How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag

Handling & Care

When to Dispose of an American Flag

The U.S. Flag Code says, “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.” When an American flag is worn beyond repair, it should be retired in a respectful manner.

How to Dispose of a Flag

Burning a Flag

The first way to dispose of an American flag is to hold a flag burning ceremony at your home or other private location. Before conducting a flag burning ceremony, note the material of your flag and the local fire ordinances. Some materials may emit toxins if openly burned.

Begin a flag burning ceremony by folding the whole flag in its customary manner. Instructions for properly folding a flag can be found here. Next, start a fire large enough to completely burn the flag and respectfully place the flag into the fire. The flag should not touch the ground in the process.

As the flag begins to burn, salute the flag, say the Pledge of Allegiance and pause for a moment of silence. The flag should be thoroughly burned so that nothing besides ashes are left. Finally, bury the ashes.

Community Disposal Box

A second way to dispose of an American flag is to drop it off in a flag disposal box. In many communities, local government offices and police stations have flag disposal boxes. Throughout the year, organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts collect the disposed flags and hold ceremonies to retire them. Flag Day (June 14) is one of the most common days to hold flag disposal ceremonies.

The Stars for our Troops program also accepts worn-out American flags. A volunteer for the program will cut out and send the flag’s embroidered stars to an American soldier.

Burying a Flag

Although the U.S. Code says that burning is the preferred method to dispose of a flag, people also do so flag via burial. If you choose this method, place a folded flag in a dignified wooden box. Pause for a moment of silence after burying the flag box in the ground.

Recycling a Flag

A final option for disposing of a flag is to recycle it. Some flag companies will accept old flags and use the material to make new ones.

Who Can Dispose of a Flag?

Anyone can hold a flag disposal ceremony. Whoever chooses to retire a flag should only proceed in a way that is respectful and dignified.