Home Tips and Tricks Hack To Get Around The TSA’s 3-1-1 Liquid Rule

Hack To Get Around The TSA’s 3-1-1 Liquid Rule

by SharonKurheg

Ever since the transatlantic aircraft plot in 2006, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been enforcing what is known as “3-1-1 for carry-ons,” wherein travelers are allowed to carry liquids through security checkpoints in containers of 3.4 ounces (100 mL) or less that fit comfortably in one quart-size clear plastic zip-top bag.

It is, in a word, a pain. At least it is for me, because my personal rule of packing is to make sure I have everything I would need for 24-48 hours with me, and that includes sample/small sizes of all the “essential” liquids and gels I would need. Here’s what that usually includes:

Photo Dec 10, 5 50 11 PM

True, in the age of COVID, we can bring up to 12 ounces of liquid hand sanitizer with us. But even without the little bottle of Purell, my liquids still barely all fit, even when I put everything into the bag as if it was a Tetris game.

Oh, and if we’re going somewhere cold, add a tube of Carmex and a small bottle of hand lotion to that bag (and to make it all fit, I remove the asthma inhaler, since it’s medication and doesn’t have to be in my 3-1-1 bag; I just prefer that it is, so I always know where to find it).

Anyway, I recently discovered a few items that might be able to help decrease the liquids in many peoples’ 3-1-1 bags…

  • Soap: Obviously, you can bring a bar of soap instead of liquid soap. That one’s a given 😉
  • Shampoo: Several companies make solid shampoos, including Lush (they also make solid conditioners), Basin, Chagrin Valley and Ethique.
  • Lotion/Moisturizer: You wouldn’t think that a moisturizer could come in a solid form, but it can! Basin makes several, as does Honey House Naturals. Or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can make your own.
  • Perfume/Cologne: Basin and Lush both carry over a dozen different scents of solid perfume, and several companies make men’s colognes in solids (all are available on Amazon):
    Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 6.54.45 PM

    Photo via www.toolsofmen.com

  • Bug Repellent: If you know you’re going to be in a “buggy” situation as soon as you land and you want to bring bug spray with you, OFF! makes insect repellent towelettes, as do Repel and Cutter, among others.
  • Toothpaste: Instead of toothpaste, you can bring tooth powder. Colgate makes it, as does Pepsodent. You can even make your own. Oh, and Poligrip makes a powder, in case your teeth are like the stars and come out at night (my dad told me that joke when I was a much, much younger Sharon. So young that I didn’t know about false teeth yet and totally didn’t get the joke).
  • Deodorant: Stick deodorant is considered a solid so you can bring whatever size and brand you like; it doesn’t have to go into your 3-1-1 bag.

Of course, if you’re flying somewhere where you know it’ll be easy to get liquid products, you can always just buy them once you land. That way, you can kill two birds with one stone – you can avoid going over the TSA limit and you get to shop local. If you’re not sure if that kind of option will be available in the area where you’re going to be, you can always ask your hotel in advance, or you can also check to see if there are smaller, independent boutiques or shops nearby and check their listings online.

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51 comments

SUNNY December 28, 2019 - 5:04 pm

How much do you really need ? Unless you are going to the Amazon basin or the Himalayas, odds are there will be a Walgreens or CVS within walking distance . Unless you are really roughing it you should be able to make do.

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SharonKurheg December 28, 2019 - 5:14 pm

You hit the nail right on the head – there are some places (not just the Himalayas) where it might not be so easy to find toiletries on the fly. We just came back from Munich and Frankfurt and rarely saw a place to buy soda or candy bars, never mind essentials. I also might not want to go looking for toothpaste after my plane lands at 11:30pm. So, better to have it with me. As always, YMMV 😉

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jenniferkregan December 30, 2019 - 12:56 pm

I have been to both Munich and Frankfurt, I don’t know exactly where you were, but I have never had a problem finding a market or chemist.

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Stephanie Booker February 3, 2022 - 7:51 am

I have never had to put my liquid in a clear bag. As long as they are at or under the 3.4 they go through the detectors just fine. They are usually in a big make up bag and I have tons of travel size items I bring with me regularly.

