Repairing Your Flag
As long as the flag is serviceable, it is acceptable to repair minor damages. While it is permitted to do repairs yourself, taking your flag to a seamstress may be a safer option. It’s important that the repairs are not noticeable, and that the dimensions of the flag aren’t altered. Flags with large tears or excessive fraying should be retired. To avoid damage to your flag, bring it inside in bad weather, and make sure your flagpole or staff is in good condition. Rust can corrode your flag. If you are putting a flag into storage, make sure it is dry and the bag or container locks out moisture. Mold and mildew can grow on damp fabric.
Washing Your Flag
If your American flag is beginning to look dirty or dingy, washing it may save it from an early retirement. The Flag Code does not prohibit washing flags. In fact washing your flag on a regular basis can prolong its life. Most outdoor flags can be hand-washed with a mild laundry detergent. If you’re not sure if your flag can be washed, or of the proper washing procedure, take it to the dry cleaners. Many offer free flag-cleaning services, especially in the month of July. Despite the common myth, flags that touch the ground do not need to be destroyed. If your flag does touch the ground, and it gets dirty, simply wash it. Allowing a flag to touch the ground is disrespectful to the flag, but of course accidents do happen. Just try to prevent it from happening again.
The United States Flag Code states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” The Flag Code does not actually give specifics on how to destroy the flag. One should use common sense making sure the procedure is in good taste and shows no disrespect for the flag. Many of the following organizations have collections in your local community to collect and perform a flag burning ceremony: American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Mayor, City Hall or other patriotic organizations.
To properly dispose of your worn or tattered flag by burning, please contact the local branch of the following organizations.
The American Legion
If you are unable to find an organization in your area, you can send your flags to the Flag Disposal Service Program at FlagKeepers.org. The volunteers there will properly dispose of your worn flags at a patriotic flag retirement ceremony.
NOTE: You can burn the flag yourself, making sure it is done in a discreet and professional manner. BUT, nylon flags create hazardous gases when they are burned. Many states have outlawed the burning of nylon for that reason. A good alternative to dispose of nylon flags (or any flag) is recycling. To recycle a flag, simply write “Recycle” on the header of the flag before handing it over to your local Post or scout troop. The nylon will be reused in making new American flags. If nylon flags are not recycled, it is customary to cut the union from the field and dispose of the flag with the proper ceremony.
Although burning is the preferred method, it is also acceptable to seal your old flag in a box or bag and bury it. The most important factor is showing respect to the flag during its disposal.
The National Flag Foundation recommends the following as the proper ceremonies for retiring and destroying a worn Flag:
Ceremony of Final Tribute
This ceremony should be conducted at a private, non-public location. Only one Flag, representing all those to be destroyed, should be used in the ceremony.
Two color guards should be used at evening retreat, one for the Flag currently in use and a special color guard for the Flag to be permanently retired.
Just before sunset, the Flag that has been flying all day is retired in the normal, ceremonial procedure for the group or site.
The color guard responsible for the Flag receiving the final tribute moves front and center. The leader should present this color guard with the Flag that has been selected for its final tribute and subsequent destruction. The leader then should instruct the color guard to “hoist the colors”.
When the Flag has been secured at the top of the pole, the leader comments:
“This Flag has served its nation long and well. It has worn to a condition to which it should no longer be used to represent the nation. This Flag represents all of the Flags collected and being retired from service today. We honor them all as we salute one Flag.”
The leader then calls the group to attention, orders a salute, leads the entire group in the “Pledge of Allegiance” and orders the Flag retired by the color guard.
Slowly and ceremoniously, the flag is lowered, then respectfully folded in the customary triangle. The Flag is delivered to the leader and then the group is dismissed.
This concludes the Ceremony of Final Tribute.
Ceremonial Burning of the Flag
This ceremony should be conducted at a private, non-public location.
Fire and Flag Preparation:
The burning of a Flag should take place at a campfire in a ceremony separate from the Ceremony of Final Tribute. The fire must be sizable (preferably having burnt down to a bed of red hot coals to avoid having bits of the Flag being carried off by a roaring fire), yet be of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning.
Before the ceremony begins, the color guard assigned to the Flag opens up its tri-corner fold and then refolds it in a coffin-shaped rectangle.
When all is ready:
All assemble around the fire. The leader calls the group to attention.
The color guard comes forward and places the Flag on the fire.
All briskly salute.
After the salute, but while still at attention, the leader should conduct a respectful educational program as the Flag burns: e.g. singing of “God Bless America”; offering an inspiring message of the Flag’s meaning followed by the “Pledge of Allegiance”; performing a reading about the Flag; reciting the “American’s Creed”; etc.
When the Flag is consumed, those assembled, with the exception of a leader and the color guard, should be dismissed. They should be led out in single file and in silence.
The leader and color guard should remain to ensure that the Flag is completely consumed, and to burn additional Flags, if any.
The fire should then be safely extinguished.