“How much liquid can you put in checked luggage?” The answer is really pretty simple: it depends.
Yes, we realize that’s not really an answer at all, so let us explain. You might have liquid in checked luggage or carry-on luggage that shouldn’t even be there in the first place. We’ll tell you how to find out which liquids are prohibited from all air travel.
The next question is whether the kind of liquid you intend on traveling with can even be brought on the plane, depending on your destination. And even if it is a liquid allowed on the plane, either in checked baggage or carry-on luggage, how do you pack it properly, to prevent the liquid from damaging your clothes and other belongings in the event of a spill or breakage?
If you’re traveling soon and you have questions about packing liquids in your checked bag, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll even help you understand the 3-1-1 rule imposed by the Transportation Security Administration.
In addition to covering the basics, like the 3-1-1 rule, RAVE Reviews wanted to give you tips and tricks from experienced travelers about how you carry liquids during air travel, avoiding any costly and time-consuming mistakes at security screening.
This article will cover the following:
- What is the 3-1-1 rule?
- The difference between a liquid, a gel, and an aerosol according to TSA liquid rules
- Tips for packing liquid items in your checked bag
- Advice for makeup, alcohol, food, and a whole lot more
- How to avoid spills and breakage
- Travel hacks from experienced travelers and travel bloggers
Traveling with Liquid in Checked Luggage
If you’re planning on traveling with liquid, the first question people have is what kind of liquids can never be brought on an airplane, either in checked or carry-on luggage.
The best place to find the answer to that is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website. There, the TSA conveniently lists its rules for liquids as well as all sorts of items and substances people might commonly want to travel with, letting you know if whatever’s in question is allowed in checked baggage, carry-on luggage, or neither.
Sometimes a liquid can be brought on a plane, but there are rules that travelers must comply with before anything is allowed in carry on bags. For example, what about the bottled baby formula? The TSA website helps you out here as well.
When is a Liquid Not a Liquid?
Scanning the TSA’s liquid rules might leave you wondering whether the substance in question is even a liquid at all. Maybe it’s a gel or even an aerosol. In the eyes of the TSA rules on liquids, for example, peanut butter is considered a gel.
To help sort this out, it’s important to understand the 3-1-1 rule, under which liquids, gels, and aerosols all count toward the limit passengers can bring on a plane in their carry on baggage.
What is the 3-1-1 Rule?
Adopted in 2006, the 3-1-1 rule restricts the number of gels, liquids, and aerosols allowed in the cabin of a plane, while the amount of each substance packed in checked bags remains unchanged.
The 3-1-1 rule also established the following guidelines for packing liquids in carry-on:
- All liquids, gels, and aerosols in a carry-on bag must be in a container no larger than 3.4 ounces, or 100 milliliters.
- All containers must fit into a 1-quart clear, resealable bag, with a limit of one bag per passenger.
These guidelines are from where the rule takes its name, which helps make the 3-1-1 rule easy to remember:
- 3.4 ounces
- 1 quart sized bag
- 1 bag per passenger
There are, of course, some exceptions for liquids required for babies (such as formula) or liquids necessary for medical reasons.
What if you’ve checked out the TSA rules and you still can’t figure out if what you’re traveling with is liquid, gel, or aerosol? The secret is in consistency. If it’s smearable, sprayable, or squirtable, it’s subject to the 3-1-1 rule. This includes common travel items like dry shampoo, shaving cream, nail polish, sunscreen, toothpaste, and similar products.
For example, stick or powdered deodorants are not considered a liquid, gel, or aerosol toiletries, but the roll-on gel or spray deodorants are.
Remember that the TSA liquid rules also prohibits passengers from bringing flammable liquids and flammable paints. These are considered hazardous materials that are not allowed in both carry on luggages and checked bags.
There are, of course, exceptions for medical supplies with the 3-1-1 rule. For example, travelers with diabetes may pack syringes, insulin, ice packs, and testing supplies in their carry-on.
