packing and gear

The Very Best Toiletry Bottles

To keep your travel-size liquids organized — and leakproof.

Photo: Hugo Yu
Photo: Hugo Yu

In this article

Surrendering your favorite moisturizer at airport security is no way to begin a vacation. That’s where refillable toiletry bottles come in — not only are they under the TSA-approved 3.5 ounces, they’re leakproof with secure lids you can use over and over again. Of course, not all toiletry bottles are created equal, and if you’ve ever had a shampoo explosion in your carry-on thanks to a flimsy lid, you might be cautious. (There are always minis, but when you already own full-size versions of your toiletries, that added cost feels redundant.) To find the best toiletry bottles for every kind of traveler, I spoke to frequent fliers and travel experts about the toiletry bottles that won’t lead to travel disasters, then tested out those recommendations for myself alongside my fellow Strategist staffers. While you’re here, we’ve also written guides to the best carry-on luggage and men’s Dopp kits.

What we’re looking for

Number of bottles

I’ve made a clear note beneath each set of toiletry bottles, as the number of bottles included is different for each product on this list. The higher the number of bottles in a kit means more storage space but also a higher variety of bottle types, too. For example, if you’re someone with a complex skin-care routine, you’ll want a bigger kit with tubs, pump-top bottles, and classic bottles to house all your lotions and sprays. If you’re someone who packs lighter, a smaller kit should be more than enough.

Accessories

They’re designed to keep things clean, but sometimes decanting your products into toiletry bottles can get pretty messy. Luckily, lots of kits come with accessories to make the whole process a little simpler, from funnels for divvying up liquids to spatulas for scooping face cream from one bottle to another (and brushes for keeping your bottles clean). To keep things organized, some kits also come with a transparent bag to keep all of your bottles in one place (and save you from having to squeeze them into a flimsy plastic bag at security).

Maximum capacity

The size of the bottle you’ll want will depend on what you plan to decant into it and how long you’ll be traveling. I’ve included the maximum fluid capacity of each bottle (or of the biggest bottle in each set) so you know how big you can go.

Best toiletry bottles overall

Number of bottles: 17 | Accessories: Funnel, spatula, cleaning brush, plastic bag | Maximum capacity: Three ounces

This comprehensive travel-bottle set includes two 3-ounce silicone bottles, two 2-ounce silicone bottles, two 25-millimeter pump-top bottles, four plastic tubs, two toothbrush covers, a funnel, two spatulas, and a cleaning brush, all inside a transparent plastic case. My fellow Strategist writer Rachael Griffiths has taken it on 11 flights so far with great success. Inside the larger bottles, she’ll squeeze shampoo and conditioner; cleanser and moisturizer goes inside the smaller bottles. The tubs are for a little smidgen of eye cream, she says, “and I’ll also pour some setting spray into the spray-pump bottles if I’m planning a big night out.” The caps screw on tight and have been consistently leak-free, and she likes how the bottles are made of a clear plastic, so you can easily see how much product you’ve gone through on your trip (and how much you’ve got left to last you). The set also comes recommended by frequent travelers like Simify director Mac Steer and River North Communication CEO Kelly Ferraro, who made the investment after tragically surrendering several luxury face creams to security and hasn’t looked back.

Best (less expensive) toiletry bottles

Number of bottles: 11 | Accessories: Funnel, stopper, spatula | Maximum capacity: 3.04 ounces

I like the price point of these bottles (the 11-piece kit is regularly on sale for less than $10) and that they’re dishwasher-safe. Brittany Allyn, the blogger behind Thirty Waves who documents her travels on TikTok, was initially drawn to them for aesthetic reasons but has found that they’re also “versatile for all my products: shampoo, conditioner, favorite hair product, serum, spray, and three small containers for my other skin-care products.” The kit comes with a mix of pouches, traditional bottles, and capsule-esque mini-jars as well as a funnel, spatula, and pipette to help you fill them up.

Best classic toiletry bottles

Number of bottles: Six | Accessories: Plastic bag | Maximum capacity: Three ounces

I am consistently impressed by Sea to Summit’s travel and outdoor products, which are typically more durable and cleverly designed than those of competing brands. So I wasn’t surprised when Andres Zuleta, the founder of Boutique Japan, recommended them. “I used to use the ones you can get anywhere, at Duane Reade or Target — like, the ones that are colorful and kind of squishy and have a flip-top lid,” Zuleta says. “Honestly, I had problems with those every time. One of them would always leak.” He hasn’t experienced any of that with Sea to Summit bottles. Zuleta describes them as mini Nalgene water bottles because of their tough exterior. “They are airtight,” he adds. “I’ve been using them for two years now and never had an issue.” The pack comes with three three-ounce bottles and three 1.3-ounce bottles, which Zuleta says is plenty. He fills his with hand sanitizer, lotion, jojoba oil, and shower gel and says he always comes home with his bottles at least partially full. He’s a fan of the actual bag it comes with, too. Instead of plastic, it’s made from TPU, a durable, abrasion-resistant material that is a reusable alternative to single-use plastic bags, according to the brand. It’s roomy enough that, in addition to the bottles, Zuleta can fit in some extras, such as his Malin+Goetz deodorant and a travel toothbrush.

