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Can a Tattered American Flag Still Be Flown?

Americans are known for expressing their pride in belonging to their country, and one of the best ways they can do this is by flying the Stars and Stripes—the nation’s flag. Americans are encouraged to own these flags at their own cost, and this includes raising their fabrics as often as they can. 


While American flags can be used for a long time, like many things, they can eventually fall victim to wear and tear. As this happens to flags over the course of time, you might be wondering what the rules are surrounding your own flag if it starts to tatter. If you’re questioning whether you can fly your tattered American flag, you’ve come to the right place.


Read more below.

 

Can You Fly a Tattered American Flag?

The short answer is “no,” flags that display tears or appear worn down in a significant way should not be hoisted under any circumstances, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Despite the proper care that Americans use to tend to their flags, slow deterioration will eventually come into play. When this occurs, people are taught to discard the American flag in an orderly and respectful manner.

 

Why You Should Not Hoist a Tattered American Flag

Although you might think flying your flag at times of celebration and mourning is a proper way to honor the country, raising torn flags is seen as incredibly disrespectful. When Old Glory is raised in such a manner, it is viewed as a dismantled piece of cloth other than a symbol of American pride


As a way to honor those who have risked their lives for the United States of America, the least citizens can do is raise the flag in a respectful way that shows dignity and pride to those brave men and women. 


If people become lazy about replacing their worn-down flags, it’s not something punishable in a legal sense, but it’s seen as a moral offense. Those who choose not to dispose of their flags are the same ones who end up dealing with the unfortunate reprimands of seeing the Stars and Stripes wear into shreds. 


If you can’t treat the flag properly, do war veterans a favor and take it down so that they don’t have to deal with the agony of viewing it torn up in an ugly manner.

 

How To Properly Dispose of Tattered American Flags

The guidelines, also known as the Federal Flag Code, suggest that Americans should burn their tattered flags after they reach a point where they cannot be repaired. Another method is a proper burial of your flag. This should be done in a very respectful manner that is not exemplified in any way to avoid offending other Americans in the process. 


You don’t need to host a massive bonfire, for example, to dispose of an American flag in front of a crowd. If you don’t feel comfortable disposing of your flag on your own, there are other methods you can try as an alternative.


Americans have the ability to contact other people to handle these flag-burning ceremonies if they desire. Try getting in touch with The American Legion, a nonprofit organization of war veterans made up of all the departments associated with the United States. The Girl and Boy Scouts also offer flag disposal services. 


This organization has posts throughout the country, and have flag disposable ceremonies that normally occur on Flag Day annually. If you have issues contacting the American Legion, scout troops can be another honorable option if you choose.

 

How To Take Proper Care of Your American Flag

There are specific guidelines Americans should take to dispose of their flags if they reach the end of their respective lifetimes, but there are also ways to avoid this happening quicker than usual. 


By simply keeping your flag in tip-top condition as best you can, you will get more use out of the Stars and Stripes. Follow these steps below to ensure that your American flag lasts longer than normal.

 

Washing Your American Flag

Before they reach their wit’s end, there are certain steps you can take as a flag owner to ensure that yours does not deteriorate for a long time. According to the same United States Flag Code that requires tattered flags beyond repair to be disposed of, this same rulebook also notes that American flags are allowed to be cleaned and fixed as well.


By simply washing your American flag over the course of time, you can add years to its life. Flags can be hand washed with mild laundry detergent, however, if you’re uncertain about doing this on your own simply reach out to your local laundromat. 


Most of these establishments offer flag cleaning services that you can utilize as well. As tattered American flags are seen as disrespectful, when the Stars and Stripes touch the paved ground it is also seen as something very ugly. 


Despite the need to dispose of tattered flags, ones that touch the ground don’t need to be thrown out. Instead, just clean the flag for presentation and try to make sure the same mistake doesn’t occur again.

