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Yes, you can wash an American flag

If you want a clean flag for 4th of July or Memorial Day, rest assured the flag code does not prohibit people from washing or cleaning the American flag.
Credit: weyo - stock.adobe.com

Patriotic holidays and the American flag go hand-in-hand, as many people adorn the graves of fallen soldiers with the stars and stripes.

One VERIFY reader texted us a question about cleaning American flags, and “can you wash an American flag” is a popular Google search.


Can you wash an American flag?



This is true.

Yes, you can wash an American flag. Nothing in the flag code prohibits it, and there are ways to clean it without ruining it that differ depending on the flag’s material.

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The flag code, which establishes nonbinding guidelines for respectful handling of the American flag, does not prohibit washing or cleaning the American flag. Depending on the flag’s material, you may have to hand wash it, put it in the washing machine or take it to the dry cleaners.

While the U.S. flag code is non-binding and isn’t enforced, many people who wish to handle their American flag respectfully follow the code’s guidelines anyway. These guidelines don’t contain any rules directly pertaining to washing or cleaning an American flag, according to the American Legion, a veterans services organization first established by Congress. 

“With that said, the U.S. Flag Code may indirectly require flag owners to wash their American flag,” Star Spangled Flags, a flag retailer, says. “It specifically states flag owners should use care not to allow their American flag to get damaged or soiled.”

Cotton and wool flags are more delicate than synthetic flags, so you’ll have to handle them more delicately. One way to do this is to hand wash your flag, says Star Spangled Flags and Grand New Flag, another flag manufacturer and retailer. Charlie’s Soap says you’ll want to use lukewarm water and an oxygen-based cleaning product, such as oxygen bleach, to prevent the colors from bleeding.

Another cleaning option for cotton and wool flags is to get them dry-cleaned. While there’s no rule requiring it, Grand New Flag says a majority of dry-cleaners will do this for you free of charge. VERIFY found multiple dry-cleaners who advertise that they do free American flag dry-cleaning.

Flags made from synthetic materials, like polyester or nylon, can just be washed in your washing machine at home, Star Spangled Flag says. You should machine wash the flag with a mild detergent, Grand New Flag says. Clorox suggests setting the cycle to gentle.

You shouldn’t let the flag stand in the wash water for too long or else the red stripes might bleed into the white stripes, Grand New Flag says. That means using a shorter wash cycle and not letting it sit in the washing machine for very long after it finishes. Once done, you should lay your flag flat to air dry.

Dry-cleaning also works for synthetic flags.

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