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Stars and Stripes Forever: How to Care for Your American Flag

Posted May 07, 2015


how to care for an American flag

The American flag has been a symbol of the honor, courage and sacrifice of the United States for over 200 years. As a national symbol and source of pride, the flag should be respected. There are specific federal laws that regulate the display, maintenance, and disposal of the flag. Many people break proper flag protocol without even knowing it. In honor of the upcoming patriotic holiday, learn how to display and care for your flag properly. 


To ensure you are flying your American flag correctly, here are the basic rules.

  • Display the flag with the blue rectangle (aka the Union) at the top. Flying the flag upside down is a distress signal.

  • Always hold the flag carefully and never let it touch the ground, muddy hands, or anything else that could besmirch it.

  • Raise the flag briskly and lower it slowly.

  • A flag should be on display only from sunrise to sunset. If you want to display it at night, the flag should be illuminated.

  • When flying the flag at half-mast (to signal mourning or respect), raise it to the top for an instant before lowering it halfway down the pole. When you take the flag down for the day, it should be raised to the top of the pole before being lowered fully. If a flag can’t be lowered to half-mast (i.e. it’s affixed to a pole), the protocol is to attach two black ribbons to the end of the pole.

  • The flag should not be displayed during inclement weather unless it is an all-weather flag

Other common displays

If you want to exhibit the American flag next to other flags, or carry it in a parade, there are even more rules. Here’s how to display the flag in more complicated scenarios:

  • On a wall:  Hang the flag so that the blue corner is in the upper left

  • Alongside other national flags:  Display the American flag at the far left-hand side of the grouping, followed by the flags of other countries in alphabetical order. All flags should be the same size and flown at the same height.

  • Alongside “lesser” flags (such as state and organization flags): Display the American flag in the most prominent position at the center of the display. It should fly higher than all other flags. Other flags should be the same size or smaller than the American flag. (If there is another national flag, it should be equal footing with the American flag).

  • Behind a speaker: Put the flag to the right of the speaker. If you are displaying other flags, they should be on the speaker’s left.

  • On a pole with other flags: Always put the American flag at the top (unless you’re at the United Nations headquarters). Flags of independent nations should never share a pole.

  • On the lapel: Wear your flag pin on your left lapel over your heart.

  • In a parade: Carry the flag on a staff if possible. If the flag is too big to do so, it may be carried horizontally by several people. The flag should proceed marchers. If other flags are being carried, the American flag may be centered in front of the others, or carried to their right.  

  • Over a casket: If you are placing a flag over a casket, the blue rectangle should rest over the deceased person’s head and left shoulder. The flag should be removed before the casket is lowered into the ground, and should never come into contact with dirt. The American flag is usually reserved for the funerals of veterans, civil servants, national and state leaders, and distinguished citizens.


The maintenance of an American flag is extremely important. It is considered disrespectful if you continue to display a flag after it has become dirty, damaged, faded, or worn out. Here’s how to take care of common aging problems: 


To ensure you are treating your flag properly, keep an eye out for signs of fraying. If you catch it early, the flag can be trimmed and re-hemmed to help prolong its life.


To store a flag, it must be folded neatly and ceremoniously. When a flag is folded properly it can be carried compactly and securely.


Some flags can be hand-washed in a mild detergent, but cotton and polyester flags should be dry cleaned. At Pratt Abbott we will clean any American flag that is in good condition free of charge. Unfortunately, we cannot clean flags that are frayed or otherwise worn out. If you want to fly the flag at a certain event, make sure to plan ahead. We have a one week turnaround for our free American flag cleaning.


Once a flag becomes very worn, the Flag Code states that it “should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” You can do this on your own with a small ceremony. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and the American Legion hold flag retirement ceremonies and will ensure your flag gets a proper send-off.

Other flag care rules to keep in mind:

  • Never let the flag touch the ground.

  • Never dip the flag at a person while carrying it. (This signifies deference.)

  • Do not use the flag as drapery (unless covering a casket).

  • The flag cannot be used for advertising purposes.

  • Do not use the flag as part of a costume or athletic ensemble (a flag patch may be used on uniforms in special cases).

  • Do not draw on the flag or fasten anything to its fabric.

Make sure your American flag looks its best before the next patriotic holiday!

Bring your flag to any Pratt Abbott location and we will clean it for free. No strings attached, no purchase necessary. And it will be handled properly and respectfully at all times while in our care!

(If you have our free home delivery service, just tell your driver you want your flag cleaned and he will take care of it for you.)

Tags: Garment care, How-to

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