If I bring a bag of laundry detergent on a plane...

… will they think it’s cocaine and stop and search me?

I’m going away for two weeks and will have to do laundry at least once so I thought I’d just scoop a bit of detergent into a Ziploc baggy. But then I thought the X-Ray guys might get suspicious. Am I just being paranoid?

I know I could just buy some detergent there, but it seems kind of silly since I have a Costco size box full of it at home.

The TSA List of Prohibited Items (Adobe PDF) does not list laundry detergent.

WAG - Is the actual dollar cost of buying laundry detergent more important than any potential personal grief you might suffer at the hands of security? While the airport security personnel may be better than they once were, are you willing to take the risk of being delayed, denied boarding or even being arrested (regardless that at some later time the arrest is dismissed)? You may choose to go that route but it fails me what principle or ethical belief you wish to make.

The biggest risk is that they may have to search your bag if the detergent has a similar density to plastic explosives. My father-in-law was a TSA screener for a while and constantly complained that their equipment that was supposed to detect plastic explosives constantly detected things like toothpaste and peanut butter instead. Of course, every time they got a positive indication they had to go through the bag with the sample swabs and test for explosives…

Probably better to buy some detergent when you get there.

I think that’s exactly the point of ruadh’s questions, Duckster. I don’t think that anyone expects, even under a Terrorist Threat Level Infra-Red, that powdered laundry detergent would be banned from domestic airlines. He wants to know if your scenario is realistic-will a baggie of white powder end up wreaking havoc on his travel plans, even if it doesn’t set off any drug or weapons sniffers?

I have no idea, but maybe somebody here does …

Remember, the TSA guys are looking for weapons, not drugs- it’s the Customs Service folks who look for the drugs. Laundry detergent is much less dense than any plastic explosive, so it shouldn’t raise any red flags with TSA. And it doesn’t smell like any illegal drug, so the Customs Service’s cute little beagles aren’t going to sniff your bag and immediately plop down and look up at their handlers for their treat.

I’ve traveled with powdered laundry detergent many times - whenever I’ll be gone for more than a few days, and I’ve never had a problem with the inspectors.

Hint: after you put it in a baggie, secure the baggie within something else (like a shoe), to minimize the chance of it getting punctured, and detergent spread throughout your belongings.

FYI, I’m a she. And I’m flying internationally. (Not going anywhere near the US, if that makes any difference)

panache45, if I put it in a shoe mightn’t that make them even more suspicious? Like I’m trying to hide it …

Hell, it’ll be a small enough amount. Maybe I’ll just carry it in my jeans pocket :confused:

If that does happen, you could just add water. The baggage handlers will provide the agitation, and your clothing will arrive at its destination freshly laundered!

Most likely it would go right on by without being noticed at all, as long as the quantity is relatively small. If it is found, it is better if there is no evidence of attempted concealment, like stuffing it in a shoe, just leave it in the open in your bag. If there is a problem all you will be out is a few cents worth of detergent and a few minutes of your time. But if it appears to be concealed, or if you are evasive when questioned you will be unduly delayed, and possibly need to do a lot more explaining to our friend LEO.

I suppose that rules out cutting a hole in the suitcase lining and putting in there.

Ruadh, packing items in shoes is a common practice. It is both a space saving measure and a way to protect fragile/messy items. I don’t think that will raise a flag in itself.

The laundry detergent won’t single you out, either. But a quick warning: do not joke with the security agents about the powder. Not even “Part of me thought you might think that was <insert illegal substance here>.”

That will single you out.

You probably weren’t going to do that, but just in case.

i travel quite a bit and to tell you the truth, if you can avoid the security personel searching your bag i would highly recomend it. even if you are cleared the chance you may miss your plane and the headache in general aren’t worth the hastle. it will cost well above the detergent to change your ticket if you happen to get caught up, and well, the hastle carries its own value with everybody. i can tell you that i wouldn’t risk the trouble for detergent myself; but what you really need to ask your self is whether it’s a principle issue or not. if not i’d pay ten bucks for a scoop before i took the chance.

When on X-ray I call relatively few bag searches, and mostly for obvious items, such as knives and such, it amazes me still how many I find. But when we do a bag search, it is usually targeted on a specific item.
Sometimes we call for a search just because there is so much stuff in the bag that we just can’t see through it, the image may contain a threat, the null assumption is that the bag is a threat, unless I can prove that it isn’t.

When I need to go into your bag, I will wait for you to join me at the search table, I will not open it or remove any items unless you are there. When I go in I will be looking only for the item or items pointed out to me by the X-ray operator. Most often it is in fact nothing, at which point I close up the bag, or offer you the opportunity to do so. For me to remove an item it must be on our list of prohibited items, or pose an obvious threat.

If I take more than about 2 minutes in resolving the alarm I will have to answer to my supervisor, your bag is not the only one that needs my attention, and I am not interested in hassling you unnecessarily. I am not aware of more than a very few cases where a passenger missed a flight because of a delay caused by a bag search, and in none of these cases was the person at the airport on time, we will not rush the possess because you are late.

Just a note on how we work, we rotate through the positions on a half hour basis, I would typically work X-ray for one half, then bag search, then walk through metal detector, then hand wading, then back to X-ray. So in a typical day I will work all positions about 3 times. In which time I will see about 1000 to 1200 passengers through my lane.

There’s no principle involved in my not wanting to buy detergent, it’s just that it would seem silly to do so when I have so much at home (especially since I might have to buy a whole box full of it … and I’m not sure I’ll be able to read the label to know exactly what I’m buying!).

I think I’ll stick it in my carry on bag and that way if there’s any questions it can be resolved straightaway while I’m standing there, sure they can open up the bag and smell it.

Thanks guys :slight_smile:

Tell us what happens the next time you fly.

Or if you need someone to provide bail money for you :stuck_out_tongue:

If you don’t want to put the stuff in your shoe, you can cushion the bag against puncture, by surrounding it with a load of 10 Euro notes, each one rolled tightly - to about the size of your nostril…


In these post-anthrax attack days, I seriously doubt that this is a standard operating procedure for investigating unknown substances. More likely you will be detained until a less risky method of testing can identify the powder. Why take the chance for a few cents of laundry soap? I think you are asking for trouble.

If they don’t hassle you at all maybe next time you should out some cocaine in the middle of the detergent :smiley:

I wouldn’t do it.

Case in point: I was recently in a plane that was delayed for about 45 minutes because one woman had baking powder in her luggage. It had broken, and there was white powder all over everything. Everyone was fairly certain it was baking powder, the woman said it was baking powder, but still, the plane was delayed because they had to test it to make SURE it was baking powder.

We eventually took off, but a lot of people missed their connections because of that woman. She got a lot of dirty looks from other people on the plane.