MSE News

Tonnes of toiletries dumped at UK airport security – here's what you CAN take in your hand luggage

Tonnes of standard-sized aerosols and perfumes had to be dumped at UK airports last year because passengers tried to take them through security, can reveal. If you're going abroad this summer, make sure you know the rules to avoid wasting products and cash. 

We asked the 30 busiest UK airports how many banned items were thrown away at security – and while most don't record this, three major airports told MoneySavingExpert they collected tonnes of banned items in a single year, with Stansted Airport alone collecting more than 21 tonnes of aerosols and three tonnes of perfume. 

Since 2006, stringent hand luggage rules have meant that passengers can only take small amounts of liquids into the cabin, but some are still falling foul of the rules. 

If you're flying this summer, ensure you know the rules about what you can take and what will be confiscated.

See our Overseas Travel Tips guide for more ways to save.

What was thrown away?

During 2018, there was a total of 27 tonnes of aerosols, mixed sharps, perfumes and lighters abandoned at Stansted Airport security. Birmingham Airport said five tonnes of aerosols and aftershaves were left at airport security the same year.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport recorded its figures from May 2018 to May 2019, and added that its staff also confiscated unusual items such as live crabs and an empty grenade casing. It says its security team also regularly confiscates items such as water pistols, paint and Marmite (which is counted as a paste under the liquid regulations and often comes in jars over 100ml). See the full breakdown below.

How to pack to avoid waste

Many of the items confiscated at airport security don't get through because they break the rules on liquids or sharp items.

While many items are allowed in hand luggage, liquids in containers up to 100ml need to be kept separately in a clear, 20 x 20cm resealable bag. Each passenger is allowed one clear plastic bag, which can contain up to one litre in total. Here's how the rules work:

  • Items you'll need to put in the clear liquids bag include any liquid containers under 100ml. Items that count as liquids include any drinks, including water, as well as liquid or semi-liquid foods such as soups, jams and syrups.

    This also covers cosmetics and toiletries, including creams, lotions, oils, perfumes, mascara, lip gloss, shaving foam, hairspray and spray deodorant, toothpaste, hair and shower gel and contact lens solution.

    Our 2017 investigation showed some airports had different rules around which cosmetics are liquid, eg, some counted lipstick as a liquid, while others didn't. It's therefore worth checking airport rules, and if in doubt it may be best to assume it's a liquid.

    Here's guidance from BirminghamGatwickHeathrowManchester and Stansted on what counts as a liquid.

    You can also take one lighter, which will have to be screened in the clear plastic bag, but kept on you, not in your hand luggage, after security. 

  • Items you can take through in your hand luggage include disposable razors and blunt or round-edged scissors, or scissors with blades no longer than 6cm. You can also take nail clippers and files, tweezers, knitting and sewing needles, an umbrella, walking stick and safety matches. 

    You're also generally allowed to take electronic equipment such as laptops, tablets and e-cigarettes, but different airlines may have different restrictions, and the items will need to have enough charge to be turned on.

    You may also be able to take liquids over 100ml if they are essential medical supplies, including liquid dietary food and inhalers, or baby food – though double-check if there are any limits with your airport. 

    If you're in doubt about what's allowed, check the full Government guidance or ask your airline if you're still unsure. It's worth noting the Government says airport security staff will not let anything through that they consider dangerous – even if it's normally allowed in hand luggage.

  • Items you can't take in your hand luggage at all include liquid containers of over 100ml (even if they're only partly full), and some sharp items such as corkscrews, knives and scissors with blades longer than 6cm. 

    Some sports equipment, such as golf clubs and darts, as well as tools such as screwdrivers and hammers, are also banned. Again, the Government has full lists of what you can and can't bring.

And we've also got some handy tips for making the most of your liquid allowance: 

'It suggests passengers are falling foul of the rules on a daily basis' 

Megan French, consumer expert at, said: "It is alarming that tonnes of toiletries are being thrown away at airport security, and suggests passengers are falling foul of the rules on a daily basis.

"The key message is to plan ahead, and ensure you know the toiletries you're packing in your hand luggage will meet the rules. If not, consider popping larger items in your hold luggage (if you have some), or downsizing, as if you get it wrong you may find you end up binning your larger toiletries, which is a waste all round."

What happens to items thrown away at security?

Policies on dealing with confiscated or dumped items which can't go through security differ from airport to airport – but Birmingham Airport for example told us it recycles all aerosols and aftershaves, while Stansted Airport says it makes sure no waste items go to landfill, and works with local charities to make sure suitable items are reused.

Luton Airport also told us it's trialling a scheme to donate any confiscated food to local foodbanks, and has donated more than 7,000 food items since January. And London City Airport said it has a similar programme working with a social enterprise to donate confiscated foods to local charities, donating three tonnes of non-perishable food items over a year. 

What to read next...

For more help saving cash when taking a flight, check our Travel guides, including:

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!