TSA Liquids: The 411 on the 3-1-1 Rule

Despite the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule having been in existence for nearly ten years, many people are still a bit confused by, or just want to double check that they are in compliance of, the rules regarding bringing liquids on a plane. Many people may think that some things with liquid in it (like makeup) or a container that’s bigger than 3.4 ounces yet has less than that amount in it still qualify (spoiler alert: they don’t). So let’s run through every scenario we can think of and determine whether it’s allowed.

what does the 3-1-1 Liquids rule mean?

People know this phrase, but many are unsure of what it specifically means. Well, according to TSA rules, the “3” stands for 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of liquid, the first “1” stands for one clear zip-lock bag holding your 3.4 ounce containers, and the second “1” means per traveler. So there you go, you are allowed one bag with as many 3.4 ounce containers as can fit into your carry-on.

3 = 3.4 ounce containers (you may not Carry-on larger containers with less than 3.4 ounces of liquid)

1 = 1 Clear Zip-Lock Bag (with as many 3.4 ounce containers as you can reasonably fit in)

1 = 1 Per Person (no exceptions)

If you would prefer not to do any math, we recommend this TSA approved set of containers and plastic bag to avoid any confusion.

Obviously, if you are checking your bag then you can place full-size liquids in there, but those should still be in a plastic zip-lock bag as well, if for no other reason than the cap might come off and everything gets all over your clothes.

Why was this rule implemented? A terrorist plot in the U.K. attempted to carry liquid explosives onto a plane, disguising them as soft drinks. This led to lasting legislation in the United States, requiring everyone to significantly alter their travel methods, especially when it came to soaps and shampoos. But far more things with liquid in it are subject to the same rule than people realize.

are there 3-1-1 rule exceptions?

Yes. There are really only two of them, but they are crucial to some passengers – and no, TSA Precheck status is not one of them. One of them is medications. To avoid any problems, make sure these medications are clearly marked, separate them from other toiletries so that they aren’t mistaken as such, and inform the TSA screening officer of them. They don’t have to be in a zip-lock bag, and you’re allowed to bring necessary accessories (bags, pumps, syringes, etc.) on board with you as well. The TSA obviously still has to do their job and X-ray your items, and they may ask you to transfer the medication from its bottle to a clear separate container. If you don’t want them to be scanned, then the alternative is to go through a pat-down procedure.

The second exception are things necessary for your children, such as formula, breast milk and/or juices. The requirements here are generally the same as they are for medications; mark them, separate them, inform the TSA. The screening officers do still have to inspect them just to make sure there aren’t any concealed prohibited items, and you can request alternate methods of search other than an X-ray. Some specialty considerations that you are allowed to bring include: gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned or jarred processed baby food, as well as ice packs or gel packs.

It should be noted that duty free items purchased internationally are also allowed as long as they are in a cleat tamper-evident bag and you have the receipt showing that it was bought less than 48 hours prior to your flight. So now that you know what’s excepted when it comes to accepted liquids, where does the TSA draw the line?

what are the tsa carry-on liquid rules?

If you’ve traveled you’re well aware of this, but if you haven’t, it’s important to know that the liquids in your zip-lock bag must be taken out of your luggage and placed in a separate bin to be X-rayed. Now that you know the second most crucial thing about airline travel (the first being wear clean socks) here is a brief list of all the allowable liquids so long as they are in a 3.4 ounce container and inside that clear bag:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Mouthwash
  • Some aerosols, such as: antiperspirants, shaving cream, hair spray, and other toiletry items. We’ll discuss the prohibited aerosols in a minute.
  • Liquid makeup, such as eyeliner, nail polish and foundation must comply with the 3-1-1 rule. Powder cosmetics are accepted with no limits.
  • Alcohol, but DO NOT drink it on the plane.

Here now is a much longer list of the liquids and gels that are NOT allowed on an airplane, even if it is in a 3.4 ounce or less container:

  • Aerosols that aren’t personal care items, such as: air fresheners, self-defense sprays and other flammable aerosols. Basically, if it’s not meant to be sprayed on your body, it’s not allowed.
  • Chlorine
  • Vaping devices (many of these are liquid-based)
  • Any paint, gel or liquid that is flammable, such as lighter fluid or gasoline
  • Gel-type candles
  • Spillable batteries
  • Paint thinner

A couple of these things, such as the candles, are allowed in your checked baggage, but for the most part all of these things aren’t allowed in any of your bags. There are extra things to consider as well. Say you’re traveling abroad and you buy a snow globe for your child as a present. Well that thing better have less than 3.4 ounces of liquid in it, otherwise you’ll have to risk putting it in your checked baggage.

