How to Fold an American Flag

December 14, 2022

Folding the American flag into a triangle is a unique part of many official ceremonies, such as a veteran’s funeral, or during patriotic national holidays, like Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or July 4th.

The folding process must be conducted carefully and meticulously in accordance with tradition and the requirements of the United States Flag Code. Learn why folding the flag is crucial and the steps required to fold yours properly.

Why Flag Folding is Necessary

According to the United States Flag Code, the American flag must be shown and handled respectfully. 4 U.S. Code 8 outlines recommendations to avoid disrespecting the flag: it should never touch anything beneath it, nor should it be carried flat or in a horizontal position.

The U.S. Flag Code does not require any specific flag-folding method. However, a patriotic tradition of folding the flag into a triangle was developed to transport and respectfully display the flag when not mounted on a flagpole.

The triangle shape is intended to evoke the tricorn hats (also called cocked or tri-cornered hats). These hats were worn by soldiers who served under Gen. George Washington, sailors and Marines under John Paul Jones, and other prominent figures in early American history.

Flag Folding in the U.S. Armed Forces

At the end of a duty day, the U.S. Armed Forces conduct the ceremony of retreat at military installations. Base personnel lower the flag from its pole, fold it according to the traditional method, then keep it under watch throughout the night.

Flag-watching at night is a tribute to the honored dead. After the night has passed, the flag is unfolded, returned to its flagpole, and raised again during the reveille ceremony.

Hands Holding Folded American

Flag Folding for Fallen Veterans

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), family members of an eligible fallen veteran may request a military funeral honors ceremony. The ceremony comprises two elements: a flag-folding part and a flag presentation protocol.

During the flag-folding part of the ceremony, two or more uniformed military personnel will lay the flag on the deceased veteran’s casket, then play Taps, the lights-out military bugle call. Afterward, the flag is folded according to the traditional method and meaningfully presented to a designated recipient with a solemn statement.

Why 13 Folds?

Although there is no single official flag-folding ceremony, most flag-folding traditions dictate that the American flag should be folded 13 times.

Many organizations, including each branch of the Armed Forces, the Boy Scouts, or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), associate each triangular fold with a particular recitation or a symbol.

The Traditional Flag Folding Method, Step-by-Step

If you want to learn how to fold the American flag according to the traditional method, follow these simple steps. Depending on the flag’s dimensions, you may need the help of another person.

Step 1: Lower the Flag and Lay it Flat

First, bring the flag down from its mast or mount, ensuring no part of it touches the ground at any point; as per the Flag Code, carefully hold the flag parallel to the ground, then carry it over to a table or a flat surface free of obstructions.

Step 2: Fold the Lower Section

Straighten out the flag, then fold it lengthwise by bringing the lower (stripes) half over the upper (field of stars) half.

Step 3: Fold it Lengthwise

Fold the flag lengthwise once more to meet the open edge, ensuring you bring the field of stars into full view. Note that large flags may require a third lengthwise fold.

Step 4: Make the First Triangular Fold

With the field of stars to your left and the stripes to your right, pinch the folded edge on the striped corner of the folded flag and bring it to the open edge, forming a triangle. The stripes on the triangular fold should appear vertical.

Step 5: Make The Second Triangular Fold

Pinch the triangle’s point and fold it inward, keeping it parallel with the open edge to form a second triangle, bringing the striped corner back into a horizontal orientation.

Step 6: Fold it into a Triangle

Repeat the folding processes in Steps 4 and 5 progressively until the flag is completely folded. If you’ve done it correctly, you should end with a triangular shape showing only the blue from the field of stars.

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