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What Can Airport Scanners See In Luggage – You Might Be Surprised

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As you pack your bags has the thought, of what to pack to get through the scanners crossed you mind. Or you’re already standing in line at the security checkpoint, and wonder, “What Can Airport Scanners See In Luggage?” The uncertainty of what airport scanners can detect, especially when you just don’t know what to pack, can be nerve-wracking. But fear not. We are here to help you navigate the labyrinth of TSA regulations with ease.

I’ve worked with TSA for years and spent countless hours researching and understanding the ins and outs of airport security. If you’ve ever found yourself puzzled by the workings of airport security, this guide is for you.

So, please sit back, relax, and together, let’s take a journey through the world of airport scanners to answer the question, “What can airport scanners see in luggage.”

What Can Airport Scanners See In Luggage

Airport scanners, equipped with advanced technology, can see through your bag to almost everything in it. They can detect metallic and non-metallic objects inside your luggage. The scanners can detect metal objects like guns, knives, tools, and non-metallic items such as explosives, drugs, and certain types of food.

Carry-On Bags: What’s Being Spotted?

When considering “What can airport scanners see in luggage?”, especially your carry-on, they are adept at detecting both metallic and non-metallic objects. They utilize X-rays to peer through the surface of your bag, constructing detailed images of its contents. Security officers rely on these images to gauge the density of items, using this information to identify potential illegal substances.

Checked Baggage: Not Left Unchecked

Your checked baggage isn’t exempt from the question, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” Similar to carry-ons, they undergo X-ray screening. If security personnel spot any questionable items, they won’t hesitate to inspect your bag’s contents.


Decoding How Airport Scanners Operate

Non-ionized radiation equipment includes body scanners and metal detectors. The body scanners can see through your clothes and form an image of your body. When asking, “What can airport baggage scanners see?” it is good to note what they are looking for first. The scanner is looking for metal because guns and knives are usually metal. But it’s not like they can actually see your body as if you didn’t have clothes on.

Airport security uses metal detectors to do random walk-around checks of luggage. You may have seen them floating around the airport, checking suitcases that are sitting beside you.

Non-ionizing Radiation Scanning Equipment

The 2 types of Non-Ionized scanners are:

  • Airport Metal Detectors: These detectors employ magnetic fields to identify metal objects. When pondering “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” it’s essential to understand these detectors’ capabilities.
  • Millimeter Wave Machines: These machines utilize low-energy non-ionizing radiofrequency waves to identify threats, bouncing waves off individuals to detect concealed objects.

Ionizing Radiation Scanning Equipment

Airports use Ionizing radiation or X-ray machines to scan the luggage. The screening process is a scanner that makes detailed images of the items in your luggage. It does this by bouncing waves off of the objects to determine their mass and density. As a result, projected images come up on a screen used by security.

The 2 types of Ionized scanners are:

  • Ionizing Radiation Machines: These machines harness energy potent enough to dislodge electrons from atoms. They play a crucial role in answering the question, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?”.
  • Backscatter Passenger Scanners: Primarily used to identify threats like weapons, these machines use low-energy x-rays that reflect back to the device.

But the kicker is an airport scanner doesn’t always know what it is seeing. So if security sees an item that is not a clear picture or can’t determine what kind of metal or chemical it is, they will search your luggage contents. 

It is important to remember that the security staff is there to keep you and other passengers safe. While it can be annoying to have your luggage searched, it is necessary. Therefore, it is best to cooperate with the security staff and follow their instructions.

Also, plan ahead and know what items are allowed in your carry-on luggage and pack accordingly. This will help reduce the amount of time you spend in the security line.

What Daily Items Will Trigger A Security Search?

Did you know that sausage and cheese stored in your bag resemble explosives? Or that airport staff might mistake a nail polish bottle for a bomb?

If you’re asking, “What can airport scanners see in luggage,” please be aware there are many different things in your luggage that can trigger a security search. Some are shoes, books, toiletries, shampoo, soap, hair care products, lotion, perfumes, and foodstuffs. These items all tend to have similar densities to explosives.

If you packed basil leaves in a baggie in your luggage, it might trigger a search as it resembles marijuana. However, TSA is not looking for marijuana, but since you are asking, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” it’s best to be careful. If it is basil, you will be fine, but if you plan to pack marijuana in your bags, it could be bad news. Marijuana is illegal in airports and on airplanes.

When you travel with kiddos, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” is also a concern. A child’s toy gun can trigger a search. It may not be metal, but the image alone can cause a ruckus. So, make sure your child’s luggage only has approved toys and games.