Best flat-pack toiletry bottles

Number of bottles: Three | Accessories: None | Maximum capacity: Three ounces

When I asked travel blogger Jessica Ufuoma about good gifts for frequent fliers, she told me about these toiletry bottles from Matador. They’re nylon leakproof packs that can be filled up with all the liquids you’ll need for your trip. Each one holds three ounces, so they’re compliant with TSA requirements. The flat-pack design also makes them more compact than traditional bottles, allowing you to stuff even more into your toiletry bag. In addition to the functionality, Ufuoma likes the look of these pouches. “Their sleek and minimalist designs make for the perfect gift for stylish and savvy travelers,” she says.

Best silicone toiletry bottles

Number of bottles: Three | Accessories: None | Maximum capacity: 3.4 ounces

Even if you’re not flying, reusable toiletry bottles can come in handy. Emily Mandagie, one-half of the couple behind the outdoors-focused website the Mandagies, says she takes these Humangear squeeze bottles on nearly every overnight adventure and recommends them for backpacking and road trips. These silicone bottles come in 3.4-ounce, 2.5-ounce, and 1.7-ounce sizes, and Mandagie loves how versatile they are. “For example, on road trips we will fill them with things like face wash and dish soap, but on backpacking trips we’ll fill them with sunscreen or even condiments for a meal,” she says. They are FDA food safe, she says, so there’s no worries there, and they are also dishwasher safe, making them easy to clean. One trip’s sriracha container can be another’s shampoo bottle.

Best (less expensive) silicone bottles

Number of bottles: Six | Accessories: None | Maximum capacity: 3.04 ounces

Travel blogger Nina Ragusa (known as Where in the World Is Nina?) has been all over the world with this more affordable silicone set, which she says outperforms Walmart’s own-brand options and is more space efficient, too. “So many other plastic bottles resulted in an explosion of liquid in my toiletry bag,” she says. “They crack and break.” Typically, a harder plastic toiletry bottle will maintain its shape, making it always the same size. “These bottles, though, smoosh down as you use them, eventually getting almost flat,” saving you space in your bag as your trip progresses. “And they quite simply won’t break.”

Best modular travel containers

Number of bottles: Sold individually or in sets of 6 and 12 | Accessories: None | Maximum capacity: 0.56 ounces

Cadence makes stylish, multiuse magnetic containers from ocean-bound plastic. Sold individually, they’re designed to cling to each other, creating what the company calls a “honeycomb.” The lids, each of which gets its own custom label, are also magnetic, which makes them more airtight. I was skeptical about these because of their high price point, but I’m sold after taking them on a couple of international trips last year. First of all, it is way easier to decant product into tubs as opposed to squeezable bottles — no more last-minute messing around with funnels before a flight. The capsules are also incredibly solid in their construction, to the extent that I feel comfortable tossing them into my backpack or suitcase wherever they fit, rather than storing them a separate leakproof toiletry bag that takes up valuable space. Briona Lamback, the founder of Buoyant, adds that they’re small but mighty: “I usually get enough cleanser and moisturizer for a sixish-day trip in each.”

Best (less expensive) modular travel containers

Number of bottles: Sold individually | Accessories: None | Maximum capacity: 2.2 ounces (large petite tube), 1 ounce (large cream container)

If you want to build your own set of refillable toiletry bottles on a budget and can live without cute colors and magnets, I’m also a fan of Muji’s simple plastic travel containers and have used them on many trips. While I’d probably store them in a waterproof toiletry bag just to be safe, I’ve never had leakage issues with these, and there are a number of size options for different lengths of trips. Just note that they don’t come with any accessories for decanting, which can make transferring any particularly gloopy shampoos and conditioners a bit tricky.

Some other travel essentials we’ve written about:

Our experts:

• Brittany Allyn, the blogger behind Thirty Waves
Briona Lamback, the founder of Buoyant
• Kelly Ferraro, CEO of River North Communications
Emily Mandagie, one-half of the couple behind the outdoors-focused website the Mandagies
Nina Ragusa, travel blogger
• Mac Steer, the owner and director of Simify
Jessica Ufuoma, travel blogger
• Andres Zuleta, the founder of Boutique Japan

Additional reporting by Rachael Griffiths.

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The Very Best Toiletry Bottles