Flags — How to take care of your flags so they last

Do you fly a flag at your house? Maybe a Pride flag in support of the LGBTQ+ community or a Black Lives Matter flag in support of people of color? Maybe you fly an American flag daily — or on flag-fly days such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. 

Here are some tips for taking care of whatever kind of flag you fly — even that purely decorative garden flag!

Some tips to keep your flag flying strong:

a Black Lives Matter flag hangs from a column in front of trees
  • Take your flag down if the weather is going to be very wet or very windy. A flag flapping in the breeze is a nice sight. But one being whipped by 30 mph winds is destined for wear and tear.
  • If your flag gets very wet, take it down to dry. Flying it wet will quickly deteriorate the stitching and the fabric.
  • Never fold or roll a flag that’s wet or even damp. Make sure it’s completely dry before storing it.
  • Hang your flag where it won’t be flung against tree branches, bushes, wires, or a rough house surface (like rough brick or masonry, for example).
  • Wipe the flagpole clean every now and then to remove dirt, rust, and corrosion, which can dirty or damage your flag.
  • Repair tears and broken seams as soon as they occur (otherwise, they’ll quickly get bigger!). Trim loose strings and mend any other tears by hand or with your sewing machine (or with the help of a seamstress!). The “fly end” of the flag — the one farthest from the pole — is most likely to show wear first. Simply cut and re-hem the frayed edge.
  • Clean your flag to keep the colors bright and the fabric fresh. (Dirt, smoke, and other pollutants can set in the fabric and age it.) Always follow the manufacturer’s directions. You can hand-wash many flags, but make sure you check the label. Some (like those with fringe) need to be dry cleaned. (Some cleaners will clean an American flag for free, BTW.) You can also wash some flags on the delicate setting of your washing machine. Use cool water and rinse well. 
  • Don’t soak a flag in water or let it sit in the washing machine after the cycle is completed. The colors could bleed together. 
  • Don’t put your flag in the dryer. Lay it flat to dry, or hang it on a drying rack. 
  • To store your flag long term, fold it with acid-free tissue paper, or roll it on a long cardboard tube. In fact, rolling is a good idea for vintage flags or flags you don’t use often, because they won’t become permanently creased when rolled. Simply cover the tube with acid-free tissue paper, roll the flag onto the tube, then cover with a clean white sheet or muslin fabric. Tie in several places around the tube, and store in a dry place. 
a rainbow pride flag hanging outside of buildings

LGBTQ+ flags

Did you know that there dozens of LGBTQ+ flags beyond the traditional rainbow pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker in 1977? While the rainbow pride flag is meant to represent all LGBTQ+ people, there are other flags that represent specific parts of the queer community. For example, the transgender flag that was created by Monica Helms in 1999 has light blue stripes, pink stripes, and a white stripe down the middle, while the Genderqueer flag, created by Marilyn Roxie in 2011, is a combination of lavender, white, and green stripes. There are even different versions of the original rainbow flag to emphasize the inclusion of queer people of color. Read about some of the different pride flags and what each represents. 

American Flag Protocol

There’s a U.S. Flag Code (not a law, but guidelines), passed in 1942, that outlines the proper way to fly and care for an American flag. Some tips:

a tall brick house with white windows, flower-filled window boxes, and a large American flag on the front of the house.
  • If you hang your American flag vertically (against the house, for example), the stars should be on your left as you’re looking at it.
  • Take precautions to prevent the flag from touching the floor, ground, or water.
  • Fly the flag at half-staff (one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the flagpole) when the nation is in mourning and on Memorial Day (from sunrise to noon). BTW, the term “half-mast” relates to flags flown on a ship, not on land.
  • Don’t fly an American flag at night unless it’s illuminated. Take it down at sunset.
  • Don’t fly American flags that are torn or tattered. 

It’s not required that you fold an American flag using the military fold, but it is considered a sign of respect. Did you know the 13 folds have symbolic meaning? Learn about the meanings — and how to fold the flag traditionally — on the American Legion website

Do you fly a flag every day? Do you do anything special to take care of it? 

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