What Carry-On Liquids can I Bring With Me?

By Richard Corrigan; Updated June 08, 2017

Pack like a pro: what to pack and what to leave behind

If you’ve ever flown on a plane, than you know that there are a lot of rules in place when it comes to what you can and cannot take onboard. And if you’ve ever tried to board a plane with a tube of toothpaste or a container of leftover chicken noodle soup in your carry-on, then you know that these rules are taken quite seriously. So the next time you plan on traveling by air, do yourself a huge favor and know the rules before you leave your house. It’ll save you a world of hassle and prevent your chicken noodle soup from going to waste.

Packing liquids in your carry-on

If you’ve ever wondered which liquids the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) restricts in carry-on bags, the answer is pretty simple: just about all of them. Very few liquids are completely banned from aircraft under TSA guidelines, with the exception of anything flammable, explosive, poisonous, corrosive or otherwise hazardous, which are strictly prohibited. But all liquids and gels are restricted in some form when it comes the amount you can take, and what type of container you can take it in. The basic guideline for packing liquids in your carry-on bag is known as the 3-1-1 rule.

What’s the 3-1-1 rule

Put simply, the 3-1-1 rule states that all liquids in your carry-on bag must be in travel-size containers containing 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. You can take as many 3.4-ounce containers as can comfortably fit inside a one-quart, clear plastic, resealable bag. Each passenger can bring one such bag, and it must be placed in the screening bin before you board the plane.

That applies to cosmetics and toiletries, too

The same 3-1-1 rule that restricts liquids also applies to gels, creams and aerosols. That means that most of your style and hygiene products – we’re talking perfume, lipstick, lotion, liquid soap, perfume, hand sanitizer – fall under the same umbrella. You’re welcome to bring these products on a plane, but they must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces or less. The same rules apply whether you’re packing them in their original containers or not; if it’s more than 3.4 ounces, it can’t go in your carry-on.

The best way to get around this rule is to pack only what you need for the flight in your carry-on. After all, how much shampoo do you really need when you’re cruising at 30,000 feet? Simply pack enough to get you from A to B in small travel-sized containers in your carry-on, and pack the full-sized bottles in your checked luggage.

Exceptions to the rule

Just like any rule, the 3-1-1 rule has its exceptions, though there aren’t many. Baby food, formula, breast milk and medications are allowed in what the TSA calls “reasonable quantities” and can exceed 3.4 ounces. What constitutes a reasonable quantity, one might ask? Basically, you can bring as much as you need to last you for the duration of the flight. These items don’t need to be packed in a resealable bag with your other liquids, but you do need to declare them for inspection at the checkpoint.

Duty-free items

The other major exception to the 3-1-1 rule is duty-free items. Generally, your carry-on can contain liquid items larger than 3.4 ounces that you purchased at a duty-free shop in the airport, if you are traveling on an international flight. However, the TSA stresses that these items must be packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer, and you must have your original receipt for the liquids. Keep in mind that some countries have their own guidelines when it comes to transporting duty-free items, so be sure to check with your specific destination.

When in doubt

The TSA gets no pleasure out of confiscating your bottles of perfume and barbecue sauce, nor does it try to make the process of boarding a plane any more complicated than it needs to be. If you’re unsure whether any item is allowed on your carry-on bag, the official TSA website has a handy “Can I Bring…” search engine to help you out.

About the Author

Richard Corrigan