It can be quite confusing to know what is the maximum liquid permitted in carry on baggage and also what is actually considered to be a liquid under the TSA 3-1-1 rules. Hopefully this article will fully explain things and make it much clearer.
Liquids must be in containers that are no larger than 3.4oz/100ml each through airport security. The total amount of liquids must fit in a see-through quart sized resealable liquids bag. Only one liquids bag is allowed per passenger.
By making sure you follow the TSA liquids rules you will pass through airport security much quicker and with less problems. You will also ensure that you don’t have any expensive toiletries etc taken away from you.
Hopefully I can make the rules clear for you ….
What is the TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule?
The description 3-1-1 is a little tenuous as the 3 isn’t entirely accurate. What it actually means is quite easy to understand though:
3 – the three refers to the maximum size each liquid item can be. It is actually 3.4 ounces (100ml) so not really three but close enough. Also this means the maximum size of the container, not necessarily the amount of liquid actually held in it. So for example you cannot take a container of deodorant that held 6 ounces when full but is now less than half full.
1 – the first one refers to the fact that all liquids must be contained within a one quart sized, clear, plastic zip top resealable bag. If traveling to or within Europe the allowable size is 1 litre. This is very slightly larger than one quart so if you have a TSA approved bag you will be fine. You can buy an approved liquids bag on Amazon quite cheaply – TSA 3-1-1 Approved Clear Airline Carry On Bag
1 – the second one refers to the fact that only 1 quart-sized bag may be carried per passenger.
This is the official TSA video explaining the 3-1-1 liquids rule and the maximum liquid permitted in carry on in an airplane:
What is considered a liquid for airport security?
The 3-1-1 rule is pretty clear I think. Now what is, and what is not, considered to be a liquid is rather less straightforward so I will try to give as full a description as possible and then answer some of the most often asked questions.
The easy answer is that almost anything that isn’t actually solid is considered to be a liquid. This includes:
- Liquids – pretty obvious really but they include shampoos, hair conditioners, liquid soaps, bottled water and cans of soda, contact lens cleaner
- Aerosols – such as deodorant, body sprays etc
- Gels – shaving gel, gel lip balm
- Creams – face and hand creams, skin care, shaving cream, moisturizer and toothpaste
Is toothpaste considered a liquid?
Toothpaste is considered a gel or cream and so for the purposes of airport security is treated in the same way as a liquid. This means that you can take small travel tube of toothpaste which is less than 3.4 ounces and it must go in the quart-sized liquids bag.
Is deodorant a liquid for air travel?
Basically the answer is yes, except for the solid “stick” deodorants so any others must not be larger than 3.4 ounces. For full details read my full article about Can I bring deodorants on a plane?.
Does mascara count as a liquid on a plane?
Mascara in a tube, usually with a an applicator brush, is considered a liquid so must be less than 3.4ounces (which it will be) and be placed in the quart-sized liquids bag. Solid or cake mascara is not considered a liquid so can be carried in carry on without restriction.
What makeup counts as liquid on a plane?
Some types of makeup is pretty obvious but just to be clear the following is considered a liquid so is subject to the restrictions and rules detailed above.
- Nail polish
- Nail polish remover
- Tube mascara
- Liquid, cream or gel eye shadow
- Gel lip balms
- Liquid foundation (powdered is fine proved it is less than 12oz)
Liquids after airport security
Don’t forget though that these limits are not actually referring to the maximum liquid allowed on a plane but the maximum allowed to be taken through airport security.
Once you are through airport security you can purchase any reasonable amount of liquids from any of the stores that are in the departure lounge (or fill water bottles from a water fountain) and take these on the aircraft with you. Of course they will need to fit within the carry on bag sizes that your airline imposes.
Are there any exemptions to the liquid rule?
Yes, there are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule and the maximum liquid permitted in carry on for certain things which are:
Hand sanitizer during the Coronavirus pandemic
The TSA have increased the size of hand sanitizer that can be taken through airport security for the duration of the pandemic to 12 ounces (350ml).
