How to keep toiletries from leaking and spilling in your suitcase

Oct 29, 2019

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It’s the kind of thing you never think about until it happens to you, and then you can’t ever forget it. The first time I had a liquid leak in my suitcase, it was an oil — some sort of elixir or tonic that’s supposed to make you young forever — and it oozed and seeped through everything in the bag.

It’s enough to make you leave all of your potions and lotions at home and just use whatever you find at the hotel. Which works fine … until it doesn’t.

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Now that major hotel brands are ditching single-use bath products in favor of more environmentally-friendly (and better-for the-bottom-line) reusable dispensers, many travelers may decide they’d rather pack their own toiletries than gamble on what’s inside the bulk bottles.

So, if you’re not interested in taking your chances on, well, whatever the heck is growing in those shampoo and conditioner dispensers, how can you pack your toiletries so they don’t explode during the flight and ruin all of your belongings? 

Remove excess air

One of the easiest ways to keep bottles from exploding or leaking during a flight is to squeeze out any excess air that may be in the bottle — an especially pesky problem if you’re traveling around with a dozen half-used toiletries. That’s because the changing air pressure can cause gases to expand and move about their container.

Cover lid with plastic wrap

“It [helps] to put a little piece of plastic wrap over the top of [a] bottle before screwing on the lid ….” TPG reader Chelsey T. told the TPG Lounge on Facebook.

Bring a bottle designed for travel

Not all dispensers, jars and tubes are created equal, and if you’re planning on regularly packing products in your suitcase, you may want to invest in a container created for the task. TPG readers swear by the 3-ounce soft-touch dispensers from the Container Store, as well as Muji’s array of travel containers and cases.

There are also more advanced products meant to keep your toiletries organized, secure and TSA-compliant. Matadors’s travel bottles pack flat when empty, so you don’t have to worry about taking up extra space or weight in your suitcase (at least on the return home).

And lifestyle writer Wendy Gould recommends the Palette by Pak. “The Palette is perfect for skincare junkies who don’t want to abandon their routine, but also don’t want to lug around all their products,” she said. In addition to tight lids (read: spill-proof), the big selling point with the Palette is the soft rubber wells “you can press up to get every last bit of product.”

No matter which container you choose, you’ll never have to worry about measuring out 3.4-ounce pours of product.

Another tip? Look for screw-top lids whenever possible. Or, at the very least, avoid tilt-cap lids.

Recently, I made the mistake of bringing along a bottle of hair conditioner with a tilt cap,” said TPG contributor Irene S. Levine. “Never again. The pressure of something in my suitcase leaned against it, tilting the cap. The contents poured into the Ziploc but didn’t get anywhere else. Saved by the Ziploc!”

This, of course, leads us to our next point.

Store toiletries in a plastic bag

Hopefully, your toiletries never explode under pressure or leak. But sometimes — just sometimes — spillage can be a result of operator error. So, in case you screw on a lid all crooked or forget to close a cap, be sure to stow anything with the potential to seep, drip or dribble in a resealable plastic bag.

“Depending on what the toiletry is,” said TPG contributor Rita Juanita Pike, “I may double or even triple layer [Ziploc bags].”

Along those lines, bringing an empty baggie for a potential trip home if the outbound is a bit messy isn’t the worst idea we’ve ever had.

And if you want to take this whole sustainability thing full circle, ditch the plastic bag for a more eco-friendly option. Adventure travel writer and photographer Marielena Smith said she uses the reusable Flanabag AirQuart Travel Bag, which is a clear, quart-sized pouch that will make you forget about torn, flimsy plastic bags.

Choose solid bath products

Dubious about our packing hacks and techniques? That’s OK — there are solid shampoos and bath products for you.

“I get as much solid stuff as possible,” adventure journalist Danielle Taylor told TPG. “Solid shampoo [and] conditioner bars from Lush, [a] soap bar versus shower gel, tooth tablets versus paste ….”

You get the idea. It can’t leak if it isn’t liquid. There are also solid perfumes, mineral sunscreen sticks and shave gel bars.

Feature photo by Amy Whitt / Getty Images. 

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