After all, an American flag — like any country’s flag — is more than just a cloth. Practicing proper flag etiquette and taking the necessary steps to maintain the condition of your flag is a good way to honor this symbol of what a nation stands for and the people who call it home.
1. The Basics of Flag Display Etiquette
Just like the flags that fly at your local city hall, you’re free to display the American flag at home. But just like those institutions, you’ll need to take special care to show off your flag according to established traditions. In the U.S., those rules are laid out in Public Law 94-344, or the Federal Flag Code.
Customarily, the flag is only flown from sunrise to sunset, but if you’d like to keep yours flying 24-7, keeping it illuminated at night is the most respectful move. On Memorial Day, the flag is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised after. In times of tragedy, the sitting U.S. President may call for the flag to be flown at half-mast for a certain number of days.
Flag Display “Dos”
- Position the blue portion of the flag at the peak of the staff, as the blue field represents the Union.
- Flown with other flags on the same staff, the American flag should fly above any other flag. Across the globe, the host country’s flag is typically flown at the top, with any following national flags displayed in alphabetical order.
- When grouped with others in a row, fly the American flag to its own right, at the same height as the flags of other nations. “To its own right” means that the union (the section with the stars) should be to the observer’s left.
- When hanging over a street, make sure the stars face north or east, depending on the street’s direction.
- Wondering how to hang a flag vertically? This is a common way to display a flag — often seen hanging from a porch or awning — and it’s totally acceptable as long as the blue field is in the left-hand corner. If the flag’s in a window, that’ll be the left-hand side for the people viewing the flag from outside.
Flag Display “Don’ts”
- Never display the flag upside down unless intentionally signaling an emergency.
- Don’t tie the flag or fasten it to anything other than the pole or building you’re flying it from. The flag should always fall freely.
- Avoid using the flag for decoration. Go with themed decor for a more respectful approach.
- Don’t display a flag that has been ripped, dirtied or vandalized.
Additional Flag Etiquette
Alongside proper flag display etiquette, it’s important to follow some basic rules of respect when handling the Star and Stripes. Some of these faux pas may seem obvious, but you may have seen them once or twice at a Fourth of July party, so they’re worth keeping in mind.
- Never let the flag touch the ground.
- Don’t wear the flag as clothing. This one doesn’t get a lot of credence nowadays, but in general, the flag shouldn’t be used as apparel, bedding or drapery, even on costumes or athletic uniforms. The exception is wearing the flag as a patch in an official capacity, such as on military, police or firefighter uniforms.
- Don’t draw on, mark or modify the flag.
- When displayed on a casket, the blue union of the American flag should be placed at the head and over the left shoulder. Even in this case, the flag should not touch the ground or be lowered into the ground with the casket.
- Retire your flag if it’s torn, vandalized or otherwise sullied. In the U.S., properly retiring a flag calls for a ceremony of meticulously folding and then burning the banner, but local groups like the American Legion, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts often accept retired flags for proper disposal.
2. How to Clean and Care for a Flag
Nowadays, durable all-weather flags can be flown in virtually any climate, but if your flag isn’t an all-weather type, it’s best to take it down during harsh weather.
Since the flag is naturally going to be outside and exposed to the elements most of the time, you may be asking yourself whether it’s acceptable to clean a flag. The answer? Yes — the Flag Code doesn’t prohibit cleaning Old Glory. In fact, a clean flag is a respectful flag, so don’t neglect it next time you’re doing a deep clean of your house and porch.
Washing and Drying Your Flag
Most modern flags made of nylon, polyester and synthetic fabrics can be cleaned in the washing machine, but should be washed by themselves to avoid color bleeding. Stick with cold water and a gentle detergent on the “delicates” cycle, then air dry and iron on cool.
If you prefer, you can handwash your flag by soaking it in tepid water with an oxygen-based cleaner, then rinsing it thoroughly and hanging it to dry. You’ll definitely need to go with this method for flags made of cotton, wool or other natural textiles. For natural fabrics, air dry as usual and use a hot iron to smooth out wrinkles.
3. How to Store a Flag
In the short term, you can wrap your flag around its pole and protect it with a plastic cover. For long-term storage, however, you’ll want to fold the flag in the traditional triangle shape, with the union facing out. It can be a little tricky to nail the folding, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a handy guide for flag folding right here. Flags that have sentimental or historical value can be folded in this fashion and kept in specially-made display cases.
Placing Your Flag in Self Storage
When it comes to American flag self storage, you’ll want to keep your flag in a clean, dry place. Organize your storage space so that the flag is covered, as UV light can fade those striking reds, whites and blues over time. You’ll also want to avoid placing anything heavy on top of your flag and creating creases or wrinkles.
Moisture can lead to mold and can even weaken the weather-resistant materials of synthetic flags in the long term, so storing your flag in a climate-controlled storage unit is the perfect way to prevent this kind of damage. A sturdy, dust-proof plastic storage container with some clean packing materials and a securely clasping lid should do the trick.
Even in self storage, tradition and respect play an important role. Here are things to avoid:
- Don’t use the flag as a cover.
- Don’t carry it flat.
- Don’t crumple it or wad it up.
- Don’t use it as a bag or hammock to carry other things.
If you’re looking for a secure space to store your flag while it’s not being displayed, SmartStop offers self-storage units in a range of sizes, including storage lockers, that are perfect for keeping your American flag free of moisture and protected from UV rays. Find a storage unit near you so you can keep all 13 stripes and 50 stars of your flag in pristine condition for years to come.