Items That May Trigger Scanners

Airport scanners are designed to detect a wide range of items based on their density, material, and shape. When you ask, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” this list will be helpful. Here are some things commonly found in a person’s suitcase that might trigger the scanners at the airport:

Items that are allowed but will need to be removed at the security checkpoint.

liquids of 3.4 ounces in a quart size baggieFull-sized DVD players and video game consolesLarge bottles of liquid medications
LaptopsOxygen tanksWrapped gifts
Hypodermic needlesLithium-ion batteries in checked bags

Items that are NOT allowed in carry on or checked bags.

Guns and ammo are allowed when packed properly in checked bags only. And if you ask, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” in reference to guns, rest assured that the scanners will detect any firearms concealed and not declared.

KnivesScissorsBox cutters
Hand guns AmmoRealistic replicas of firearms
Wrench (longer 7 in)Pliers (longer 7 in)Screwdrivers (longer 7 in)
DrillsDrill bitsbaseball bats
Pool cuesSki polesHocket sticks
Throwing starsMacePepper spray
FireworksFlaresLook-alike explosives
Aerosol cansLighter fluidsTear gas
Bleach Spray paintMetal cans
Large metal pots or pansTorch lightersGasoline
Creamy dipsCreamsGel shoe inserts
SpreadsLotions (over 3.4 oz in carry on)Stun guns
ChocolateNun chucksParts of guns
Cheese blocksGolf clubsRazor blades

It’s essential to note that while these items might trigger airport scanners, not all of them are prohibited. Some might be allowed in checked luggage but not in carry-ons, and vice versa. When you ask, “What can airport scanners see in luggage?” please note that some of these items you can take but they must be declared at the ticket counter like guns, ammo, golf clubs, and some sports equipment.

Neither of these tables is an inclusive list, however, they do offer a good idea of some restrictions. Always check with the specific airline and the Transportation Security Administration (or the equivalent agency in your country) for the most up-to-date regulations and restrictions.

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How To Hide Things From Airport Scanners?

If you’re asking, “What can airport scanners see in luggage, you may be concerned because you want to hide things in your suitcase. Just be aware that if your hidden items are illegal, you are taking a grave chance of facing charges. I know foil can block some items, but the foil folds are detectable and will trigger a search. 

Let’s say you get past the security scanners; it is important to note when asking, “How to hide things in checked luggage?” that TSA is not the only checkpoint before boarding a plane. There are dogs that do random checks to sniff explosives, as well as metal detectors. Is it worth the risk?

Here Are Some Frequently Asked Questions About What Can Airport Scanners See In Luggage

Let’s look at a few questions you may have about what can airport scanners see in luggage.

Do drugs show up on airport scanners?

Drugs can show up, but the scanners are not looking for drugs; they are searching for items that may look like, let’s say, explosives. If the airport security personnel are paying close attention, they may see your drugs and stop you.

How should you pack your luggage to go through scanners?

The TSA website has information on what you can and cannot pack in various types of luggage. If you have concerns, please check the link before traveling. What you can pack is for your safety and the safety of other passengers. 

It is important to remember that security personnel cannot always identify every item in your bag, so be mindful of the things you pack. It is best to avoid anything that may appear suspicious, such as liquids and powders, as well as any weapons or firearms. Additionally, if you have a laptop or other electronic device, ensure it is easily accessible to remove to a bin at the security checkpoint.

What is the future of airport scanners?

Technology is ever-evolving, and airport security is no different. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it is spending $781.2 million for hundreds of scanners that use technology employed in hospitals to examine internal organs to more quickly and thoroughly scan carry-on bags for weapons and explosives.”

It’s not really the future: it is the here and now. There are plans to implement 38 scanners in airports this year. As a matter of fact, there may already be some in place right now to help answer the question, what can airport scanners see in luggage?

Technology advancements like this are huge because in the future you may not have to remove electronic devices from bags and significantly increase your time spent at security. 

Video On Amazing Results Of New Technology Scanners

What is this new technology we are talking about? Here is a video explaining what they are, how they can help, and what can airport scanners see in luggage.

Additional Resources

If you are looking for more tutorials, walkthroughs, and troubleshooting on TSA, here are some additional posts about TSA :


Airport security checkpoints have set a system in place for our safety, but it is not infallible. If you are asking, “What can airport scanners see in luggage,” remember that many household items may trigger the scanners requiring a search of your bags. 

With that said, technology is advancing, and new developments in scanning are arriving as we speak. So be patient with security checkpoints and the TSA security staff, as they are there to protect you from harm. 

Happy travels, my friends.

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Laura Fuller

Hello, I am a luggage and travel fanatic. With a vast knowledge of TSA regulations, I am here to assist you on your journey. Please join me, and together, we will navigate the world of travel. From TSA and air to cruising the high seas, we will explore the best accessories and tips for smooth travel.

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