Correct Method of Folding the United States Flag

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Correct Method of Folding the United States Flag

Many Americans know how important their national flag is. But far too few people know how to properly care for the United States flag, whether it’s folding the flag, cleaning the flag, or burning the flag when it becomes too tattered or dirty to continue flying respectfully.

To that end, we decided to put together a basic guide that can show you the correct method for folding the United States flag. Using this guide, you’ll be able to store any American flag in your home without disrespecting the nation it represents.

Why Is It Important to Fold the American Flag Correctly? 

The American flag is more than just a piece of cloth that we fly on our ships and in front of all government buildings. It’s a symbol that’s known throughout the world as an icon for justice, peace, and freedom above all else. In fact, it’s no stretch to say that the American flag is the most famous and well known throughout the world, even in countries aside from our own.

Therefore, it’s important that we show the American flag proper respect. When you disrespect the American flag, you effectively disrespect America as an idea and a country.

However, flag handling is a necessary part of flag ownership and maintenance. People have to take flags down to repair them, burn them correctly, and even fold them for transportation, so they aren’t damaged.

But the US has long maintained proper flag codes. These are rules you can turn to when you don’t know how to properly handle the American flag or treat it with respect when you have to take it from place to place.

It’s important to fold the American flag correctly for two reasons:

  • It shows proper respect for the flag.
  • It prevents you from getting into trouble with certain organizations if you are active military.

In fact, if you are active military, you probably already know how to fold the American flag properly. But in case you’ve never served, you can check out the proper flag folding procedure down below.

How to Fold an American Flag

Although the proper flag folding procedure is important, it’s not particularly complex. Anyone can learn how to fold an American flag correctly by following the below steps.

  • To start, straighten out your flag to its full length. While you need an appropriate space to do this, never place an American flag on the ground. This can be misconstrued as a sign of disrespect and may cause the flag to be stepped on.

  • An ideal surface is a table, like the one in your dining room or kitchen. Be sure to pull the flag straight and remove any wrinkles or creases that you see.

  • Now it’s time to start folding. To do this, fold your American flag lengthwise once. Its total height should be about half at this point.

  • Next, you need to fold it lengthwise a second time, so it meets the open edge. The stars set against the blue field should remain outward and in view. In other words, the stars should be visible when you carry the folded flag, so make sure they are not folded on the inside.

  • Then you’ll need to make a triangular fold. You can do this by gripping the striped corner of the folded edge and bringing it to the open edge. This will reveal part of the flag’s interior for a brief moment.

  • Now take the outer point and turn it inward. Make sure that it is parallel with the open edge. If done correctly, this will form a second triangle on top of the primary folded triangle.

  • The rest of the flag-folding procedure is easy! Just continue the triangular folding process all the way until you reach the stars set against the blue field. The red and white stripes should be folded in this triangular fashion the entire way.

Not sure if you have folded your flag correctly? You’ll know you’ve done things right when all you have left is a so-called cocked or three-corner hat shape with only the blue stars visible on the top. In fact, it should resemble the tricorn hats used by sailors back during the American Revolutionary era.

This basic flag folding procedure should remain the same no matter what size or type of American flag you have. However, you may need to change this process if you have a half-size American flag or a smaller handheld flag for whatever reason.

Bottom line: make sure you fold the flag properly and carefully to show it the proper respect.

The Meaning of Flag Folding Procedures

Flag folding is about more than just storing a piece of cloth. It’s about adhering to a longtime tradition and showing America the respect that it’s due.

But the flag folding procedure described above has its own inner meaning. In fact, the reason we showcase the blue stars on any folded flag, as opposed to the red and white stripes, is because the stars represent the states that our veterans have served over the years. It's an honorable gesture that emphasizes the role the military has played in our nation's history.

When to Fold a Flag

You may need to fold a flag at times throughout your life, even if you aren’t in the military.

  • For example, you may need to fold a flag to bring it down for maintenance. When it’s not being cleaned or waiting for its turn to be cleaned, the flag should be folded, so it is stored properly instead of being draped over furniture or otherwise disrespected

  • Furthermore, you can fold a flag when transporting it from your home to another person’s house, such as when you are gifting an American flag to someone in your family

  • American flags are typically folded and presented in their folded configurations to widows of armed forces personnel

What About Flags on Shirts or Other Surfaces?

Thankfully, the above procedures really only count when you perform them with actual American flags. For example, if you have a T-shirt with an American flag on it, you don’t have to fold the T-shirt in some complex way to show respect. The flag there is a representation of the actual thing. It is not a flag in and of itself.

However, if you have certain “novelty” flags, like a Gadsden Flag or a 2nd Amendment Flag, you should also fold these properly.

How to Wash and Burn American Flags

While respect is important, the Armed Forces know that there are only so many ways to wash an American flag properly. Your best bet is to wash your flag in a regular machine on a delicate cycle using a mild detergent and cold water. These settings will prevent the colors of the flag from fading over time.

But if you are still worried about the colors bleeding in some way, you can hand wash the flag instead and hang it from a clothesline in the old-fashioned way. Then use a cool iron to remove any wrinkles.

Burning the American flag is a little trickier, especially since many states have certain flag codes that can impose penalties if you burn a flag incorrectly.

To burn an American flag respectfully:

  • Start by following the folding process described above. Only after folding the flag into its triangular shape can you continue.

  • Then prepare a fire that is large enough to burn the flag completely. It can be misconstrued as disrespectful if you don’t totally burn the flag.

  • Once your fire is hot enough and large enough, place your flag in the fire and allow it to burn.

  • If you want to be extra respectful, you can salute (if you have ever served in the military. Otherwise, don’t do this) or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • The flag should be burnt to ashes completely before putting the fire out.

Once the flag is burnt and the fire has been taken care of, bury the ashes in a respectful location, such as somewhere on your property where they can’t be easily disturbed by wildlife or regular activity.

If you don’t want to go through this process, you can always fold the flag and bring it to a Veterans’ Association center or recruitment office. The professionals there can burn the flag for you in the proper manner. 

Summary

Ultimately, folding the American flag well does a lot to show what kind of person you are and can help impress the importance of the symbol on your children or anyone who watches. You don’t have to be a member of the armed forces to show the American flag the respect it deserves.

Remember to keep this guide in mind if you purchase a new American flag and want to store it before placing it on a flagpole. Check out Printed Kicks’ American flag choices for some examples.

 

Sources

American Flag Etiquette | VFW

Correct Method of Folding the United States Flag | vs.gov

How to Properly Dispose of Worn-Out U.S. Flags | defense.gov 


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