Whether or not makeup should be in a checked bag or a carry-on bag is particularly difficult to understand with the 3-1-1 rule. Let’s take a closer look.
Understanding Makeup and the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule
When navigating makeup and the 3-1-1 rule, it’s best to first ask yourself: Is the makeup of a squirtable or spreadable texture? If your makeup falls into these consistency categories — liquid eyeliner and liquid foundation, for instance — that means it’s a liquid and subject to the same restrictions under the 3-1-1 rule as any other kind of liquid.
“Transfer the face washes, makeup removers, and other liquids from larger containers into small dropper bottles,” advises Barbara Bacvic of the travel blog Barb Goes Places.
Travel-sized glass bottles are allowed in your carry on luggage as long as they are not heavy or sharp.
Makeup samplers, which are usually small enough to fall under 3-1-1 restrictions, are also a good way to get around the liquids rule so you can bring some makeup with you on the plane, she says.
“The dropper makes sure you only use a small amount,” she continues, “and you can always reuse them.” And when it comes to perfume, Bacvic sidesteps the 3-1-1 rule with the travel-sized bottles that come in gift sets.
Or perhaps, simply ask yourself: Do I really need my makeup on the plane, or can it travel in the luggage compartment instead?
In addition to makeup, Jennifer Wiley, editor with the travel site Etia.com has some hacks for traveling with toiletries:
“Pack solid soap in place of shower gel,” she says, and instead of packing the whole shampoo bottle, pack the small traveling sachets. “This will not only save your space but will also have less danger of spilling,” Wiley continues.
She also recommends packing shampoo bars instead of liquid shampoo, and instead of packing both shampoo and conditioner for your trip, pick brands offering 2-in-1formula.
Keep Your Liquids Close at Hand
It’s important to remember, however, that all your liquids will get screened by the TSA just like any other kind of luggage, so it’s a good idea to pack these items in their own separate plastic bag and alert the TSA of their presence in the screening process.
Regardless if the liquid you’re traveling with is related to medicine, It’s always a good idea to keep all your liquids easily accessible, since you’ll have to dig them out for the TSA inspector. TSA agents will screen medically necessary liquids by hand, however, rather than exposing the medication to an X-ray.
“Keep the plastic bag with the liquids close by,” says Alice Kotlyarenko, Travel Blogger at One Grand Trip, “in your backpack or shoulder bag,” she says. “That way, you won’t have to rummage around in your carry-on bag every time you go through security and need to take the liquids out.”
“Liquids should always be placed at the top or in a zipped part of the case so they are easy to get out when you get to security,” adds Joe Spencer of the UK travel guide Holiday Park Ace.
Traveling with Babies
Parents understand that a lot of liquid is required in baby care, so the TSA makes exceptions for the quantity of baby-related liquid that can be brought in carry-on luggage as well.
Here’s what a parent or guardian can bring on a plane exceeding the 3-1-1 for any baby or child too young to be traveling alone:
- Breast milk
Furthermore, a mother pumping breast milk may take larger quantities on the plane than might be allowed under the 3-1-1 rule — and that’s even if no child is present. Also, any ice packs used to keep the breast milk or food cold don’t need to be frozen solid at security screening.
Freezing liquids, in fact, is a great hack to get around the 3-1-1- rule, says Alex Miller from UpgradedPoints.com, a website providing insight and value to the everyday traveler through analysis, trends, data, reviews, and comprehensive guides.
“If you freeze a bottle completely, it is allowed as a solid,” Miller says.
Not all baby-related liquids, gels, and aerosols are allowed an exception, however. Traveling with baby cream or baby shampoo? Better put it in your checked luggage.
Food and Alcohol
As long as alcohol complies with the 3-1-1 rule, you can bring it on the plane. TSA liquid rules dictate that you cannot drink alcohol while on the plane “unless it is served by the air carrier.” (Airlines don’t want you drinking your own alcohol on the plane, however, for safety reasons, so those mini alcohol bottles are going to have to stay shut for the duration of the flight.)
