Why the TSA Approved Toiletry Bag is a Marketing Myth

Last Updated on August 20, 2022

A travel toiletry bag is a good way to keep things organized in your carry-on luggage.

A clear quart-size toiletry bag is also a requirement when going through airport security. It’s the second of three liquid limits imposed by the TSA.

But most of the bags being sold and marketed as “TSA-Approved” are not even TSA compliant.

Yep, it’s all marketing bullshit folks, and I’m going to prove it!

Exhibit A – TSA Doesn’t Approve Or Endorse Any Products

Let’s revisit what the Transportation Security Administration says about your toiletry bag.

The TSA asks you to pack all liquids in one quart-size clear plastic zip-top bag when going through airport security.

When the liquids rules were created the TSA and other airport security organizations around the world assumed we would pack our liquids in a simple plastic baggie like a Ziploc.

The official rules haven’t been updated since.

They didn’t anticipate that people wouldn’t be happy with a flimsy plastic bag and would want something more durable and reusable.

Look what happened when Michael asked the TSA if a bag really was “TSA Approved”.

The TSA replied, “We don’t approve or endorse any particular products. However, as long as the toiletry bag is the approximate dimensions of a quart-sized bag (6″ x 9″) you’ll be good to go through the checkpoint.”

The TSA just gives the accepted sizes in two dimensions, not three dimensions.

There are lots of different two-dimensional ziplock bag sizes that are under one quart.

This tool will calculate how many quarts a two-dimensional plastic bag like a flat Ziploc bag will hold.

Go ahead and adjust the dimensions of the ziploc bag to find out if it's quart-sized and TSA approved.

1 Quarts
Length: 6 inches
Width: 9 inches

But most of the types of bags being sold as a ‘TSA-approved’ toiletry bag have three dimensions.

And when you add a third dimension by adding a gusset to the bag the volume of the bag quickly shoots up.

What’s a gusset? I hear you ask…

Look at this toiletry bag. The black fabric is the gusset, a piece of fabric added to a bag to make it bigger.

Many bags that use a gusset risk becoming larger than one quart and so become non-compliant with the TSA rules for toiletry bags.

Toiletry Bag Compliance Calculator

Enter the three dimensions of the toiletry bag to get the volume in cubic inches and quarts.

Front View
1.87 Quarts
108 Cubic Inches
Gusset Side View
Height: 6 inches
Width: 9 inches
Depth: 2 inches

Exhibit B – ‘TSA-Approved’ Toiletry Bags Are All Too Big!

I took a look at some of the best-selling ‘TSA-Approved’ toiletry bags and checked if they were quart size or not.

Here’s one of the top-selling toiletry bags.

This ANRUI Clear Toiletry Bag claims to be “TSA Approved”.

It’s 7.7 x 5.5 x 2.5 inches so 105 cubic inches volume in total.

That means the Anrui is 1.8 quarts in total and 80% larger than the approved TSA size!

It’s not TSA-approved and not even TSA compliant!

Here’s another one.

This bag is 7.7 x 5.9 x 2.8 inches so 127 cubic inches or 2.2 quarts.

The limit is for 1 quart and these bags hold more than 2 quarts.

This one is 6.25 x 6.25 x 2.5 inches. That’s about 97 cubic inches volume or 1.7 quarts!

Even when you find someone selling a flat reusable “TSA approved” toiletries bag they are still oversized!

This three-pack of bags are 9.5″x 8.5″, 9″x7″, and 9″x5″. Only the 9″ x 5″ bag will be under a quart. The other two hold more than a quart making them non-compliant with the TSA rules.

I think if the manufacturers actually made a bag that was quart-sized they’d probably get negative reviews for it being too small!

How can this be happening?

If You Can’t Beat Them Join Them

There are no toiletry bags that are “TSA Approved”. It’s just marketing spin and frankly, it’s dishonest.

There are a few bags out there that are TSA-Compliant toiletry bags. The most obvious one is the simple disposable quart-size plastic bags that the TSA thought everyone would use.

The bags marketed as ‘TSA-Approved’ are not approved by the TSA.

And most of them are technically not even compliant with the TSA 3-1-1 liquid rules.

So why do most of these products have reviews from happy customers?

Here’s the thing…

The TSA doesn’t enforce its second liquid limit very strictly.

The first limit, that bottles or containers in your carry-on bag can only be 3.4 oz or less is strictly enforced.

The third limit, that you can only bring one liquid toiletries bag per passenger is also strictly enforced.

The second limit, that your toiletries bag should be one-quart maximum is not strictly enforced at all.

Check out this exchange between a passenger and the TSA.

A larger bag like this is a great idea because all of your toiletries are not liquids. And if you are smart you can actually replace a lot of liquids with solid versions of the product. A bar of soap instead of shower gel. Solid sunscreen. All kinds of wet wipes instead of cleansers. Once you get into it you can really cut back on your liquids.

That first toiletry bag is 10 x 8 x 4 inches. It holds 5 and a half quarts! Still, the TSA didn’t rule it out.

At the end of the day, the decision is taken by the TSA security officer that inspects your luggage at the security checkpoint. Although the TSA says you need a quart-size bag in reality many bags larger than one quart pass the screening process all the time.

And according to that Tweet, your bag doesn’t even need to be transparent!

For me, this makes the best toiletry packing system a larger fabric bag for all toiletries along with a small plastic bag just for the liquids.

This one includes a plastic bag with a gusset and a larger bag for all the non-liquid toiletry stuff. I’d only remove it from the larger toiletry bag if asked.

Everyone is getting away with it! So why shouldn’t you?

If nobody else is playing by the rules why should you?

That’s a personal decision that only you can take. Do you like to play by the rules or do you want to be able to bring more little travel-size toiletry bottles?

Will cheating a little with an oversized toiletry bag in your carry-on luggage mean you can avoid paying for checked luggage?

Reusable toiletry bags are made with thicker plastic. It’s usually a transparent PVC that will last a lot longer than a plastic baggie. You could argue that they are better for the environment than single-use plastics, but since you are about to fly and dump a load of co2 in the sky maybe it’s better not to use that argument.

There is no such thing as TSA-approved clear toiletry bags, and most of the bags marketed as such are not even TSA-Compliant, but they are TSA-Tolerated for the most part.

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