Rules and exceptions for liquids

Passengers face many restrictions on bringing liquids, gels, creams, and aerosols onto airliners. In short, if the container is larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100 ml), you can't bring most aerosols, gels, and liquids onto an aircraft or even into the secure area of the airport.

While the rules are strict, there are a number of important exceptions. If you understand both the rules and the exceptions, you won't get into trouble when passing through security.

Basic liquid, gel and aerosol rules
If you follow the basic advice below, you won't have any trouble with security. If you don't follow these rules, you may be forced to either throw away your item or take the time to put the item into a checked bag.

  • If the container is small (a capacity less than 3.4 fluid ounces or 100 ml) you can bring as many as you want in your carry on bag.
  • If the container is larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100 ml), you may not be able to bring it through security.
  • If you buy a larger container after you pass security, you will be able to bring it on the plane in your carry on baggage.
  • Snow globes and similar liquid-filled decorations, no matter what size, can only be carried in checked luggage.

TSA and the one-quart zip-top bag: TSA often mentions putting your smaller liquid, gel, and aerosol containers into a clear, zip-top, one-quart-sized bag. The TSA suggestion for a zip-top appears to be a suggested requirement, since there does not seem to be a strict requirement limiting the number of small containers, or having them in a clear plastic bag.

Note: Once you have passed through security screening, you can purchase any size beverage and other liquid or gel products in the terminal and take them on to the plane.

Exceptions to liquids, gels and aerosol rules
There are a large number of exceptions to the size limits for creams, gels, liquids, and aerosols. The general exceptions are as follows:

  • All prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications including insulin and other diabetes medical supplies, petroleum jelly, K-Y jelly, eye drops, and saline solution.
  • Liquids including water, juice, or liquid nutrition or gels for passengers with a disability or medical condition.
  • Life-support and life-sustaining liquids such as bone marrow, blood products, and transplant organs.
  • Items used to augment the body for medical or cosmetic reasons such as mastectomy products, prosthetic breasts, bras or shells containing gels, saline solution, or other liquids.
  • Frozen gels or liquids are permitted if required to cool medical and infant/child exemptions. Ice is permitted as long as there is no melted liquid present.
  • Baby formula, breast milk, juice or water for a traveling infant small child.
  • Breast milk is in the same category as liquid medications. A mother flying without her child should be able to bring breast milk through the checkpoint, provided it is declared prior to screening.

If you have liquids, aerosols, or gels the meet these exceptions, they can be in containers larger than 3.4 fluid ounces (100 ml), and do not have to be inside of a quart sized plastic bag, but do have to be declared at the security checkpoint.

Note: Solid cosmetics and personal hygiene items such as lipstick in a tube, solid deodorant, lip balm and similar solids are allowed. Please remember these items must be solid and not in liquid, gel or aerosol form.

Duty-free items
Duty free items are typically purchased after you pass through security and before you get on the plane. If you are on the last leg of your journey, you don't have to take any precautions. If you have to change planes before your final destination, you should review the page on duty free liquids for further advice.

Other Baggage Resources
Baggage Basics for Checked and Carry-on Items
Carry-on Baggage Advice
Top 10 Baggage Tips
Hazardous and Prohibited Baggage Items
Duty free liquid and gel items

Additional resources
Subscribe to the newsletter, and download a free copy of the Baggage and Security Guide which has additional details on what is prohibited and what is allowed in airports and airplanes, as well as insights on airport.

For a more complete list of banned and restricted items, download this TSA brochure. or this FAA brochure.

Rules and exceptions for liquids -- Revised 22 September 2014