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How to Display and Care for the American Flag

Updated on April 13, 2015
The proper way to display the American flag will depend to some degree on the setting and the type of flag.
The proper way to display the American flag will depend to some degree on the setting and the type of flag. | Source

The American flag is a symbol of the United States that all citizens can rally around and take pride in, regardless of their differing opinions about politics and social issues. It has been in continuous use since June 14, 1777, although its form has been updated slightly as the number of states has grown. Many people enjoy displaying the flag in some form as a means of expressing their love of and appreciation for their country. Should you wish to do the same, keep these simple principles in mind to ensure your flag is displayed and cared for properly.

Location

The first principle to remember is that, if the American flag is displayed along with other flags, it should be place in the most prominent position among them. If the American flag is displayed among state flags or similar subordinate flags, it should be in the center and on the tallest flagpole. If other nations’ flags are displayed on nearby flagpoles, they may be displayed at the same level, but not higher or larger than the American flag. In addition, the American flag must be on the pole that is the farthest to the left from the viewers’ perspective. If other flags are on the same flagpole with the American flag, they may not be placed above it.

The American flag should generally receive the most prominent placement when displayed along with other flags.
The American flag should generally receive the most prominent placement when displayed along with other flags. | Source

Raising and Lowering

Unless you have permanent lighting installed to illuminate your flag overnight, you should take the American flag down at sunset, and raise it again at sunrise. If it is not an all-weather flag that is impervious to damage from the elements, you should also lower it in advance of bad weather. When you lower the flag, be careful not to let it get dirty or to touch the ground. Finally, be careful to always display the flag with the stars on a blue field facing up, if the flag is placed on a flagpole; or facing to the left, if the flag is hung vertically on a wall.

Placing the flag upside down is only done a distress signal. When the American flag is hung among other flags, it should be the first flag raised and the last flag lowered. In addition, when the flag is to be flown at half-mast or half-staff to mark a day of mourning (an action that can only be ordered by the president of the United States or a state governor), it should initially be raised to the top of the flagpole for a moment, then immediately lowered to half-mast.

AVTMBE002460 - Advantus All-Weather Outdoor U.S. Flag
AVTMBE002460 - Advantus All-Weather Outdoor U.S. Flag

All-weather flags like this one can be displayed regardless of weather conditions; ordinary flags should be lowered every time bad weather hits.

 

Proper Use

Many enjoy expressing their love of country by using patriotically themed household goods. The flag itself, however, should never be used casually or carelessly, should never be used to display an advertisement and should never be printed on anything disposable. In addition, only fire fighters or members of the police force or the military should include the flag on their uniforms. Certain flags, such as state flags, may be dipped as a sign of respect, but the American flag must never do so.

The blue field should be on the top left from the viewers' perspective when the American flag is displayed vertically.
The blue field should be on the top left from the viewers' perspective when the American flag is displayed vertically. | Source

Storage

The American flag should be folded with care and stored indoors somewhere dry and clean when it is not in use. When the flag wears out, it should not be carelessly thrown out, but rather burned privately with respect. Many American Legion posts offer assistance with properly disposing of unusable flags every Flag Day, June 14.

How to Fold an American Flag

Final Thoughts

Your flag can be made from a variety of different materials, such as nylon and polycotton, and can vary in size from a small indoor option only a few inches long to an eight foot or longer flag intended for a large flagpole. The sheer number and specificity of the rules governing the use of a flag may seem surprising, but it is not the flag itself that is really being respected; it is really the country that it symbolizes. No matter what flag you decide to display, remember what it symbolizes when you handle it, when you care for it and when you display it.

Where do you prefer to display an American flag?

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References

American Legion: “Flag Display FAQ”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac: “American Flag Guidelines”

National Flag Foundation: “Proper Flag Etiquette: Care and Respect”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “Guidelines for Display of the Flag”

UShistory.org: “Flag Rules and Regulations”

USflag.org: “Flag Etiquette: Standards of Respect”

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