American Flag Etiquette, Rules, and Guidelines

How to Properly Display the American Flag

July 6, 2018
American Flag

Many of our readers ask about American flag etiquette and the U.S. Flag Code. Here is a list of rules and guidelines for displaying the American flag and treating it with proper respect.

On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution, later amended on December 22, 1942, that encompassed what has come to be known as the U.S. Flag Code. 

Perhaps the most important guideline involves how citizens should behave around the Stars and Stripes: The flag of the United States is the emblem of our identity as a sovereign nation, which the United States of America has been for more than 200 years. Therefore, members of the armed services and veterans are asked to stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered; civilians should place their right hand over their heart.

When to Display the American Flag

The flag is a symbol of respect, honor, and patriotism. It may be displayed on any day of the year according to the following guidelines:

  • The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement.

  • The custom is to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on flagstaffs in the open, but it may be displayed at night—if illuminated—to produce a patriotic effect.

  • The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on

        New Year’s Day, January 1
        Inauguration Day, January 20
        Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
        Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
        Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
        Easter Sunday (variable)
        Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
        Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
        Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
        Flag Day, June 14
        Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
        Independence Day, July 4
        Labor Day, first Monday in September
        Constitution Day, September 17
        Columbus Day, second Monday in October
        Navy Day, October 27
        Veterans Day, November 11
        Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
        Christmas Day, December 25
        and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
        the birthdays of States (date of admission)
        and on State holidays.

  • The flag should be displayed at every public institution and in or near every polling place on election days, and at schoolhouses during school days.

How to Properly Display the American Flag

As a symbol of the country and its people, the flag should be treated with respect and be honored when on display. In order to treat the flag with the dignity it deserves, the following display guidelines are recommended.

General Guidelines for Displaying the Flag:

  • When the flag is hung vertically on a wall, window, or door, the Union (blue section) should be to the observer’s left. When the flag is hung either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the Union should be to the observer’s left.

  • In a procession, the American flag should be to the right of any other flag or, if in a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.

  • When displayed from a staff projecting from a building, the union should be at the peak of the staff.

  • When the flag is displayed otherwise than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out; or so suspended that its folds fall as freely as though the flag were staffed.

  • When displayed over a street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.

  • On a platform, the flag should be above and behind the speaker, with the union uppermost and to the observer’s left.

  • When displayed from a staff in a church or auditorium, the flag should occupy the position of honor and be placed at the speaker’s right as he faces the audience.

  • When the flag is used to cover a casket, the union should be at the head and over the left shoulder.

Hoisting and Lowering the Flag:

  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

  • When flown at half-staff, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to half-staff position. It should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. Half-staff is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. The flag must be flown at half-staff on all buildings on the death of any officer listed below, for the period indicated:

    • For the President or a former President: 30 days from the date of death.
    • For the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives: 10 days from the day of death.
    • For an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a member of the Cabinet, a former Vice President, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives: From the day of death until interment.
    • For a United States Senator, Representative, Delegate, or the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: the flag should be flown in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia, on the day of death and on the following day; in the state, congressional district, territory, or commonwealth of such Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Commissioner, from the day of death until interment.
    • For a Governor: Within the state, territory, or possession, from the day of death until interment.

Displaying the American Flag on a Vehicle:

  • The flag should not be displayed on a float except from a staff, nor draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle.

  • When the flag is displayed on a vehicle, the staff should be fixed firmly to the chassis.

Displaying the American Flag Alongside Other Flags:

  • In the United States, no other flag should be placed above the American flag or, if they are to be placed on the same level, to the right of the American flag.

  • The United Nations flag may not be displayed above or in a position of superior prominence to the United States flag except at United Nations Headquarters.

  • The flag, when displayed with another against a wall—both from crossed staffs—should be on the right (the flag’s own right), and its staff should be in front of the other staff.

  • The American flag should be at the center and the highest point when displayed with a group of state flags.

  • When flags of states, cities, etc., are flown on the same halyard, the American flag should be at the peak.

  • When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height, and the American flag should be hoisted first and lowered last.

American Flags

How Not to Display the American Flag

The flag and its likeness should be treated with respect. Its image should not be cheapened or tarnished by improper use.

  • The flag should not be dipped to any person or thing, including government officials—even the President.

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union (stars) down, unless as a signal of dire distress.

  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored so that it might be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

  • The flag should never be used as covering for a ceiling.

  • The flag should never have anything placed on it.

