had just finished doing the laundry (which she “let” me help her with -she got a big kick out showing a city-girl Englishwoman how to laundry the “right way”). Note in the background, back left corner, is her “dryer” – it’s called a spinner and it takes 99% of the moisture out of the clothing so that it dries quickly out on the line. As for the remainder of the basement, it is painted battleship gray and it was a fairly recent paintjob. It is high gloss so that it cleans easy. She had just finished washing it the day before. But, in reality, she does keep so clean that you could almost eat off of it!
@ Lissa Holder; I stuck my fingers in the inlet side of my grandmothers’ wringer washer when I was about 4 years old or so, apparently just to see what would happen. I really don’t recall it, but I’ve been told that what happened wasn’t all that good!
I am thinking the stainless steel thing in the corner behind the washing machine is a “Charming Spinner” (made in Charm, Ohio) to spin the clothes dry . But I am not sure if that is what it is. I know that an Amish company at Charm makes such a thing … yeah, saw it in the Budget. 🙂
I think you have a good eye Mike 🙂 …check out the second photo from the bottom of this post:
Hey, I hit it that time! Now if I can just hit that next free book you are giving away! LOL
I’m not Amish, but I played in my family’s unfinished basement when I was a kid. It was the coolest place in the house, sometimes it was also the warmest depending on the season. The sinks/basins pictured in the last picture remind me of the big sink/basin we had, but we also had a “modern” washer and dryer.
In my house we could hear all the way up to the top floor through the heating systems.
In the picture its neat to me how the ringer device looks like a sleek new version of ancient technology.
The lawn in the picture with the nice home almost as that pro-sports alternating shades of green look to it. Probbaly has something to do with the direction(s) they mowed it, but interesting to look at.
I do remember how wringer washer and put rubber diapers through that wringer diapers and explodes and I ruined a couple of shirts
Did you ever get anything caught in a wringer?or ruined a couple of shirts?
an article of the wash may
wrap several times around a roller before it is noticed; unwinding such a
piece is often difficult, sometimes impossible without removing a roller.
Grin – wow, Anne – I had forgotten about things getting wrapped around the wringer. Yes, that happened to us too but Mom usually caught it before anything was ruined. The other challenge in wash day was that our water was gravity fed from a spring. So it came out very, very slowly. It took forever to fill the tubs.
In my early married days we lived in apartments for a few years until we could afford a house. That meant sharing the community washers and dryers, hauling clothes across the parking lot with a child on top of the basket, etc. We pinched a tight budget to get the downpayment for that first house, and the very best part was that I had my very own washer and dryer in the basement! I think I enjoyed my own clothes lines down there as much.
Memories of laundry day.
I too grew up in Indiana with a wringer washer in my mom’s basement. I have some great memories of spending time their with her.
I had to stand on a cement block to be tall enough to see inside the rinse tubs and a was given a long stick and it was my job to stir the clothes in the rinse water.
Then after mom ran them through the wringer it was my job to hang them on the clothes drying rack to dry.
Erik, are you saying that the darker part ( brick ? ) of the house underneath the white railing is the basement? I know they exist above ground, especially in flood prone areas, but I think the majority of people think of a basement as being below ground.
When I was growing up we accessed our basement through a door in the kitchen and there was a long row of wooden stairs that we kids loved to slide down on our bums! It was just a cement room that was always a little dark and musty smelling, and it mainly had the furnace, some storage, and a work bench my Dad was always fiddling on. But in the summer it was used as a cooling room for all the baskets of fresh tomatoes, squash, peppers, corn, watermelon, etc., that was grown on my grandparent’s farm. Talk about old fashioned, my grandparent’s could easily have passed for Amish or Mennonite also, and maybe that’s why alot of us here on this blog are drawn to or can relate to the Amish – because alot of their ways and lifestyle is similar to ours, our parents, or our grandparents.
Anyway, my mom, just like Randy’s, used a wringer washer hooked up by a hose to the kitchen sink up until the 70’s and always hung the wash out on the line. And I remember many a day in the freezing cold winter going out to get the clothes off the line and our fingers would be frozen and the clothes stiff as a board. We’d throw them on my parent’s bed to thaw and as they did they just smelled so good!
When I was growing up we were not financially well-off, and like Roberta said, I thought we were very deprived too, but looking back now, I’m glad I was raised the way I was because it taught me to appreciate things and be grateful and resourceful and hard working – all the things that spoiled and privileged children are not.
Hi Denise, yes I am, but I think of basements the same way, as being underground. It’s not 100% visible but this one probably is partially underground with a door at ground level (you can see the land starts to go up) on the side we can’t see.
I have always referred to these levels of Amish homes as basements as they are the lowest level, have the concrete floors and aren’t typically furnished outside of some basic tables and seating. Though how much of them is underground varies–some of my friends’ homes have their basements nearly completely below ground level outside of some small windows letting in light.
Many homes, Amish and other, in this area of Ohio have the “walk-in” basement (and it is called a basement). In this somewhat hilly area, they are common. Many of the families hold church services in the walk-in basement. Amish homes tend to have the door to basement in the front of the house, while non-Amish tend to build to “hide” it in the back. We English tend to be more concerned about the aesthetics of it, I guess! I think sometimes people are surprised at the rather “modern” and sometimes fancy appearance of some of the Amish homes around here.
And to whomever wondered earlier….yes, it is still scorching here in Ohio! I can hardly stand it (we don’t have air). In many people’s opinions, the humidity has really made this summer miserable and unenjoyable, almost as if there was no fun aspect to summer. You can’t even enjoy sitting outside in the evenings. It’s been like this for weeks. I always feel bad for my Swartzentruber neighbors who generally don’t get along without long sleeves. My husband always wants to ask them if they are required to wear hot and miserable but modest nightclothes! I think that might be an embarrassing question…;)
Meant to add that while the basement door in this photo appears to be in the back, the door location is often kind of a tip-off around here that it might be an Amish or conservative Mennonite home.
And sometimes it’s hard to tell which door to go to as the front door! I sometimes feel foolish if I go to the “wrong” door – which in an English home would usually be the “right” door, lol!
HELLO TO KERRY!
Kerry – greetings! I, the shutterbug for this article, was the one that wondered about the heat. This was the first time we have been to Ohio that we didn’t stay with our O.O. Amish friends in Mt. Hope; they wouldn’t let us because it was sooooo hot. We got a room at a Berlin B&B place and they came to visit us and enjoy the cool. And we all went out for dinner several times to avoid heating up their kitchen. Anyway, the photo of the house above, is of the back of the house. The house itself faces a county road and when we first started to visit with them, my DH and I couldn’t figure out which door to go to; the one in the back or the one up the hill and around the front…. take care and stay cool…
LOL, nice scene there in pic. I still have 2 wringer washing machines from the 1950’s and both work.
Regarding: Wringer washer reproductions....
I have been looking for a wringer washer. I would love to own one today…but I’ve found that the reproduction wringer washers are now made in Saudi Arabia. $900.00 plus a freight charge of $175.00… A bit more than I am ready to spend on a washing machine.
I would worry about workmanship quality being from Saudi Arabia… and repair costs nowadays.