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Dave Thompson December 29, 2019 - 9:30 am

I always check my large suitcase and use a backpack for a carry on. No worries with size limits on shampoo etc. You could end up spending almost as much on miniatures as it cost to check your bag.u

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JAMIE May 15, 2020 - 6:46 pm

That’s a good point Dave. Unless someone is happy just using hotel shampoo, lotion, and soap, you may just be cheaper (or break even checking in). I’ve learn to get through 10 day trips with a carry on bursting at the seams, but anything beyond that I’ll just check in. I don’t want to do laundry on a trip, and would rather not half a** wash my clothing in the sink. I hear all the times that people talk about airlines losing their luggage but this isn’t actually as common as people think it is.

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JAMIE May 15, 2020 - 6:39 pm

It depends how specific you are with products. I only buy cruelty free products and would rather not have to pick up things on trips (especially when going abroad). I would rather stick to hair, makeup, and skincare products that I am familiar with rather than to explore. Also a number of the solid products created aren’t cheap so it might be easier to just check in rather than to have to buy more things (I’d rather create less waste than to buy more). I’ve tried the tooth powders, shampoo bars, and solid perfumes and yeah I wasted my $. I just do the 2 (sometimes 3) bag trick of keeping one bag in my carry on, and 1 in my personal bag. If for whatever reason I need a 3rd (it’s probably due to needing a lot of sunscreen due to diving trips), I just remove it from both those bags. Are you supposed to do this? No. I’ve never been told by TSA that they needed to confiscate a bag however, if they told me that I had to, I’m prepared for that and would just dump the cheapest products.

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Whatever January 30, 2022 - 12:38 pm

I’m not sure who needs to hear this, but you don’t have to use a plastic bag. I’ve never ever used one, and travel 20+ times a year.

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Jon January 30, 2022 - 8:30 pm

I’ve been occasionally (I maybe only in London though) stopped, given a 1 qt bag, and told to put all the liquids in.

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Inouie January 31, 2022 - 1:55 pm

Yes, London in particular is very strict from my experience. Not necessarily a bad thing, just strict. The lady in front of me whipped out two quart sized bags and insisted she got through TSA in DC that way, but no dice.

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derek December 28, 2019 - 5:43 pm

I would get a slightly larger bag. Are you sure that bag is 1 liter? Take out the inhaler. That should get an exemption to the rule.

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SharonKurheg December 28, 2019 - 5:46 pm

Thanks :-). The bag is 1 quart (U.S. regs) and I always keep the inhaler out. The point of the post was more all the different things you can get as non-liquids 😉

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Emily December 28, 2019 - 6:17 pm

I bring my own shampoo and face wash and sunscreen use everything else that’s provided by the hotel. Done. Yes, from the large dispensers. No I haven’t gotten Ebola from them yet.

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L GOODWIN December 29, 2019 - 3:04 pm

I’ve always packed 3x that much in 2 makeup cases and never once was I questioned. I fly monthly.

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Aleshia February 2, 2022 - 8:41 am

Same here

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Ptahcha January 4, 2020 - 11:25 pm

You know you carry more than 1 quart bag of stuff, right?

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Theresa a Stancil February 10, 2021 - 1:18 pm

I tried taking 2 and the TSA made me throw stuff away, the TSA page says 1 only

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Jake Stephens January 5, 2020 - 9:54 am

Where is your departure airport? I fly 15 to 20 times per year and have not done that plastic bag thing in over 4 years. I pack full size and travel size items I’m my carry on for every flight. I’ve never checked my bags. Plus look at your fellow travelers going through security – Nobody follows this rule anymore and it is not enforced!

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SharonKurheg January 5, 2020 - 10:27 am

Glad to hear you and others haven’t been caught yet. I like to follow rules. YMMV 😉

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JAMIE May 15, 2020 - 6:43 pm

I’ve had mini cans of coke confiscated and an 8 ounce bottle of sunscreen confiscated. I’ve never had problems though with having 2 or 3 different quart sized bags. Once in awhile I’ll have something 4 ounces and haven’t had issues.

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DJ January 30, 2022 - 9:13 am

I have used a 1 gallon bag ever since the regulation was put in place 15+ years ago and have never had an issue.

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Amethyst T Trowbridge January 30, 2022 - 11:20 am

I pack a normal toiletry case full of travel size liquids and it’s never an issue. I have TSA precheck, I’m not sure if that makes them more lenient.

