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American Flag Etiquette

How to Display and Care for the U.S. Flag


What's the correct way to display or hang the American flag at your home? Before the first Flag Day, on June 14, 1923, the United States federal government had no official guidelines dictating the display of the flag. The U.S. Flag Code is the guide for all handling and display of the Stars and Stripes. It does not impose penalties for misuse of the United States Flag. That is left to the states and to the federal government for the District of Columbia. Each state has its own flag law.

Follow these basic rules of American flag etiquette and learn the do's and don'ts of flying the flag at your house.

Why is the Flag Red, White and Blue?

flagpole holder
Photo courtesy of PriceGrabber
Many homeowners and dwellers want to know the right or proper way to display and care for the American flag. But first, let's look at what those three colors -- red, white and blue -- stand for. It wasn't simply a case of George Washington and the Flag Committee conferring with Betsy Ross* (perhaps the Martha Stewart of her era) over color schemes, with red, white and blue winning out over, say, tangerine, charcoal and wasabi.
  • Red symbolizes hardiness, valor and blood shed for liberty
  • White symbolizes purity, innocence and equality
  • Blue represents vigilance, perseverance, justice and fraternity.

*Was the many-times-married Betsy Ross really the original designer and seamstress of the first United States flag?

Between Dawn and Dusk

Flags should be displayed only during daylight, between sunrise and sunset. The flag can be displayed 24 hours if it is illuminated. The American Legion interprets "proper illumination" as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable by the casual observer.


Consider the weather before flying your American flag. Do not display it during rain, snow, sleet, hail or high winds.

Display on the Right

The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag’s own right, and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.

And Center

The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.

How to Display the Flag

The American flag should be displayed vertically, whether indoors or outdoors, and suspended so that its folds fall free as though the flag were staffed. The stripes may be displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, and the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right (that is, to the observer's left).

When displayed in a window of a home or a place of business, the American flag should be displayed in the same way (that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street). Got it?

Hanging From Window Sill, Balcony or Over a Sidewalk

When the American flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from a window sill, balcony or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.

Flying the Flag at Half-Staff

The term “half-staff” means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.

Don't Let It Touch

The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or other objects. Also, do not place the flag where the wind will whip it against rough surfaces, tree branches, wires or cables, etc. Even the smallest tear can trigger the flag to become tattered if whipped around in the wind.

What Size Flag?

According to the American Legion, the length of the flag should be approximately 1/4 to 1/3 the height of the pole.
  • 16-foot pole: 3-foot x 5-foot flag
  • 20-foot pole: 3-foot x 5-foot or 4-foot x 6-foot flag
  • 25-foot pole: 4-foot x 6-foot or 5-foot x 8-foot flag
  • 30-foot pole: 5-foot x 8-foot or 6-foot x 10-foot flag
  • 35-foot pole: 6-foot x 10-foot or 8-foot x 12-foot flag
  • 40-foot pole: 6-foot x 10-foot or 8-foot x 12-foot flag

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