How To Get Rid Of An Old How To Get Rid Of A Ripped American Flag

How To Get Rid Of An Old How To Get Rid Of A Ripped American Flag

Honoring the Retirement of an American Flag


The American flag, a symbol of patriotism, freedom, and unity, is a cherished national icon. It holds a profound significance in the hearts of Americans. However, when an American flag becomes torn, faded, or damaged, it’s essential to retire it respectfully, in accordance with established etiquette and federal law. This article will provide comprehensive guidance on how to properly dispose of an old American flag, ensuring its dignified retirement.

Significance and Etiquette of Flag Disposal

The United States Flag Code outlines the proper disposal methods for American flags that are no longer in serviceable condition. According to the code, "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."

Burning is the traditional and most respectful method of retiring a flag. It symbolizes the respect and honor accorded to the flag and its representation of the nation. Other methods, such as cutting or throwing away the flag, are considered disrespectful and violate the Flag Code.

Step-by-Step Guide to Retiring an Old American Flag

1. Contact Local Organizations

Many organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Legion posts, and VFW halls, offer flag retirement services. They may conduct ceremonies or have designated drop-off points where you can properly dispose of your flag.

2. Find a Dignified Burning Site

If you choose to burn the flag yourself, select a safe and appropriate location. Never burn the flag in a disrespectful manner or in an area where it could pose a hazard. Consider using a fire pit or fireplace that is not used for other purposes.

3. Prepare the Flag

Fold the flag into a triangle, starting with the striped end. The blue field with the stars should be visible on top. Traditionally, a three-cornered fold is used, but a simple triangular fold is also acceptable.

4. Conduct a Ceremony

Before burning the flag, it is customary to conduct a brief ceremony to honor its service. This can include a moment of silence, a prayer, or a patriotic song.

5. Burn the Flag

Light the flag using a match or lighter. Allow it to burn completely, ensuring that no remnants remain. A fire extinguisher should be nearby in case of emergencies.

6. Dispose of the Ashes

Once the flag has burned to ashes, carefully collect and dispose of them in a respectful manner. You can bury the ashes in a garden, scatter them in a memorial area, or dispose of them with your regular trash.

Alternative Methods of Disposal

In some cases, burning may not be feasible or appropriate. Alternative methods of disposal, such as burying or shredding, may be considered.

1. Burial

Dig a hole in a secluded and respectful location. Wrap the flag in a biodegradable material, such as cloth or paper, before burying it. Cover the grave with soil and mark it with a small flagpole or other suitable memorial.

2. Shredding

You can shred the flag into small pieces using a paper shredder. This method is typically used for flags that are too damaged to be displayed or burned. Dispose of the shredded flag in a respectful manner, such as mixing it with compost or burying it.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I throw away an American flag?

No, it is disrespectful to throw away an American flag. According to the Flag Code, the flag should be destroyed in a dignified way.

2. What if I find a discarded American flag?

If you find a discarded American flag, contact local authorities, a veteran’s organization, or a patriotic society. They can arrange for the proper disposal of the flag.

3. How often should I retire an American flag?

There is no set time frame for retiring an American flag. It should be retired when it becomes worn, faded, or torn, or when it is no longer in serviceable condition.

4. What if I am overseas?

Embassies and consulates often offer flag retirement services for American citizens living abroad. Contact your local embassy or consulate for assistance.

5. What are the penalties for disrespecting the flag?

The Flag Code does not impose criminal penalties for disrespecting the flag. However, some states have laws that prohibit the desecration of the flag, which could result in fines or imprisonment.


Retiring an American flag in a dignified and respectful manner is an important act of patriotism. By following the proper disposal methods outlined in this article, you can honor the flag’s service and ensure its legacy is preserved. Remember, the American flag is more than just a piece of cloth; it represents the values and ideals of our nation. By treating it with respect, we reaffirm our commitment to those values and the freedoms they represent.


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