Knowledge for the World

How to properly dispose of a worn or damaged American flag

Since our country was conceived, the U.S. Flag has been a symbol of our country's freedom. Our country's Flag Code provides specific guidelines for how to "retire" a damaged or worn-out American flag.

When should my American flag be retired?
The US Flag Code (4 USC Sec 8 Para (k) Amended 7 July 1976) dictates that a flag should be destroyed "when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display". This includes the flag becoming tattered or overly worn or sun-bleached.

How do I dispose of my American flag?
The same section of our Flag Code states that the flag "should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning". When I was first researching how to properly dispose of my U.S. flag, I was surprised to find that the proper method is to burn the flag. Burning the flag just seemed wrong -- but apparently this is how it is done. This short guide will show you how to perform a flag retirement ceremony properly.

What if I can't burn my American Flag?
Burning the flag is the only preferred method of flag disposal per the U.S. flag code. However, if you live in an area where you cannot perform the burning ceremony, there are still many other accepted options for respectfully retiring your flag:
- Contact your local VFW Post and they can perform the flag ceremony for you.
- Bury and/or shred the flag: use a pair of scissors to carefully and methodically separate the thirteen stripes and leave the blue star-spangled section intact. Then, place in a wooden box and bury the flag, giving it a short "funeral" ceremony (e.g. recite the Pledge of Allegiance or other respectful words).

1

Determine whether your American flag should be destroyed

My American flag had a hole in it (presumably from a falling branch) and appeared very worn. Nylon flags, when flown continuously outdoors, generally last less than a year. This is why most government buildings remove their flags at sundown and raise them at sunup.

2

Remove and fold your flag

Remove the flag from its flagpole and fold it into a triangle. Do not let the flag touch the ground.

3

Build a campfire in a safe area and wait for the coals to get hot (think "cooking" hot).

4

Carefully place and burn the flag

Carefully place the flag in the center of the fire. I say carefully because you want to be able to collect all of the flag ashes later. While the flag is burning, it is customary to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Wait until the flag material has been completely converted into ash. Then, you can either wait for the fire to go out on its own or use a fire extinguisher to put the fire out.

5

Bury the flag in an area where people won't often walk over it. It is also customary to leave a marker of some kind to mark its location.

6

Raise a new flag

And of course, after disposing of your old flag, be sure to replace it with a new one!