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Lins January 30, 2022 - 11:42 am

I always just take small travel bottles, but.I take as much as I want in my toiletry bag. No one has ever said anything to me. I travel weekly.

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Stephanie Kaiser January 30, 2022 - 11:44 am

This was very helpful to me!!! Thank you so very much! I haven’t been on an airplane in 30 years….
Great info and tips!!!! 🙂

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Mark January 30, 2022 - 12:49 pm

Simple solution, check your bag. I fly just about weekly for work, and yes my status allows me 3 checked bags. The problem is people that have two “checked bags” and put them both in the overhead, especially on regional jets. Just check your bag and problem solved.

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Rich L. January 30, 2022 - 1:37 pm

I totally agree!!! Much less hassle!

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Rich L. January 30, 2022 - 1:36 pm

Of course, you can bring almost ANY liquid, regardless of size, if you just CHECK YOUR BAG! I mean, are we really in that big of a hurry that we can’t wait 20 minutes at a carousel? Sometimes less.

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Sue January 30, 2022 - 4:21 pm

Because I fly frequently as a volunteer non-profit and it cost them $30 to $35 to check my bag each way. I use only a carry-on for that reason. Respect for donor dollars.

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Mark January 30, 2022 - 8:28 pm

If you fly frequently, then you should have status with an airline that allows free checked bags.

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SharonKurheg January 30, 2022 - 8:44 pm

Mark, I know you mean well, but there are many reasons why someone doesn’t want to check their luggage that they want in carry on. There are many more people on planes who don’t have status, or even credit cards that give them status, than who do. Or they’re concerned their checked stuff won’t arrive at their destination the same time they do. For some that’s an inconvenience – going shopping upon arrival could be a pain. But what if your plane doesn’t land until 11pm and you have a business meeting the next morning? Or what if you have a body shape that requires you to get all your clothes altered or you have to get them at a specialty shop? What if you bring your CPAP machine in your carry on? I know you’re seeing it as a simple fix, but for many, “just check it” is not the answer. And frankly, it’s also not really the point of the post, since we’re only talking about how to get around that quart sized bottle of liquids.

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Mark February 2, 2022 - 7:48 am

Sharon, I get that. I have a carry-on…it’s a backpack. I get frustrated with people that bring on too much. You can gate check it. Bring necessities on plane, check other bag. That is how you get around quart size bag.

austinchick526801648 January 30, 2022 - 5:01 pm

Contact lens solution does not count at all. If you need to bring a larger than sample size amount of shampoo or some other clear liquid you can put it in a solution bottle. 😉

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SharonKurheg January 30, 2022 - 5:14 pm

Oooooh, I like that one! 🙂

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Veronica Bassi January 30, 2022 - 7:09 pm

I take full sized of everything
I just put it in the suite case that goes into the belly of the plain

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Gregory May January 30, 2022 - 10:57 pm

The TSA at Heathrow made me ditch my solid deodorant because when he shook it it felt like there was liquid in the bottom 😳 and they were handing out a single plastic nag that your liquids and jells had to fit into. I ended up having to ditch my toothpaste too. The secret is to check your carry-on, no fee for that unlike the $75 for a regular suitcase, then you can put as much liquid and gels in there as you want, take a small back pack with essentials such a 6 miniature liquor bottles in you 1 quart bag 🤗

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Anon February 2, 2022 - 7:36 am

You are aware that Heathrow is in the UK, and that the TSA is an American agency, yes?

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SharonKurheg February 2, 2022 - 8:29 am

Kind of a moot point. Although the article is about a U.S.-based agency, the U.K. has liquid rules as well.

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Ronald lowers January 31, 2022 - 2:57 am

You can take more than 1 bag- I always have 2 or three…..

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Tootie O. January 31, 2022 - 1:55 pm

Same here. I always have 2 bags that go through the security scanner and always have liquids in both.

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mmb January 31, 2022 - 8:00 am

Have had PreCheck for about seven years and my bag just usually goes right through. I usually disperse the items throughout the bag and they don’t seem to notice or add them up.

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Carmen February 1, 2022 - 11:51 am

Never thought about a bag in each bag. I do carry on 99% of the time with a backpack. Never thought of putting 1 bag in my backpack and 1 in my roller bag. Clever.

