What To Do With American Flag

What To Do With American Flag

What To Do With American Flag

Respecting the American Flag: Proper Disposal and Handling

The American flag, an emblem of our nation’s ideals, heritage, and sacrifices, holds a profound significance for every American. As a cherished symbol, it deserves to be treated with utmost respect and reverence. When a flag becomes old or worn, it is imperative to retire it in a dignified manner, adhering to established protocols. This article provides comprehensive guidance on the proper disposal and handling of the American flag, ensuring its retirement with due honor.

When to Retire an American Flag

Flags should be retired when they become worn, torn, or faded to the point where they are no longer presentable. According to the U.S. Flag Code, a flag should be retired when:

  • The fabric is torn or frayed
  • The colors are noticeably faded or discolored
  • The flag is tattered or has holes
  • The stitching is torn or loose

It is important to note that the American flag should never be used as a tablecloth, bedding, or other decorative item. Such usage is considered disrespectful and violates the Flag Code.

Proper Disposal Methods

The most respectful way to dispose of an American flag is to burn it in a dignified and secure setting. The following steps should be observed:

  1. Fold the Flag: Fold the flag in a triangular shape, with the blue field facing out. Ensure that the stars are at the top and the stripes are parallel.
  2. Create a Burn Pit: Dig a small pit, approximately 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Place a grate or metal container over the pit to support the flag and prevent it from touching the ground.
  3. Respectful Burning: Gather a small group of individuals who share reverence for the flag. Light the flag with a match or lighter and allow it to burn completely.
  4. Dispose of Ashes: Once the flag has burned to ashes, carefully collect them and dispose of them properly. Some people choose to bury the ashes, while others scatter them at sea or keep them as a memento.

Alternative Disposal Options

If burning is not feasible, there are other acceptable methods to retire a flag:

  • Local American Legion or VFW Post: Many American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) posts offer flag retirement services. They will often accept old and worn flags and dispose of them in a respectful manner.
  • Boy Scout or Girl Scout Troops: Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops frequently organize flag retirement ceremonies as part of their community service activities. They will collect old flags and retire them with honor.
  • Flag Disposal Box: Some organizations and businesses provide flag disposal boxes. These boxes are typically placed in public places, such as libraries or post offices. Flags can be deposited in the box, which will be collected and disposed of appropriately.

Prohibited Disposal Methods

The following methods of disposal are considered disrespectful and should never be used:

  • Trash or Landfill: Disposing of the American flag in the trash or landfill is highly disrespectful. It is prohibited by the U.S. Flag Code and should be avoided at all costs.
  • Burning in an Uncontrolled Setting: Burning the flag in an open field or other uncontrolled setting is dangerous and disrespectful. It can create a fire hazard and spread the ashes, which should be properly disposed of.
  • Cutting or Mutilating the Flag: Cutting, mutilating, or otherwise desecrating the American flag is illegal and disrespectful. The flag should always be handled with care and reverence.

Additional Guidelines for Handling the Flag

Beyond proper disposal, there are additional guidelines for handling the American flag with respect:

  • Display Properly: When displaying the American flag, ensure that it is flown in a dignified and respectful manner. It should be flown from a flagpole or staff and should not touch the ground or any other object.
  • Store Carefully: When not in use, the flag should be stored properly. It should be folded in a triangular shape and placed in a dry and protected location.
  • Respectful Gestures: When the American flag is raised or lowered, it is customary to stand at attention and salute. The flag should not be used as a tablecloth, bedding, or other decorative item.

FAQ Regarding the American Flag

  • What is the U.S. Flag Code? The U.S. Flag Code is a federal law that establishes guidelines for the proper display and handling of the American flag. It was enacted in 1923 and has been amended over the years.
  • Is it illegal to burn the American flag? No, it is not illegal to burn the American flag. However, it is considered disrespectful and is prohibited by the U.S. Flag Code.
  • What are the penalties for desecrating the American flag? Desecrating the American flag is a crime in most states. Penalties may vary but can include fines and imprisonment.
  • How do I dispose of an American flag that is not sewn? If the flag is not sewn, it can be cut into pieces and burned. However, it is important to dispose of the pieces respectfully and not in a way that would be disrespectful to the flag.
  • What if I find an American flag on the ground? If you find an American flag on the ground, it is important to pick it up and dispose of it respectfully. You can retire it through one of the methods outlined above.


The American flag is a symbol of our nation’s unity, freedom, and sacrifices. It is a privilege to display and honor the flag, and it is our duty to treat it with the utmost respect. When a flag becomes worn or faded, it is important to retire it in a dignified manner. By following the proper disposal and handling guidelines outlined in this article, we can ensure that the American flag remains a cherished symbol of our nation for generations to come.


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