  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose, nor embroidered on cushions or handkerchiefs, printed on paper napkins or boxes, nor used as any portion of a costume.

How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag

  • When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem, it should be destroyed in a dignified and ceremonious fashion, preferably by burning. The American Legion holds an annual ceremony to retire old or worn flags; contact your local chapter if you are not able to dispose of the flag yourself.

Do you have a question regarding displaying or respecting the American flag? Ask us in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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Another thing you may want to look into is your local schools ROTC or JROTC groups. Most will take ruined flags during the year and will hold a proper decommissioning ceremony right around memorial day. The good thing about this is it teaches young kids how to respect the flag, properly burn it, and the reasons why we spread the ashes on the graves of the fallen.

You can burn it yourself IF you follow the proper etiquette. The following are the steps of one of the most common ways to properly dispose of the flag. The VFW and American Legion have other ways of doing so, this is the way I learned how to do so in the Army.

1.) Use sharp scissors to slowly and accurately separate the thirteen stripes, leaving the blue star-spangled field intact.

2.) After the flag is cut into pieces, place it in a respectful receptacle and ceremoniously burn the pieces one by one, starting with the stripes and ending with the blue field. All of this MUST be done while it is being saluted, or by having someone at the burning ceremony recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem.

3.) You can do this on a BBQ grill (make sure it is thoroughly cleaned beforehand, and no accelerant such as charcoal fluid if you can help it), though I would recommend building a small pyre using wood, as this is cleaner for the final step and is more respectful.

4.) After the flag has been thoroughly burned, and the fire has died out. Collect as much of the ashes as you can, without taking any foreign particles like dirt, and take them to your local veterans cemetery. Spread a small amount of the ashes on each of the graves of the fallen. This is normally done on Memorial day, as THAT is the day for the fallen.

Good luck, and thank you for respecting the flag enough to have them properly taken care of.


References: 4 years HS Navy ROTC, 2 years College Army ROTC/Military Science Degree, 11 years Army/Navy service.

American Flag Decal

I drive an old Jeep CJ5 that I just restored.
I’d like to add 3” x 5” American flag stickers to both front and back.
The only reasonable place to mount them is on both front & rear bumpers. Are there any guidelines as to position such as right / left? I am aware that in the horizontal position the union should be to the viewer’s left (flag’s right) but that is all I can remember.
These are made from extremely tough vinyl that is weather and UV resistant. It is highly unlikely they will be soiled or damaged.

Bumper Crop

Hi, Jeff: Thanks for caring so much to ask this question. It would be preferable to mount them each in the center of their bumper. If that is not possible, then on the left side as you face each bumper, with the blue field (obviously) at the left. Thanks again!

Display of Flag

Is it ok to Display the Flag at a Football Game, in the Center of the Field, being held by people Horizontal while the Star Spangled Banner is being played?

The Short Answer Is ...

Hi, Rita: No. Thanks for asking!

Flag etiquette

Under rules and traditions, wearing the flag as part of a "costume" is prohibited. Does this cover clothing in general? Should the flag be incorporated into one's wardrobe?

Non-Caped Crusaders

Hi, Daniel: The depiction of Old Glory is allowed, but not an actual flag or flaglike piece of fabric (such as a cape, for example). Thanks for asking!

Display of the flag

As I enter our municipal building, the Flag is displayed to my right and the city flag to the right. Shouldn't the Flag be to my left?

Flag Rights

Hi, Greg: We think that maybe you have too many “rights” in your question, but we also think that you are right: Old Glory should be on your left. Thanks for asking!

Paper products

Is it ok to have flags on our paper plates, cups and napkins, which people use and throw away?

An Artful Reply

Hi, Carrie: Unfortunately, this all falls under the category of flag art, which is protected by freedom of speech. Thanks for caring so much to ask!

Flag etiquette

People are constantly flying flags in bad weather----what to do about their ignorance?

A house in this area flew the flag at half-staff for 4 years (and possibly 8) during Obama's administration. When I saw the occupant and told her it was not proper, I was told that it was done because people were dying and the American Legion told her she could. A lame excuse for dishonoring the President.

Dishonoring the President

Disrespecting our flag because we disrepect Mr. Obama is wrong! Considering the damage he has done to our country, it should have been flown upside down while he was in office!

Hi, I am wanting to hang the

Hi, I am wanting to hang the flag in our home gym on the wall. Can I nail it to the wall? Or is there a better (or more correct) way of fastening it? Thanks!