As it is larger it does not have to go in your liquids bag but must be taken out of your carry on for screening at the security checkpoint. This includes home made hand sanitizer. Full details – Can you take hand sanitizer on a plane
Can I take medications in my carry on?
It is possible to carry liquids larger than 3.4 ounces if required to treat certain medical conditions. The full updated details are best read on the TSA website – Disabilities and Medical Conditions
Can I take baby formula in my carry on? Baby and infant products
There are exceptions if you are traveling with a baby or infant, but you must have the baby with you, which may sound rather obvious, but means you cannot carry it for someone else.
You can take “food” items for the baby through airport security which exceed the 3.4 ounces/100ml rule such as:
- made up baby formula
- expressed mother’s milk
- sterilized water to make up baby formula (must be in a baby bottle)
- baby food
You should tell the security agent that you have these before you put them through the x-ray machine.
Other liquids relating to the baby such as baby lotion and nappy cream will still be subject to the 3.4 ounce /100ml rule though so will need to be this size or below but these are generally readily available so just plan ahead. You can carry larger supplies of these in your checked bags for when you arrive at your destination. Since your baby will have its own ticket you will normally be allowed to take these in addition to your allowance.
You can read my more detailed article – 20 things you should know about flying with a baby or toddler
Inbound International Flights
You are allowed to carry duty free liquids provided they are in unopened, secure, tamper–evident bags, (as supplied by the duty free store) if more than 3.4 oz or 100 ml in your carry-on bag and also if the following is true:
- The duty free liquids were purchased internationally and you are traveling back into the USA with a connecting flight.
- The liquids are packed in a transparent, secure, tamper-evident bag by the duty free store and they have not been tampered with, or opened, when shown at airport security.
- You have the original receipt for the liquids.
- The purchase was made within the previous 48 hours.
- The items, in their bags, should be removed from your carry on and placed separately in a tray.
What to do with your liquids at the security point
When you get to the security point, hopefully after not too long a wait, you must remove the quart-sized resealable bag containing your liquids from your carry on and place it separately in a tray to go through the x-ray machines. Do not leave them in your carry on bag otherwise you will be delayed and have to put them through again.
Useful tip for carrying liquids in carry on
These days, particularly with budget airlines, it costs extra to take checked bags so many passengers opt to travel with only carry on, particularly if it is a relatively short trip. This can present a problem with many personal hygiene products, such as shampoo, conditioners, face creams etc as they generally come in bottles which are too large to go though airport security. So you either have to:
- find your favorite brands in bottles small enough to go through security (which often isn’t possible)
- try and buy some larger bottles when you arrive at you destination. But that may prove difficult, particularly if traveling overseas. Even if you can it also means you are likely to throw away much of what you have bought before you return as you can’t take it with you, due to the liquids rules, which is a waste.
The solution is to buy some refillable bottles that meet the liquids rules and just fill them up from your larger containers before you leave home. These are some that I have used that also come with a TSA approved quart-sized bag and a folding toothbrush.
What is the liquid limit for checked bags?
Fortunately, if you are taking checked bags, you can take unlimited quantities of liquids in it as the 3.4 ounce rule does not apply.
If you are carrying liquids in your checked baggage then a sensible precaution is to pack them separately in a leak-proof bag.
As anyone who has seen baggage handlers loading bags into aircraft will know, the bags are often thrown around without too much care so it is not unusual for something to get broken.
Having your liquids in a leak-proof bag will at least prevent the liquid going all over your clothes.
Read the full details about liquids and checked bags
Ask the TSA
If you have any specific questions regarding what you can or can’t take on a plane, either in carry on baggage or checked baggage then you can ask the TSA using Twitter where they will answer your specific questions during the hours of 8am-10pm ET weekdays; 9am-7pm weekends & holidays – AskTSA on Twitter.
More airport security posts:
If you found this Maximum liquid permitted in carry on article useful you may also wish to read my other articles on airport security:
How many Ziploc bags can I take on a plane?
Only one ziplock liquids bag may be taken through airport security per passenger.
Can you bring multiple 3 oz bottles on a plane?
Yes, you can take as many 3.4oz bottles containing a liquid on a plane that you can fit in a quart sized liquids bag.