Your 411 on Carry-On Toiletries

By Richard Corrigan

Clever ways with carry-on toiletries

Your 411 on Carry-On Toiletries

The Transportation Security Administration has some pretty straightforward rules when it comes to taking liquids, including toiletries, on a plane, but that doesn't mean there can't be any confusion. What constitutes a toiletry? For that matter, what constitutes a liquid? Let's get this cleared up once and for all and get you on your way with all the health and beauty products you need.

TSA-approved toiletries

Generally speaking, the TSA has no problem with you bringing toiletries in your carry-on bag, although there are some very strict guidelines when it comes to quantities. Most toiletries fall under the umbrella of the TSA's 3-1-1 rule, which limits the amount of any liquid, gel, cream, paste or aerosol that you can take on board an airplane in your carry-on bag. Approved toiletries include:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Liquid makeup

Aerosol toiletries are fine too, including deodorant, shaving cream and hairspray. You can bring all these items on the plane in your carry-on, but you'd better not overpack.

How much is too much?

The 3-1-1 rule that governs toiletries and other liquids is fairly simple. Your carry-on luggage can include the following:

  • 3 – All liquids must be in 3.4-ounce (100-milliliter) or smaller containers.
  • 1 – All containers must be packed inside one quart-sized clear zip-lock bag.
  • 1 – Each passenger can carry on one such bag. 

Packing your toiletries

You can pack toiletries in their original containers or in separate travel-sized containers, as long as each container can hold no more than 3.4 ounces. Keep in mind that 3.4 ounces refers to the maximum capacity of each container, not the actual amount of liquid in it. So if you're planning to bring a full-sized shampoo bottle that has only 3.4 ounces left inside, nice try. Toiletry containers larger than 3.4 ounces are allowed only in checked luggage, whether the bottle is full or not.

Quart-sized zip-lock bags are the standard way to pack toiletries in your carry-on bag, but they aren't strictly required. You can also use zip-lock alternatives like a solid, reusable toiletry bag, as long as it has a capacity of one quart or less. The bag doesn't have to be transparent, but it really ought to be if you want to get through security quickly.

Exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule

Like any rule, the 3-1-1 rule has its exceptions, though there aren't many. Certain liquids that are deemed medically necessary, such as liquid medications and ointments, are permitted in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces, as are baby food and breast milk. Before boarding, you must remove these items to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings.

Purchasing your toiletries at the airport is one way to potentially get around the 3-1-1 rule if you're traveling internationally. You must buy these items at duty-free stores in the airport, and they must be packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the retailer. You must also have the receipt to prove that you purchased them less than 48 hours prior. Keep in mind that airports in certain countries have their own rules when it comes to liquids, so be sure to check in advance.

About the Author

Richard Corrigan has been a full-time professional writer since 2010. His areas of expertise include travel, sports and recreation, gardening, landscaping and the outdoors. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Geneseo in 2009.