How Do Swartzentruber Amish bathe?

A benefit of writing this blog is answering the many questions received in the Comments section below or via email. If you've not read my previous 66 posts you're missing tremendous info, in the post and in the Comments!

One inquiring mind emailed, "without indoor plumbing, how do Swartzentruber Amish bathe? I presume by obviously filling up a tub with water, but how often would they take baths? Would they do so in the kitchen? I'm just curious as to how it worked, and if they'd get any privacy since the families are typically so large."

Is this question too invasive? I see it as wanting to learn. This blog is for cultural literacy so I welcome questions. (Tweet This)

For most Swartzentruber - the uber conservative, insular sect - the Ordnung prohibits indoor plumbing. Usually bath time is Saturday evening. According to our "son" Mosie and others I know, they heat bath water on the stove and fill a large tub. Each family member takes turns using the bath water to clean him/herself.

Mosie said he was the middle of 12 children. He bathed in the same water used by five older siblings.

If the water was too dirty, his father would drain the tub and refill with newly warmed water for the remaining children. No deodorant. No talc. Just dry and dress.

Being Dad, Mosie's father would rinse out the tub and heat his own fresh water. I guess rank has its privileges. Mosie told me his dad was always last to bathe.

Saturday evening is typical because Gma (church) is the next morning. I posted about Amish Gma on January 17, 2013.

"What about summer when everyone is sweaty or more dirty?" I once asked Mosie.

"Then we might take a bath twice in a week."

When I think about my conversation with Mosie, I think of the turn of the century when large American families shared bath water. Think pioneers out west.

I know it may seem gross today but, then large families conserved water, heat, and Mom's energy by recycling bath water. When my daughters were young, I'd often plop both in the same tub together.

Remember, this may be different between families! Those with fewer children - or a married couple - probably vary their personal routines. I know a few Swartzentruber couples who bought an English house - complete with convenient indoor plumbing. So you guess the rest.

Facial hair on men usually follows this practice:
  • young, unmarried boys have no facial hair. 
  • adolescents who wish to grow a bit of a beard, may trim it. But only according to the settlement rules - not too short.
  • married men must grow a beard. No trimming or shaving - except above the lip. Mustaches are verboten by the Ordnung.
The typical Dutch boy haircut is Ordnung-dictated. Hair must grow to the earlobes. No ear showing. Bangs must be blunt cut across the forehead. No variation. So a mohawk is out of the question :-)

Females wear braided hair to Gma. No makeup. No plucking stray hairs. No jewelry. In fact, attention to the body is discouraged as this could lead to vanity or pride.

As for dental hygiene - most are not taught the benefits of daily brushing. Most of the ones I know, except Josh, Levi, and our son-in-law, have full dentures or a partial. Why? Levi told me, "I was taught to brush once a week." Regular dental maintenance among Swartzentruber Amish is uncommon.

On top of that, some of the ex-Amish I know were allowed to smoke cigarettes . . . even as children! Mosie smoked. So did Monroe. Sarah, too. Abe. Andy. Uria. Dan.

I've posted about young Sarah, 20 y/o, who has full lower dentures and an upper partial. Her teeth were so rotten that the Amish dentist - who also ran a furniture store - yanked out her bad teeth. Then an Amish woman would make the artificial ones. See my June 13 post, "My Amish Dental Lab Visit."

Other hygiene differences from English include
  • no underwear for the men. Don't ask me why. Perhaps male underwear is considered vain or unnecessary.
  • no bra for the woman.
  • no shaving body hair for women.
When Monroe came to live with us - seventeen and fresh off the farm - I noticed one morning that he had on blue jeans. In my "mom voice" with raised eyebrow I asked, "Do you have on underwear?"


"Okay. We call that going commando and we're gonna talk about that."

I briefly explained the comfort and cleanliness of underwear. Then my good husband took Monroe to Penney's, explained the variety of styles, and let Monroe pick out a package. My husband never imagined at his empty nest age he'd escort a 17 y/o young man to the underwear section of a store.

Females, on the other hand, are required by the Swartzentruber Ordnung to wear loose-fitting, homemade underwear. The idea behind this is so that they have nothing close to the body that might stimulate them. Seriously! Of course, some gals sneak away to Walmart and buy "forbidden" English underwear with the sinful elastic waste band.

Former Amish, Dan, once told me that he went to Walmart and bought men's boxers. When his mom was doing the laundry she discovered his purchase. At first, she thought the underwear belonged to one of Dan's sisters. Dan said, "When she found out they were mine, she burned them!"

TMI? As a professional educator, I give accurate, reliable information about this multi-layered American subculture. Remember one behavior or belief doesn't fit all Amish.

