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Proper Etiquette for the American Flag

Display the Flag the Right Way

Don’t hang your flag backwards, upside down, or in an inappropriate fashion. If you’re hanging your flag vertically (like from a window or against a wall), the Union portion with the stars should go on the observer’s left. Never dip the flag to anyone or anything.


Avoid Letting it Tough the Ground

Prevent your flag from touching the ground, floor, or water. It’s not necessary to dispose of your flag if it accidentally hits the pavement, but you should make sure that it’s in good condition before displaying it again.


Half-staff vs. Half-mast

There is a difference between half-staff and half-mast, even though they’re commonly used interchangeably. “Half-mast” technically refers to a flag flown on a ship’s mast, while “half-staff” describes flags flown on land.


Fly Your Flag at Half-Staff at the Right Times

The flag is flown at half-staff when the nation is in mourning, such as for the death of a government official or for remembrance. When flying the flag at half-staff, first hoist it to the peak for an instant and then lower to the half-staff position. Half-staff is defined as one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the flagpole. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.


Flying a Flag at Night

Custom dictates that you should display flags only from sunrise to sunset, but you can keep the flag flying 24 hours a day if it is properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.


Flying the Flag in Rain

You are not supposed to display the flag in inclement weather unless it is an all-weather flag. However, most flags these days are made of all-weather, non-absorbent materials like nylon.


Fly the American Flag Above other Flags

The American flag should always be flown above other flags including state and city flags. If they have to be at the same level (i.e., you’re hanging them vertically from a house or porch), put the American flag on the left. Always hoist the American flag first and lower it last.


Only Fly a Flag in Good Condition

No matter how well you take care of a flag, sometimes age wears it. Newer flags made with synthetic materials can be machine washed in cold water with a mild detergent, and hung to dry. Older, more fragile flags should be hand washed using Woolite or a similar product. Small tears can be repaired by hand, so long as the mends aren’t overtly visible when the flag is displayed. Flags that are overly worn, torn, or faded should be properly disposed of.


Respectfully Disposing a Flag

The Federal Flag code says that unserviceable flags should be burned in a respectful, ceremonial manner, but do so discreetly so people don’t misinterpret your intentions. If it is illegal to burn synthetic materials in your state or you feel uncomfortable doing so, contact your local American Legion post to find out if they have flag disposal ceremonies. Local scout groups may have these as well.


Folding Your Flag Before Storing It

The American flag is traditionally folded in a specific arrangement. Begin by holding it parallel to the ground with another person, and fold the lower stripes over the union, keeping the edges of the flag crisp and straight. Fold it lengthwise again, keeping the blue union on the outside. Then make a triangle fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to the open edge of the flag. Turn the outer point parallel to the open edge to make a second triangle. Continue making triangular folds until the whole flag is folded into one triangle of blue and white stars.

Clothing & Objects with the American Flag

While this section of the flag code is rarely observed, the guidelines advise against using the flag on clothing, costumes, athletic uniforms, bedding, cushions, handkerchiefs, décor, and temporary-use items like paper napkins. It does permit flag pins worn over the left lapel and flags on military and first responder uniforms.


However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that the government can’t enforce flag-protection laws, so you won’t get arrested for wearing an American flag t-shirt. Do whatever feels most respectful and appropriate.


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