Even if your American flag is mounted on a sturdy and secure pole, it will likely accumulate dirt over time. It may not happen overnight, but eventually you may notice patches of dirt and discoloration on your American flag. When this occurs, you might be wondering whether washing it is an acceptable practice to clean it.
When handling or displaying an American flag, you should follow the requirements set forth in the U.S. Flag Code. Originally created on June 14, 1923 by a consortium of over 60 organizations, including The American Legion, the U.S. Flag Code is a federal law governing the use of the American flag. While it’s technically not enforced — meaning you won’t get penalized for violating any of its requirements — it’s still proper etiquette to comply with the U.S. Flag Code.
Yes, You Can Wash an American Flag
The U.S. Flag Code doesn’t contain any provisions about washing the American flag. meaning you can safely wash your American flag without violating this federal law. With that said, the U.S. Flag Code may indirectly require flag owners to wash their American flag. It specifically states flag owners should use care not to allow their American flag to get damaged or soiled. And if an American flag is in a poor condition, it should be retired or destroyed in a dignified manner.
Washing Synthetic vs Organic American Flags
American flags are available in synthetic as well as organic materials. The most common organic material used to make American flags is cotton, whereas the most common synthetic material used to make American flags is polyester. Both materials have their own strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll generally find that cotton American flags are more delicate than their polyester counterpart.
If you own a cotton American flag, you should probably hand wash it rather than trying to clean it in the washing machine. If you own a polyester American flag — or an American flag made of a similar synthetic material — though, you should be able to clean it in the washing machine if it’s not physically torn or tattered.
When In Doubt, Have Your American Flag Dry Cleaned
If you’re worried that your washing your American flag will damage it, consider having it dry cleaned instead. On its website, The American Legion specifically says that flag owners can wash or dry clean their American flag, the latter of which is a gentler and less-invasive method to clean a dirty American flag.