A Travel Expert Explains the 5 Things to Know About TSA's Liquids Rule

Jessica Wright—TSA Liquids Rules


Packing a carry-on bag for a flight is a master class in minimalism. It's best that clothing is streamlined and expertly folded, shoes are versatile and contained, and accessories are sparse and tucked away. And that's just the first test. The second obstacle is how to pack cosmetics following the TSA's liquids rule.

"According to the TSA, a liquid can be a traditional item like water or soda and also any aerosols, gels, creams, and pastes," says Brendan Dorsey, associate editor at The Points Guy. "This includes items like toothpaste, gel deodorants, shampoos, lotions, and consumables like jam and peanut butter."

If you're not exactly a frequent flyer, then these guidelines may be foreign but not exactly unfamiliar—plenty of stores have travel-size cosmetics that comply with the TSA rules. But even if you do jet-set often, perhaps you're still not clear on what the TSA means when it says that all passengers must follow the "3-1-1 liquids rule" for items in their carry-on bags.

A passenger's liquids, gels, or aerosols must be in bottles that are 3.4 ounces or less.

Let Dorsey sum it up: "All bottles must fit in one quart-sized clear, plastic, and resealable bag, and each passenger is limited to one bag of liquids."

Following this requirement can be a challenge when your cosmetics tend to be bulkier than your clothing. But with a little finesse, and perhaps some tough-love editing, you can stick to a cosmetics packing routine that meets the TSA's stipulations without much of a challenge. We asked Dorsey to provide more information on what to know about this rule and how to prepare so that your next trip through airport security shows just what a master packer you are.

How to Pack Liquids to Easily Move Through security

Pack your liquids in a clear plastic bag. "Keep that bag at the top of your luggage, or somewhere easily accessible, so you don't have to go rummaging through your bag when you get to the security checkpoint," Dorsey says. 

Make use of travel-size containers. "Spray, gel, liquid, cream, paste and roll-on deodorants need to be in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces and placed in a clear quart-sized resealable bag along with other liquids," he notes. "Stick deodorant of any size is fine in a carry-on bag."

Double-check the TSA website if you're unsure about certain cosmetics. "The TSA implemented a rule that requires powders in carry-on bags to be stored in containers no larger than 12 ounces," Dorsey adds. 

Liquids Rule Details Before Heading to the Airport

The liquids rule isn't completely set in stone. "There are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule if you have special needs or children," Dorsey says. "You may bring items like over-the-counter and prescription medicines, baby formula, breast milk, juice, and other essential liquids in quantities larger than 3.4 ounces. However, these items may be subject to additional screening by TSA security officers."

Keep in mind that you don't have to follow the liquids rule. "If your liquids don't meet the requirements to be in your carry-on bag, then you can pack any liquid in a checked bag," he continues. "The TSA doesn't have a limit on the size of liquids in a checked bag. And if you want to avoid checked baggage fees, many airline's co-branded credit cards waive the fees when checking luggage with a carrier."

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