 

Repairing Your American Flag

According to the American Flag code, you do not always need to automatically dispose of your Stars and Stripes barring a few circumstances. If your flag is deemed serviceable, meaning it can still be properly fixed and cared for, then you should, by all means, do what you can to hoist it again. 


In more distinct terms, this means that the repair job should not be noticeable in any way after the fact. Your flag must always appear in pristine condition, but there are some helpful ways to prolong its life if you do run into a situation where it becomes minorly damaged in some way.


If you notice that your flag is beginning to fray, it’s important that you take it down immediately and begin working on fixing it. The frayed end of your flag needs to be trimmed off, followed by one of these two frequently-used methods:


  1. Sew a new hem that matches the old hem that has frayed away with a heavy-duty thread.
  2. Use a strong, clear thread or “invisible thread” that will blend in with the flag colors behind it and won’t be outstandingly noticeable when you hoist your flag.

Flags that are initially fixed are known to last for longer periods of time than those that are neglected. On top of washing your American flag every so often, it’s very important to take down your Stars and Stripes during inclement weather, as this increases the chances of potential damage occurring. 


Most Americans who like to fly their Stars and Stripes as much as possible typically own three different flags. In this case, if one of them needs to be repaired, they have a backup flag that can take its place. The third American flag is only to be used on special occasions, as this flag should be the most presentable by nature due to how much less it’s in use.

 

How To Store an American Flag

When you’re not flying your American flag, it’s important to follow the Flag Code to make sure you properly stow it away in hopes of preserving its lifetime in the process. If you plan on frequently raising your American flag, it is advised to be folded in a particular way whenever you decide to store the Stars and Stripes. 


Begin by holding the flag horizontally or “hot-dog style” while bringing the lower half of the stripes over the top of the canton and upper half of stripes on the flag. Next, fold it the same way but this time, the stars should be visible on the left-hand side as it comes over the top to overlap with the stripes. 


After these first two steps are completed, bring the folded edge of the right-handed side of the flag to touch the open side in a triangular fashion. When you first make this fold, you should notice the folded area at the right end of your flag to be showing vertical stripes perpendicular to the remaining horizontal stripes that haven’t been folded yet. 


Bring the outer point of the triangle to fold directly over the stripes further inward towards the left portion of your flag. You will now continue to fold the flag triangularly until there is only a blue field of stars visible in the shape of one triangle. 


If you only raise your flag at infrequent time periods, folding the flag will show creases across the design that can become permanent. If this case pertains to you, make sure to always lay your flag flat, but never on the ground. It is vital that the American flag never touches the ground whatsoever. 


If laying it flat on a surface isn’t the best method for you, there is an alternative method of rolling the flag for storage with a tube made from acid-free materials. Try to avoid putting your folded Stars in Stripes in garages, attics, or basements, as these areas tend to increase the chances of damages occurring to your fabrics. Avoid pesticides and/or mothballs in the storage area as well. These substances/chemicals can also cause a negative effect on the fabrics in a negative way. 

 

Fly Your Flag With Pride

It’s important to remember the cardinal rule: tattered American flags should not be flown under any circumstances. It is disrespectful to the country, but in particular, the United States military. 


When you notice your flag beginning to wear and tear, take it down immediately to make the proper repairs. If your flag is fixable, you are able to raise it once it’s presentable; however, make sure to properly dispose of your unserviceable Stars and Stripes before they’re noticeably displayed in frail states. 


All in all, just remember that the flag represents the unity this country was founded on, so it’s important that its symbol remains a strong one whenever displayed for the public eye.


For quality American flags that were made in America, look no further than Allegiance Flag Supply. To fly a flag with quality and patriotism that endures, whether on your boat or at your home, Allegiance Flag Supply has everything you need to support your country. 



Sources: 

 

Tattered U.S. flags disrespect country, veterans | Sun Sentinel

The Proper Rules and Etiquette for Flying the American Flag | Good Housekeeping

Guidelines for Display of the Flag | U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs

Correct Method of Folding the United States Flag | U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs