Tag Archives: toiletry kit

Carry-On Toiletry Bag for Airplane that Passes TSA

Breeze through TSA airport security with these tips from an elite frequent flier on how to effectively pack your carry-on toiletry bag. I always have a carry-on toiletry bag and never get stopped or lose my toiletries. Please use the tips in this article to pack a better carry-on toiletry bag.

Example of a carry-on toiletry bag that passes TSA every time
This toiletry bag passes TSA every time.

Choose Essentials for Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

5Let’s face it, you’re probably wondering what to put into a carry-on toiletry bag. Space is limited so you’ll need to eliminate some items. I’ll offer some strategies on how to make decisions about what stays and what goes into your carry-on toiletry bag. I’ll also tell you what’s in my carry-on toiletry bag.

Pro Tip: Always carry backup quart bags in your luggage. Read about how to choose the best toiletry bag.

Meet TSA Rules for Liquids in a Carry-On Toiletry Bag

TSA specifies, “liquids, creams and gels” in a quantity no larger than 3 ounces or 100 mL. They must all fit into a quart size plastic bag, and the bag must close.

For example, you could pack your zip top bag with four 3-ounce bottles of your favorite shampoo, if that’s all you need. You just can’t bring the 12 ounce bottle, even if it fits into the quart bag. I can’t tell you how many sad faces I’ve seen when TSA takes away a beloved full-size bottle of perfume or lotion because it’s larger than 3 ounces.

Also, liquid or gel toiletries must go in the carry-on toiletry bag, including mascara and powdered cosmetics. Read more about how to avoid common toiletry bag problems. 

Pro Tip: Limit the bottle sizes to 100 mL or 3.4 ounces.

Solids Stay Out of Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

TSA allows solids of any size (as long as they meet the other security rules). So it’s important to make a distinction between toiletries that are NOT solid, such as gel deodorants; and toiletries that ARE solid, such as solid deodorant sticks like Tom’s Deodorant Stick Sensitive Care Fragrance Free 2.25 Ounces and Dove Anti-Perspirant Deodorant, Sensitive Skin 2.60 oz. Solid toiletries do NOT have to go in the bag. Consider traveling with a deodorant that says “solid” on the package to save space in your plastic bag.

Another way to save space is to remove toiletry accessories–like floss, nail scissors and your toothbrush– from your carry-on toiletry bag, even though you may use these items with the liquids. TSA does not require that these go in the bag, and they take up a lot of space.

If you need to bring special food, freeze it beforehand so that it is a solid when you pass through TSA. 

Pro Tip: Don’t waste precious space in your carry-on toiletry bag with solids, including solid deodorants, and accessories. Instead, pack these into your suitcase or personal item.

Pack Hard-to-Find Items in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

Look at all the liquids, creams and gels that you want to bring. Now ask yourself which of those items are the most difficult to replace on the road. Pack only the items that are impossible or difficult to find later, or that you’re going to need immediately in flight.

Example of a carry-on toiletry bag with only items that are needed in flight or hard to find later
Two prescription creams, eye gel, and a travel-size toothpaste are hard to find later.

For instance, if you’re staying a hotel, it will offer shampoo, conditioner and lotion. If you’re staying with friends, they will have toothpaste and contact solution. If you’re bouncing between hotels and friends, you might be able to score extra travel shampoo and conditioner first, but not toothpaste. Neither is likely to have that special eye cream that you can’t live without.

In my bag, I pack these toiletries: face cleanser to wash off road grime; hand and eye cream for in-flight dry skin relief; a tiny toothpaste for in-flight brushing; and a tube of eye gel for those red eye flights. These are my must-haves that I don’t leave home without. Everything else is optional, depending on where I’m going and for how long.

The bottom line is that instead of carrying on all of your toiletries, I encourage you to think strategically about what will be available where you are going: What items are a must-have and which items are easily replaced?

Pro Tip: Eliminate all the items from your carry-on toiletry bag that you don’t need in flight and will find easily later.

Pack Items Tightly in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

If you’ve ever played the game Candy Crush or Tetris, you’re in luck. The skills you acquired playing will serve you well in packing your toiletry bag. Be sure to choose 3-ounce containers that pack tightly together in your carry-on toiletry bag. From the photo above, you can see that I use round, thin containers. The benefit of these is that they pack flat, and I can stack them two deep when needed.

Many containers that you can buy for travel are cylinder shapes. Drug stores typically sell these in the travel size toiletry section of the store. These generally work fine. However, I have moved away from using them because they’re slightly bulky, often leak, don’t pack tightly.

Refillable Containers for Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

I opt for refillable containers that are either long, skinny cylinders or rectangular shapes. These pack tighter, and it’s easier to get the zipper around them on the fly. Dot & Dot makes a very durable set that is BPA-free. Each is exactly 3 ounces and can safely be filled with toiletries or food.

My personal favorite shape is the flat cylinder, such as the Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo – 1 oz Small Travel Size Bottle [30 mL]. These pack flat and tight. I recently scored these at a hotel and have reused them for months. It’s easy to refill them with your own supplies. Then pack tightly into one bag everything you might need, such as: shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, face lotion, hand lotion, cleanser and body wash.

Example of how to reuse hotel toiletries in a carry-on toiletry bag
These bottles are ideal for a carry-on toiletry kit because they are the right size, very compact, reusable, and don’t leak.

Pro Tip: Choose 3-ounce containers that pack together flat, tight and don’t leak.

Plastic Wrap Single-Use Liquids in Your Carry-On Toiletry Bag

Plastic wrap is my latest discovery for how to pack carry-on toiletries that don’t fit into bottles: Glad Press’n Seal Plastic Wrap, 70 sq ft . It seals really well, and most other brands will, too. For short trips, squirt 2 to 3 ounces of thicker liquids, such as sunscreen or hair gel, onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Fold and seal. These pack very small. You can toss what you don’t use at the end of your trip. 

Pro Tip: Use plastic wrap instead of travel sized containers to bring single-use items in your carry-on toiletry bag. Dispose of unused liquids at the end of your trip.

Best Toiletry Bag

As en elite frequent flier, I always carry on toiletries. I will show you how to choose the best carry on toiletry bag for your needs. You will breeze through airport security.

Types of Carry On Toiletry Bags

Which type of toiletry bag is for you? Designer, Walmart, or plastic quart? There are a lot of good choices now for carrying toiletries on an airplane.  Some of my top picks include: 

Zip Top Bags

These bags are inexpensive, recyclable in many places, and easy to replace.  If you go with the gold standard zip top bag quart bag, some brands are thin and easy to puncture. Others are thicker plastic and withstand stretching. Unless you plan to change bags during your trip, find one that is strong and can stretch out without tearing.

Stretch strength becomes especially important later in your trip when you find yourself stuffing it to the max, and then it rips. Hefty One Zip Travel Bags Quart Size and Ziploc Double Zipper All-Purpose Storage Quart Value Pack Bags – 50 CT(2Pack) (or ziplock, depending on how you spell). Both companies make strong quart size plastic bags that meet TSA rules for liquids.

Another good option has emerged: the heavy duty polyvinyl chloride ziptop bag. These bags are TSA-approved and will take hundreds of flights before wearing out (assuming you don’t over stuff the bag and break the zipper).

Tip: Always carry backup quart bags in your luggage.

Type of Bag Closure

Most “zip top” plastic bags seal when you press two plastic seams together. Some even change color when the bag is sealed properly. This is fine for tonight’s leftovers, but for air travel it’s less than ideal. When you’re rushing to the airport at 4 AM it’s so easy to miss the seal, and colors don’t help in a dark hotel room. You end up later with a goopy mixture of lotion and toothpaste smeared into your luggage. Don’t get me wrong, this type of bag will work, especially if you’re careful to tighten all the lids inside and carefully seal the bag well. It’s just not my favorite.

I prefer the quart size bag with an actual zipper seal. These seal every time, and it’s obvious when they’re not closed. They’re also strong and stretch beautifully to accomodate that last-minute hand cream you just can’t travel without. As a bonus, TSA makes these bags available for free at many airports.

Hefty OneZip Storage Bags, Quart, Value Pack, 40 Count (Pack of 3) 120 Bags Total”>Zip top quart zie bag that meets TSA rules for liquids
This zip top quart size plastic bag cinches and stretches to accomodate liquids according to TSA rules. Even better, I got it for free at Portland International Airport.

For instance, I found a giant box of Hefty One Zip Quart Storage Bags, 22 Count Boxes (Pack of 4) Total 88 Bags bags just before the security ticket/ID check at Portland International (PDX). I grabbed a dozen to get me through the next year of flying. I always leave one or two empty bags in my carry-on luggage for the inevitable moment when the plastic bag rips and all of my toiletries spill out.

You might even try Hefty OneZip Glow in the Dark Halloween Quart Size Storage Bags (10ct) so you can easily find your toiletries in a dark hotel room.

Avoid These Travel Toiletries Bag Problems

Even if it fits in the quart bag, toiletries over 3.4 ounces are not allowed through TSA

As en elite frequent flier, I always carry on toiletries. I see many people get stopped for a secondary search because of toiletry bag problems. These are the most common. Don’t let them stop you.


This bag is overstuffed. This zipper doesn’t close. It definitely will trigger a secondary inspection (i.e., full body and luggage search that can cause up to an hour delay).

Tip: Unpack non-liquid items until it zips closed. Better yet, replace it with a clean bag.

Items larger than 100 mL (3.4 ounces)

This bag looks like it might pass TSA because it’s not overstuffed and closes. But look again. That hand lotion is larger than 3 ounces. This traveler will be given the option of going back to airport check in counter or surrendering the lotion.

Tip: Remove all items larger than 100 mL or 3 ounces before checking in for the flight.

Can’t see through the bag

This bag was issued to first class travelers by American, and it is quart sized. However, that doesn’t matter because the agents at TSA cannot see through it. It will trigger a secondary inspection.

Tip: Use only clear bags for carry on toiletries.

A good solution is a heavy duty PVC ziptop bag. These bags are TSA-approved and will take hundreds of flights before wearing out (assuming you don’t over stuff the bag and break the zipper).

Pro Tip: Always carry backup quart bags in your luggage.