Pack smart with these helpful TSA tips    

When traveling by plane, it's important to know TSA's regulations regarding non-solid items in carry-on bags or checked luggage. And like any good rule, TSA's liquid rule has exceptions. Here's how to sort it all out.

TSA liquid limits for flying

Carry-on baggage

TSA's 3-1-1 rule applies to anything you can pour out, squeeze out or spray out, including toiletries, food items and cosmetics. Here's how the rule breaks down:

  • 3 stands for 3.4 ounces (or 100 ml), the largest size container of liquids or non-solids you can bring aboard in your carry-on. 
  • 1 is for a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag to hold all those little containers. 
  • 1 is how many clear quart bags each person may bring.

Tip: If you have trouble fitting all your toiletries into the 3-1-1 bag, swap some liquid products for solids. For example, powder foundation, toothpaste tablets, solid deodorant and bar soap can replace liquid versions and free up more room in your plastic bag.

Checked luggage

Anything that is not solid and is in a container over 3.4 ounces generally needs to go in your checked baggage. This includes foods like jellies, syrups, vinegar, oils, dips and spreads that are larger than 3.4 ounces. Flammable toiletry items like perfumes, nail polish and hairspray are allowed in your checked luggage within certain limits. Each container must be less than 18 ounces or 500 milliliters, and you can check a maximum of 70 ounces or 2 liters of product total.

Further, just because a non-full large container has less than 3.4 ounces left doesn't mean you can pack it in your carry-on. Transfer the liquid to a 3.4 ounce container if you want to carry it in your hand luggage, or pack it in its original container. Break these rules, and you'll end up paying to send items home from a shipping kiosk if you're not willing to let TSA confiscate them.

Rules for cosmetics

Cosmetics are subject to the same rules as all other non-solid substances. Remember to include eyeliner, mascara and tube lip gloss in your 3-1-1 items. If you carry a purse, check it for items like tube lip gloss and hand sanitizer and tuck these items in your 3-1-1 bag until you pass through security.

Check out these exceptions

There's a few exceptions to the 3-1-1 liquids rule when determining whether a product needs to ride in your checked baggage.

  1. Medication: Liquid, gel or aerosol medications are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. However, they will need to be screened. Although you don't have to put them in a plastic bag, keep them handy so you can pull them out for screening when you reach security. Should your medicine alarm, it will undergo additional testing and might be disallowed. 
  2. Infant and small child nourishment: You won't have to try to fit enough formula for a 10-hour flight into 3.4-ounce containers crammed into a quart-sized bag. You can bring juice, breast milk, formula and baby food in amounts reasonable to get you through the flight. The items will be x-rayed and opened for examination. If you bring ice packs to keep items cold, they must be fully frozen.
  3. Liquids in secure, tamper-evident bags (STEBs): If you're doing some last-minute shopping for liquid items such as jams, booze or perfume before passing through security, there's one way you can bring it on board. Buy items at duty-free shops that will package your purchase in a STEB, a one-time use bag that will show any evidence of tampering. Just make sure the containers inside are clear. Opaque, metallic or ceramic containers won't be allowed in your carry-on.