Charlie's Corner

June 13, 2020

Can You Wash an American Flag?

Can You Wash an American Flag?

You might remember from elementary school that handling the U.S. flag demands a certain etiquette. First and foremost – the U.S. flag should never touch the ground. But what if the flag gets dirty by accidentally touching the ground or through normal wear and tear? Can you wash an American flag? 

U.S. Flag Basic Etiquette

The United States flag code is quite robust. Here, we will outline some of the most basic rules of etiquette. Some of the rules might surprise you! 

The flag should never touch the ground.

The ground does not just mean the earth. Flags should fly free, not touching the ground, the floor, or anything beneath it whatsoever.

The flag should be displayed upright.

The union stars on the left-hand side of the flag from the viewer’s point of view. Flags should be on display from sunrise to sunset, and never during inclement weather. There are a few exceptions to this rule. The flag can be displayed with the stars facing down in times of dire distress, and may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated. 

Flags should not be used for advertising purposes.

“Advertising” is a broad term in this sense. Technically speaking, American flag napkins are a breach of etiquette, as are tablecloths, paper plates, or paper cups. In fact, under U.S. flag code, clothes with the flag on it aren’t even permitted!  

How to Wash the American Flag 

The rules listed above are just a few of many rules of flag etiquette. So this begs the question, with so many regulations, can you wash an American flag without violating U.S. Flag Code? 

Flying a dirty flag is against U.S. Flag Code, so yes – cleaning the flag is not only possible, it’s recommended. First, you’ll need to determine the fabric of your flag.  

Cleaning a Synthetic Flag 

Nylon and polyester flags can be machine washed on the delicate cycle with an all-natural detergent, such as Charlie’s Soap. You may opt to hand wash new flags to prevent the colors from bleeding. Though the U.S. flag code does not permit the flag to touch the ground, you may lay the flag flat to dry in this case. If hang drying is an option, you may choose that as well. 

Cleaning a Flag Made with Natural Fibers 

Wool and cotton flags are more delicate than synthetic flags, so hand washing or dry cleaning is recommended. If you choose to hand wash, you’ll want to use lukewarm water and an oxygen-based product such as Charlie’s Soap Oxygen Bleach to prevent the colors from bleeding. Soak the flag in a large tub for at least 4 hours, rinse thoroughly and then hang, or lay flat to dry.

Ironing the U.S. Flag 

Ironing the flag is permitted, and even encouraged to allow for it to flow better. Iron synthetic fabrics on the coolest setting, and iron cotton flags with a hotter setting. A steamer is another effective way to remove wrinkles from flags. 

How to Properly Store a Flag 

After properly cleaning your flag, you’ll also want to store it properly until you display it next. When the flag is not on display, fold it using the triangle method. For long term storage, store the flag in a display case or a protective container that prevents moisture or light from damaging the flag.