Got a question about the Amish? Leave it below. I'll do my best to answer.

(C)Copyright 2014, Brenda Nixon. You may forward this entire post citing the author.


  1. Thanks for this informative post! I find the little nitty gritty details of daily life in other cultures really fascinating. I don't think it's TMI at all. :)

    p.s. Voted for your blog!

    1. Ya, I like nitty gritty details, too. When Mosie & Monroe (our "adopted" ex-Amish sons) lived with us, I had daily opportunity to ask questions about their life as Amish.
      Thanks for reading this post Stacey and for voting for my blog this month! :-) I was totally surprised when an author pal of mine emailed that she voted for me. I'm like, "What?"
      She explained I was reader-nominated for July 2014 Blogger of the Month at The Book Club Network.

    2. I found that hilarious "sinful English underwear" (LOL)

  2. Growing up we had no running water. We took a bath with a bucket every Saturday night (whether we needed it or not, as the joke goes. but I am sure it was needed!). Not an easy or a good way, but I am sure thankful for showers in my bathroom today!

  3. Fort the past twenty years I have spent time each summer in Holmes County and have gone to many auctions and other sales where Swartzentrubers frequented. The majority are neat, but do smell due to bad hygeine and no deodorant. I have visited one Swartzentruber lady who sells quilts and other items to the English from her home. Her home is austere but spotless, both inside and out.

  4. We work with Amish girls who have converted to our life. My question is this one of the girls has B.O. We have brought it to our boss attention but we were told that she isn't allowed to talk to her about it. I differ from her as I worked in a factory for 32 years and if we had an employee who "smelled" we brought it to HR attention and it was dealt with.

    1. Thank you for your question. It depends on which order this Amish gal is from - if it's a conservative Old Order or Swartzentruber, the chances are she's not allowed to used deodorant. She probably bathes once a week and wears clothes that have the B.O.
      Depending on how close you are to the girls, you might mention something about the deodorant you use and the pleasant smell. Watch for her reaction -- if she engages then she may be interested and open to the suggestion.
      I, too, have been in a vehicle with an Old Order Amish gal who had horrible B.O. I opened my car windows, LOL. But it's tricky to gain someone's trust to the point you can speak of such personal matters.
      Now you say, they have "converted to our life." Does that mean they've left and become English? If so, then by all means share with them the habit of bathing and wearing deodorant that most English practice. If they've "converted" to English life, they'll want to adapt and be successful.

  5. I don't really think underwear is a necessity... Nor is it really anyone's business to discuss it. I'm female and I don't usually wear it. Its really just more laundry to do. Also, I wish all people used deodorant less and women weren't made to shave. Being turned off by what is completely natural and giving more credence to a corporate product like deodorant or plastic shavers is not very intelligent at all. Its embarrassing reading some stories. Its like English culture is all alcohol, deodorant and TV. On the other side Amish culture seems quite fearful as well, and not nice about outsiders, like not letting one girl on this blog be a true member and no one could marry her, and saying she'd basically be falsely accused if anything went wrong, which is a sin.

    1. The purpose of underwear is chiefly to protect the much more valuable outer clothing.from body soil - sebaceous oil, scurf (skin fragments, dandruff), skin acids, wastes.
      Underwear is usually made from smooth, soft fabric to protect the skin from rougher outer garment cloth. For those ashamed of the bodies God equipped us with, the added layer or layers of cloth obscure the details of some parts of the body.

  6. What is the Swartzentrubersame thought on medical treatment? I've read through many articles and could not find out how they feel about medical c as requested. I'm a nurse and we always try to respect a per see one culture regarding care. I've even checked with some of the instructors and they did not know. Thank you in advance for your response!

    1. Thank you for your question. My daughter is a RN, the one who is married to a former Swartzentruber Amishman.
      This is one of the lowest, strictest, orders and they generally prefer to do their own medical and dental practice within the settlement. I did write a post about Amish dentists and tooth care. They avoid going to outside doctors but, interestingly, they do frequent English chiropractors. The Swartzentruber Amish I know prefer no immunizations and if I child become sick and dies, the parents will claim it was God's will.

  7. this was useful to me, as I am working as a chaplain who had to help someone from an Amish community.

  8. I am somewhat curious as to the daily diet of the Swartzentrubers. What foods they tend to relish, and those they avoid. Also, generally, do they live longer or shorter life spans than we "English"?

    1. Steve, thanks for ready/asking questions. I will see if I can get some of my former Amish to answer.
      Mosie (chap 1 in my book) told me he hated beets & never ate cold fried chicken (til he lived with us) 😊