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You're overthinking it January 31, 2022 - 11:07 am

I pack as much as I want and no TSA cares nor any int’l airport. Never knew there was a rule besides 100mL. If you’re worried then have them all jumbled around in luggage or split it among your carry on and backpack. Nobody knows how many pieces of luggage you got. You can even have 2 carryon go through security if you like. That’s how little they care about what you carry, only if it’s 100mL and there’s no weapons.

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SharonKurheg January 31, 2022 - 11:13 am

I guess you’ve been very lucky in which TSA agents you’ve come up against. If you want to keep trying that method, you do you ;-). But as for how many carry ons you have…you’re right, the TSA doesn’t care; it’s the airlines that do. If you have more than what the rules are (or if the gate agent claims the overheads are full), you’re going to wind up gate checking.

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John E Shockley January 31, 2022 - 12:47 pm

Guess when the PSA figures out that plastic explosives are not liquid you wont be able to bring that bar of soap.

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K. G. January 31, 2022 - 3:48 pm

If you’re following the TSA rules as written, here’s what I do:
– I pack a toiletries bag with my deodorant and other non liquids. Only liquids and gels go in the 3-1-1 bag.

– look for smaller containers and decant from your full size products. I bought 1oz/30mL bottles and that holds enough for a week for shampoo, conditioner, etc. I have Rx shampoo so can’t do solid.

– contact lens cases are great for packing small amounts (zit cream, eye cream, etc.) Label them if you have similar contents – I label the back but could do caps.

– if you have medically exempt items, don’t put them in the bag. I still take them out and stick them in the bin, but they don’t count for 3-1-1. I also put my 3-1-1 bag in the front pocket of my carry-on so I can get them out easily for security. I pack so I can get through security quickly and then rearrange things after I get to my gate.

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Valerie January 31, 2022 - 4:03 pm

TSA are just really good at finding water bottles and full size products you just opened, just to troll you.

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Tessa J January 31, 2022 - 6:06 pm

As someone with shoulder length afro-curly hair, it’s impossible to survive with a couple of days with a few 3.4oz containers of/styling product, and I have yet to stay at a hotel that carries any products I can use. This means that I either have to check my bag OR hope I can hit up a drug store or beauty supply when I land. On a recent business trip I had to gate check a bag I was planning check at the curb and TSA made me toss the 8oz jar of styling gel I’d packed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a drug store or beauty supply until Day 3, so I was forced to attend meetings with my hair pulled back in a frizzy bun.tess

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LISA Chisolm February 1, 2022 - 7:40 am

I travel weekly with an ungodly ammount of products, all over the us. And a full size deodorant (check they are ALL 3.4oz!)
Regardless of how the outside of the container looks.

I buy my own 3oz. Clear bottles. And pack as many of them as I want they dont care about the ammount they care about the density of whats IN THEM. They will take your gel deodorant, hair gel, hair custard, pudding, and anything that might be alcohol(water) My toiletries bag has 10-15 3oz bottles with all my supplies,on a weekly trip and a makeup bag!

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daviking February 2, 2022 - 11:58 pm

This isn’t “getting around” the 3-1-1 rule. It’s just replacing liquids with solids which is perfectly legal and has been done for years. I took 2 big bars of soap and 2 medium sized bars of soap on my carry on to decrease the weight in my checked bags. I also packed my own alcohol in travel sized shampoo and body wash containers along with legit body wash and shampoo in the 3-1-1 bag. Got through security every time. I also took 2 pair of scissors in my carry on bags too. I have more problems woth my personal item than I do my carry on. My personal Item is a backpack with a rather large alienware computer, gopros and their mounts, a selfie stick, camera tripod, a universal power converter and a zipper pack with assorted cables, sd cards, hard drives, etc.

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Jan Oates February 3, 2022 - 3:28 pm

I have traveled pre-check since it was invented. Also joined Global Entry five years ago. That said, I never have issues unless I am bringing gifts such as pate (not Liquid) or jams and Jelly. They hassle me until I call a supervisor!

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Black Girl March 20, 2022 - 8:12 am

Great information!!!! I recently had the worst hassle ever in the Caribbean. I had my personal items stored nicely in my toiletry bag and they required me to use the plastic bag (and just 1…i had to toss some items) and I had to buy it from the vendor at another part of the airport.

Just be aware some countries are hard-nosed on this one…thank you St. Kitts!

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