American-Flag Etiquette

The expert: Mike Buss, the flag-education program manager at the national headquarters of the American Legion, in Indianapolis

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Photo by Grant Cornett

What is the proper way to display a flag?

There are a few options: You can fly it from a pole, attach it to a wall with tacks, or tape it over a window. Just don’t tie it to a tree or drape it over the side of a car, a train, or a boat. These are all signs of disrespect, according to the official U.S. Flag Code, adopted by Congress in 1942.

How should the flag be oriented?

The union (a.k.a. the stars) should always be in the upper left-hand corner. (An upside-down flag is actually a distress signal.) If you’re displaying another pennant next to the American flag, both flags should be at the same height and the U.S. flag should be on the observer’s left. Flying three flags? Place Old Glory in the center. And as long as it’s on top, the American flag can share a pole with a state or organization flag. However, you should never hang two national flags on the same pole.

Can I leave it up all the time?

If it’s inside, yes. But outdoor flags should be illuminated at night by a spotlight, a street lamp, or a garage light or taken down at sunset. Fold it neatly and stow it in a dry place, like a drawer or a linen closet. See how to fold an American flag to help.

What should I do if my flag looks worn?

Stitch up small tears with a needle and thread. Stained or dirty flags should be dry-cleaned; some cleaners will do this free of charge around the Fourth of July. When a flag becomes frayed along the edges or the red stripes fade to pink, replace it. Flying a worn-out flag is the most serious flag offense.

How do you dispose of a flag?

Throwing a flag in the garbage is disrespectful. Believe it or not, according to the U.S. Flag Code, burning it is the right thing to do. When done ceremoniously and in private, rather than in protest, setting fire to a flag isn’t a sacrilege. Worried about safety? Make America and your local fire marshal proud by dropping off your flag at the nearest American Legion office. (Find one at legion.org.) Its members will incinerate it for you.