Caring For Your American Flag This Summer

July 3, 2008

Summertime is a wonderful opportunity to display the American flag: unclouded skies and long, sunny days offer a perfect chance to fly Old Glory at your home or business. However, since many flags may be exposed to dirt, moisture or dust in their winter storage, it is essential that owners take great care to clean and repair them for presentation. You don’t have to destroy a dirty flag or one which has touched the ground; simply follow these easy steps and you will be showcasing the Stars and Stripes in no time.

Avoid prolonged exposure to rain or heavy winds, as these elements can significantly affect the flag’s durability and shorten its lifespan. If your American flag gets wet or damp, dry it out completely before placing it back into storage by laying it out on a flat surface or hanging it from a clothesline. Never fold or roll up a wet flag. The border’s yellow fringe may stain the fabric. Do not fly the flag overnight: the cold nighttime temperatures and morning dew can damage its appearance.

Check the flag for rips, tears or fraying before putting it on display. A short visual inspection will do, and will extend the life of your flag by preventing small holes and rips. Feel free to repair any damage, but be warned: a shortened American flag may not be suitable for official display. The suggested size for a flag flown at the home is a minimum of three feet by five feet.

Grime and dirt from roads, salty ocean air, and particulates found in air pollution can all adversely affect your flag by damaging its fabric and causing tiny rips as it waves. Slow the process by periodically cleaning it with a mild detergent or bringing it to your local dry cleaner. Many dry-cleaning businesses will launder the American flag for free when you drop it off with other items. Don’t worry: it is OK to dry clean American flags or wash them yourself when they have become too soiled to display.

In the event that your American flag no longer benefits from washing or repair, you should dispose of it promptly. The most responsible way to do this is by burning. According to the US Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8(k): “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.” A so-called “ceremonial burning” can be administered for you by a local VFW chapter, Elks Lodge, American Legion or Knights of Columbus hall.

If you have an old flag that you would like to recycle instead of dispose of, please visit the American Flag Disposal Web site for more information regarding this smart alternative.