Nailed the Answer

Hi, Lyn: Yes, technically, you could nail or tack it in some way, but usually the best method is to clip hangers of some sort onto the flag and then hang them on nails (or some such). For example, people have used little binder clips (those springy black things with the two wire bails), shower curtain hooks, or curtain hooks in some way. Usually the long edge of Old Glory has a hem, too, so you could make a few tiny holes in the hem and slide in hooks or pieces of wire from which to hang it. Thanks for asking!

Requirements for hanging a flag

Is there a requirement as to the pole size for a certain size flag. Also I hung my 3x5 on the house facia board but my new flag is a 4x6 which is much larger. Do I need a longer pole or an in ground pole now.

Fascia-ing the Facts

Hi, Joselius: It’s a little hard for us to picture what the problem is, but thank you for having such caring instincts (not to mention a larger flag!). If you feel that your new flag in your old placement would put it too close to the ground or another part of your house or pose a risk of it getting dirty or damaged, then yes, it’s time to investigate a different pole setup. Thanks for asking!

Wearing of the American Flag

Can the American Flag be worn as clothing or personal attire?

Wearing U.S. flag as clothing or personal attire?

No. Includes handkerchiefs, doorags, watch bands, shoes etc. A thorough reference can be found on the Internet under the general heading guidelines for display of the American flag. Details include how to hang the flag inside and out; even above streets depending on north/south, east/west. The most common mistakes I see are not having the flag displayed to the right side of a speaker, and while facing a flag hanging vertically not showing the stars on the upper left. I hope this was helpful to you.

Flag code states the FLAG is

Flag code states the FLAG is not to be worn as clothing, it says nothing about wearing clothing with the flag PRINTED on it.

The Short Answer Is ...

Hi, Hugh: No (and thanks to Greg and Will above for their additional input). Thanks for asking!

Flag Clothing

Depending on how it is worn... If someone is using the flag as a cape, no; if they are wearing a shirt or bikini that is flag printed, yes. If they are using the flag to wrap a baby, no; seeing the differences here? One is using the flag, the other is Flag printing which is covered under what is called Flag Art, which is also covered under the freedom of speech.

Alot of people will quote 4th US Code, section 8 for this being illegal. Thing is US Code isn't 100% legal code.

Attaching a flag staff from a tree

Is it acceptable to attach the flag staff to a tree?

Up a Tree

Hi, Gary: Absolutely! Thanks for asking!

Actually, you are about as

Actually, you are about as wrong as you can get. Drilling a hole into a tree, inserting nails, or otherwise causing a wound to a tree JUST to hang a flag from it not only causes an injury to the tree, but significantly increases the risk to the tree of damage or death from disease. If a person is willing to disrespect a tree just to hang a flag, I wonder how much they ACTUALLY respect the flag!

Finding a flag left crumpled on the ground

I thought that if a flag was found on the ground, the flag was supposed to be cerimoniously destroyed and a new flag flown. Is that incorrect?


Hi, Teri: It’s perfectly OK to pick up a flag and keep using it, hopefully after cleaning if necessary. Think of all the flags that have touched the ground in battle and then been carried forward. Thanks for asking!

Flag that was given to me upon my fathers death

My grandma kept the flag for me as I was young and moving around a lot , when I received the flag back it appears to me that it might have come loose from the proper folding now I’m not sure but is there a way to tell when your looking at it in a shadow box how it should look? And if it has been improperly folded or come loose is there a way to give it the proper folding with all the respect that it should have ? Like from the American Legion???? Thank you!

Shadowy Question

Hi, Kali: This is a great question that seldom comes up. Search online for how to fold the U.S. flag. Generally speaking, the final result should show four stars, and this is what you should shoot for. If the flag is of the proper proportions, this is what you get. But sometimes it’s off slightly, so you get a different star configuration. In any event, if you hold the flag taut and fold tightly, you hopefully will end up with it in the form of an isosceles triangle (right angle, two equal sides). Then just put this into the box. Doing this for a large flag such as goes on a casket (often 5’ x 9’) can be more challenging than it sounds. The most important thing is to try to get your bottom row of stars straight across the folded flag, so that they are straight and parallel with the bottom edge of the box, which is what looks best. But just do the best you can to fold it tightly, and all will be well. Thanks for asking!

Flag on Apartment Door in Portland OR

I have had the American Flag on my apartment's front door for almost 5 years. All of a sudden I am being threatened with eviction if I don't remove this. Can they evict me if they have not had a problem with it before this?