Unlimited quantities of beer and wine are allowed in checked luggage. For hard alcohol (between roughly 24 and 70 percent alcohol) the TSA allows up to 5 liters or 1.3 gallons in unopened packaging in checked luggage per passenger, while alcohol over 70 proof is prohibited entirely.
The next question is what kind of liquids can or can’t be transported on a plane, depending on where you’re headed. Alcohol can be an issue for travel within the United States. TSA allows certain alcoholic beverages to be stowed in the luggage compartment, but some states don’t allow alcohol to be brought into the state due to liquor import regulations.
Wine and other spirits on international flights brought to the United States are subject to the Customs and Border Protection regulations.
When it comes to food, anything that is smearable or spreadable counts as a liquid, gel, or aerosol. Furthermore, powder-like substances exceeding quantities larger than 12 ounces must be screened separately, so pack accordingly and check the package size before you buy.
This includes the following:
- Protein powder
- Body powder
- Powdered instant coffee
Or really, anything else of a similar, powdery, texture.
If you’re just bringing a snack, like a PB&J for example, you’re probably ok (you still may need to separate it from your luggage for screening.) But traveling with any of the following in quantities larger than what will fit in your 1-quart bag will present some issues:
- Tubes of peanut butter
No matter what the consistency, it’s important to remember all food will need to be removed from your luggage to be X-rayed, so make sure it’s easily accessible to avoid delays.
Even after you’ve ascertained whether or not your liquid can be brought on the plane, there’s the question of packing the liquid safely to avoid spills and breakage that can damage clothing and other belongings. Travel sized containers do wonders, but sometimes you need to do a lot more than keeping those caps tightly closed.
Here are some DIY hacks for securely pack liquids to avoid any nasty surprises after you land.
Duct Tape the Lid
Adding a little duct tape to the lid of your liquid container will help ensure the cap stays on, keeping the liquid contents where they belong.
You may also want to unscrew the lid completely to cover the opening of the container with plastic and then screw the lid back on.
Stow in a Plastic Bag
Another option, or something that can be done in tandem with our first suggestion, is to stash your liquid container in a ziplock plastic bag. Just be sure to get all the air out of the bag before you seal it up, says Taylor Randolph, travel blogger with The Traveling Souk, “so that it doesn’t burst in your luggage,” she says.
For extra security, put some duct tape across the top of the bag. That way, even if there is a spill, the contents won’t get all over your clothing. A hard-sided piece of Tupperware also works for this purpose. Some even wrap their liquid container in bubble wrap.
Randolph also has some additional pointers for packing. “Keep the bottles from breaking during transit by swaddling the bag with clothing and placing it in the middle of the suitcase,” she says.
When you pack liquids, avoid using half-full bottles in your suitcase, whenever possible, she goes on because the air inside the bottles will expand at 35,000 feet and explode. If you do have half-full containers on your return trip, transfer the contents to a smaller travel sized containers, or bring the half-full bottles into the pressurized cabin in your carry-on luggage.
“It is best to bring new items so that the changing air pressure does not affect the contents inside the wrapped bottle,” Randolph says.
There are also products designed for this very purpose, sometimes referred to as “shippers.” Amazon.com has a good selection to choose from.
The Transportation Security Administration website is the best place to start with questions about where you can or can’t fly with a particular kind of liquid, gel, or aerosol. When traveling with liquid, it’s important to remember the 3-1-1 rule: 3.4 ounces, 1-quart bag, and 1 bag per passenger.
Exceptions for medically necessary liquids can be made, as can certain exceptions for items related to baby care. Furthermore, some unexpected items fall under the 3-1-1 rule, including makeup and food. There are also ways to prevent spills and breakage when you pack liquids, like sealing the container in a ziplock bag.
While the TSA may regularly change its regulations, it is possible to understand and stay on top of rules about traveling with liquid in checked luggage without any unexpected headaches.