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Flag Pole Maintenance: How Do You Properly Care for an American Flag?

People often say that Rome was not built in a day. We think this phrase can be attributed to any great culture or civilization in our planet’s history. While this is certainly true, the United States of America has experienced an almost unprecedented growth spurt, going from a sliver of 13 loosely united colonies to a leading world power at a mind-blowing rate. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave just turned 243 years old in July of 2021.


In this short amount of time, the United States flag, often called “Old Glory” by her admirers, has changed almost as much as we have as a nation. However, the iconic colors of red, white, and blue have stayed true and constant, just like our drive to maintain our values of liberty, justice, and equality. 


One of the original relics of United States independence still exists today. The Mooney family owns the oldest United States flag that is still around. Originally flown at Fort Independence on Castle Island during the Revolutionary War, this flag is now maintained by trusted museum professionals. However, us ordinary citizens can still practice flag maintenance. 


While this flag is not flying high anymore, people still love to hoist American flags high. 


Keep reading to discover how to maintain a flag worthy of displaying the symbol of the free world. 


The Flag Code: General Guideline

The US Flag Code is not a set of arbitrary rules that don’t have real meaning. Many of these rules were designed to help keep your flag out of harm's way and to maintain your flag's longevity.


One of those rules is to never allow your flag to touch the ground. There is more to this rule than just dishonoring the flag. The flag is a piece of fabric, and that fabric can get scuffed and torn if it's touching the ground. 


Generally, you’ll want to keep your flag out of the rain, according to the flag code. The spirit of this rule seems a little different in a military context. For civilians, there are practical concerns, but the military may just observe this guideline to avoid symbolically disrespecting the flag.


Factor in the Flag Pole

While we often think of the trusty flag pole as the main support of American flags, this pole can sometimes cause harm without proper precautions. 


Make sure to always equip your flag with non-tangle flag pole spinners. After looking all over for the perfect American flag for your home, the last thing you want is for this patriotic symbol to become wrapped around the flag pole. This could cause the flag to tear and need to be retired much earlier than you would like. 


Flag pole spinners made from heavy-duty anodized aluminum are just the ticket to a long-lasting flag. 


Nylon

Many articles of clothing have tags that will give you instructions on how to properly wash them, but some don’t. Most American flags are made of nylon but make sure to check the tags anyways before you do any cleaning.  


If you want to put your flag in the washing machine, use a very mild detergent and avoid cleaning pods.  Pods require warmer water to fully melt the disposable plastic coating away, so using pods with cold water may result in a plastic coating attaching to your flag. This plastic residue often cannot be removed.


Use cold water only and run the machine on a gentle setting. Additionally, cold water washes away stains while hot water can set them permanently. 


After your flag is done washing, do not put it in the dryer. Even on lower heat settings, this can burn holes in your flag. Lay the flag out on a flat surface to dry. Don’t hang your flag for drying, as this can make the colors run.


If you choose to iron your nylon flag, always remember to use a cool iron. Heat is detrimental to this fabric (and polyester as well). 


Rain

Nylon may be resistant to water, but it’s not impervious to it. American flags should generally not be subjected to rainstorms or even snow. Take the flag indoors and fold it properly if rain is predicted. If your flag is still wet or damp, do not fold it. 


Dry it off first before folding it—if your flag is folded while wet, mold and mildew can potentially grow on the flag. 


Tears

It’s not just rain that you need to look out for when it comes to your flag; you also need to remember to bring your flag in during windstorms. Wind can tear up your flag in a single day. 

If your flag does cause some ripping and damage, you can either repair it or retire it. 


As long as your flag isn’t completely torn up and you’re handy with a needle and thread, you can repair your flag at home. If the damage is extensive enough, you can always go to your local seamstress. 


What happens if your flag is torn beyond repair? You can always give your flag to organizations that will respectfully retire your flag, like the Boy Scouts of America or the American Legion. 


The Flag Code does not restrict flag retirement ceremonies to any particular people or organizations. If you want to, you can bury the flag, burn it, or recycle the materials yourself. As long as you are doing it respectfully, there’s no problem with it. 


The flag needs to be respected and cared for. It’s a representation of the people.


Color Fading

Besides rain and humidity, sun damage can cause your flag’s colors to fade over time. Even washing your flag correctly too often can cause the colors to disappear. Continual sun exposure (UV rays in particular) causes flags to fade and quite literally come apart at the seams. There are fabric sprays that you can buy to help protect the flag from UV rays. 


If you’re going to store your flag somewhere, make sure it’s in a dark, cool, and dry place to preserve the colors and keep mold far away from your flag. To really treat your flag with the care it deserves in order to ensure its long life, wrap your flag around a cardboard tube (similar to a poster holder) and tie gently with cotton thread. 


Cotton

Cotton is almost quite literally woven into the fabric of our history as a nation. However, cotton predates the United States by a significant margin of time. Cotton itself can trace its roots back as early as the fifth millennium BC. With the invention of the cotton gin in India, cotton entered the world stage and only became more prominent with the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution. 


Cotton was a natural go-to fabric for makers of the first American flags (rumored to be designed by Betsy Ross) due to its abundance and relatively easy manufacturing process. However, these flags were not suitable for inclement weather or as a long-term durable option. Cotton is quickly damaged through water retention.


However, if you are a proud owner of a cotton flag, there are steps you can take to help your flag last as long as possible:


When washing your cotton flag, you should be able to use your washing machine as long as you use only cold water on a gentle cycle. 


When ironing your cotton flag, use a hot iron (this is the opposite of the care instructions for nylon flags). 


Buy Long-Lasting Flags

Cleaning your United States flags is an honorable way to preserve the symbol of our country. Unfortunately, however, many products, including flags, these days are made cheaply with an emphasis on mass-production that is prioritized more than quality. This is a common issue that is referred to as “fast fashion.”


Not only does fast fashion rely on outsourcing jobs to foreign countries for goods sold in America, but this practice leads to poor quality goods that, while produced quickly, are all but useless after a short while. 


In order to avoid fussing and worrying over the appearance and longevity of your American flag, look for American companies that use fair labor practices to produce flags here in the States. With Allegiance Flag Supply, your flag will last as long as the proper care for it is exhibited. 


So whether your home or your boat needs a dash of red, white, and blue, it’s easy to find flags with a quality you can write home about. 

 

Sources: 

 

Star Spangled Banner | Smithsonian

Rare Revolutionary War Flag in Boston | Boston Globe

What Is Cotton? | MasterClass 

How to Wash or Clean the American Flag | The Spruce

UV Transmittance and Fading | University of Central Florida

The Flag Code | Cornell University

Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal | University of Notre Dame