At the end of the day, the TSA security officer has total discretion about whether or not to allow something of yours through security. But if it’s in a 3.4 ounce or less container, in a clear zip-lock bag, and is not flammable, you’re probably good to go.

31 Comments

  1. May I carry on a 1# (one pound) bag of Dunkin Donuts ground coffee?

  2. Can I bring my hair straightener ( flat iron ) with me on the plane?

  3. small tube of toothpaste, crystal light individual packets, instant coffee individual packets
    Are these items allowed?

    • Toothpaste falls under the 3-1-1 rule, the rest of the items are allowed.

    • You may be able to, but the final word rests with the security agent that day. If you do, pack them in plain egg cartons to they are easy to take out and inspect. If they are not fertile, offer to let them scan them. Be courteous and understand you may have to toss them.

    • Can I carry on 10 hand made cookies, tightly wrapped in saran wrap in a bag so easy to view to inspect. About 10–they are hand made holiday cookies.

  4. Can I bring more than one liquor bottle which are less than 100ml or 3.4 oz?

    • Travelers may carry as many 3.4 ounce bottles of liquid (mini bottles of liquor are 1.7 ounces) that fit comfortably in one, quart sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag. Comfortable means that the bag will seal without busting at the seams. One bag is permitted per passenger. Travelers may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask. Alcoholic beverages with more than 70% alcohol content (140 proof), including 95% grain alcohol and 150 proof rum, cannot be packed in checked luggag

    • Chris, common sizes of mascara and similar products are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. Now if you have a monster sized mascara, then I would put it in a ziptop bag.

  5. Almost all references to the 1-quart bag dimensions are just width and height. What about the depth? Or is the overall volume of 1 quart the ultimate bottom line? If so, what is that volume?

  6. can i bring an un opened package with glade plug ins

    • If there is liquid in them, they may need to go in checked luggage.

  7. I am taking Canadian Maple syrup as gifts (300ml bottles) in my checked luggage. Can I wrap them well in bubble wrap or do they have to be visible in a clear bag?

    • They do not need to be in a clear bag in checked luggage, although putting them in a watertight bag isn’t a bad idea in the event they break.

  8. I wish to carry 5 packets of garden seeds bought at a local nursery to India in my checked baggage. Is it allowed? Thank you.

  9. I have prescription medication “Androl Gel and I am sure it is greater than 3.5 oz. and an alcohol based gel. Can this be kept with my other medications in my carry on?

    • Medications are allowed in greater quantity than other liquids and gels. I would bring a note or prescription from your doctor just to be sure.

  10. I have the perspiration drug of Testosterone that was prescribed by my doctor. I will need a syringe to inject this medication. Will I be able to bring this in my carry-on?

  11. sorry may i bring all these items on the plane i missed typed the prior email.
    may i bring on the a bag of cookies unopened, bag of chips unopened and a 1 liter of soda unopened or a liter of bottle or can water brought at my local grocery store? or do i need to purchase everything behind TSA security check in

    • You cannot bring liquids on the plane. 1 liter of soda far exceeds the 3 ounce rule. The food should be fine.

  12. Reference the duty free info. I purchased duty free alcohol and upon entry into the US and re-entry thru TSA at IAD, they insisted they had to open the sealed duty free bag to double check all items. Apparently, double check meant running them through a spectrometer or something. Since one of the items was similar to Baileys in a non-clear bottle and a thick non-clear liquid, it didn’t pass the test. My choices were confiscation or try and mail it back outside TSA. Luckily, United helped me package it as another checked bag.
    The point I’m making is unless I was being scammed, don’t assume everything purchased in duty free will clear TSA. BTW, the TSA website made no mention of this policy as I’d checked.

  13. if my shoe inserts, prescription orthodics, have gel in them can I wear them on the plane? They are expensive, I wouldn’t want them to be confiscated.

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