How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag

Your flag of the United States proudly waves to celebrate holidays, such as Independence Day, and it may mark somber occasions by flying half-staff. Over the years, wind and weather will fade, weaken, and even tear a flag. Therefore, when a flag can't be repaired or looks worn, it should be respectfully retired.

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. (Disposal of Unserviceable Flags Ceremony) — United States Flag Code Section 8(k)

American Flag.
credit: flySnow/iStock/GettyImages
The United States Flag Code instructs how to display and show respect for the flag.

You can either respectfully retire a flag yourself or give it to one of three organizations who conduct a ceremony for disposal of unserviceable flags: The American Legion, Boy Scouts of America, or Girl Scouts of the United States of America. If you choose to retire a flag yourself, the following procedure shows proper respect.

  1. Cut the flag into four quadrants without cutting the blue star field (because it symbolizes the unbroken union of the states). Once a flag is cut into pieces, it ceases to be a flag.
  2. Place the pieces of a flag into a fire that is burning hot enough to incinerate the pieces quickly and completely.
  3. When the fire is extinguished, it's appropriate to bury the ashes.

Some flags are made of synthetic fibers that melt rather than burn. In such cases, instead of burning the pieces of the flag, place them in a plastic bag, seal it, and bury the bag.


Tracie Henkel

Tracie Henkel

Tracie is a technical writer who earned her home and garden expertise while extensively remodeling two homes, custom-building a new home, and designing and building a cabin. Additionally, she and her husband, a former landscape professional, have created gardens that feature native plants and locally-sourced limestone. Tracie loves a cozy minimalist home and sews her own pillow covers, quilts, and curtains. Learn more at RicefordStreams.com.