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April 21, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Can I bring ferrofluid on an airplane?

I'm traveling for the weekend in the USA and will not be checking my luggage. I'll be visiting a friend who would be really excited to receive a gift of the 2 fluid ounces of ferrofluid that I have. It's less than 3 oz, but likely to set off some alarms. Will it get confiscated?
posted by cubby to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you mail it instead?

I know it seems a little ridiculous, but I am trying to imagine you explaining the idea of ferrofluid to the guy who runs the x-ray scanner, and I don't see it going well.
posted by 517 at 6:04 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think that depends entirely on the TSA screener you get. Obviously, the 2oz rule does not apply to substances that are dangerous. Whether or not you can convince a TSA screener with no science background that ferrofluid is not dangerous per se and would not, for instance, interfere with the flight instrumentation, I can't say.

Personally, I know what ferrofluid is, and I'd confiscate it if it were me. The screeners have no way of confirming the constitution of a liquid at the gate, and ferrofluid acts pretty odd (which is why it's cool, obvs.).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:08 PM on April 21, 2010

Nah, just put it in one of the toiletry travel containers (drugstores sell them for less than a dollar each) and make sure it goes in your toiletries Zip-loc bag.
posted by halogen at 6:10 PM on April 21, 2010

This is not a listed item on their website. This will set off the metal detector if you carry it. It will look funny on the x-ray, but maybe not too funny? I'd check with them in some simple way, like maybe their twitter account to see if you can get some sort of ruling in advance. I'm sure you're not the first person who has tried this.
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 PM on April 21, 2010

As with all things TSA, it depends on who checks you through and if they notice it. My gut feeling is that it won't look too strange when going through the xray, it should look like a small hunk of not very dense metal. If you are bringing a rare earth magnet, that might also lead to confusion - but it shouldn't be too hard to explain.

The carrier fluid on the other hand, might be flammable depending on the composition of the ferrofluid. Given the guidelines, this actually is a good reason for them to confiscate it - taking 2 oz of kerosene on a plane doesn't seem like a good idea for example. But if the container is sealed and you are not checked for organics they probably wouldn't notice or even think to look...
posted by NoDef at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2010

It's not magnetic per se? Unless inside a magnetic field it is inert?
Follow halogen's and jessamyn's advice
posted by lungtaworld at 6:25 PM on April 21, 2010

I wouldn't risk it. You won't likely be able to explain to TSA why you have 2 oz of melted terminator in your carry-on. I think there is a real possibility of having to go into a room and explain what it is. Mail it.
posted by sanko at 6:28 PM on April 21, 2010

I'd put it with the rest of your toiletries (3-1-1 rule) and put it in a bottle that doesn't scream "MAD SCIENCE EXPERIMENT ENCLOSED HEREIN." It'll probably go right through. Maybe if it looks weird it'll get the chemical swab test. But if you're just using mineral oil and MICR toner, which is the usual recipe for ferrofluids, I can't imagine it would set off any of the sensors.

If they ask, I'd probably call it "Chinese Magnetic Healing Lotion" or something. I'm sure people bring tons of goofy snakeoil stuff through the checkins all the time; no way will that be the weirdest thing they'll see that day.

If they start to question it, just let them have it; the more you argue the more weird you'll look, and the more likely it becomes that you'll end up getting asked a lot of questions and missing your flight. You can always mix up some more and FedEx it if they confiscate it.

And if you wanted to make a quick buck, you could probably whip up a batch and sell it as Chinese Magnetic Healing Lotion, too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:29 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the cost of the bottle is worth the curiosity of finding out if it will be confiscated.

I'd suggest:

1. As a liquid, you are required to put it in your transparent ziplock quart-bag with the other toiletries, so do this. Don't otherwise draw attention to it or try to hide it.
2. Have a tourist souvenir fridge-magnet or something that you put in the same tray when going through the x-ray machine, so that you have a magnet on hand if you need to demonstrate that the fluid is what you say it is. (If an officer is suspicious, s/he will not give you access to anything in your bag, hence you'd need to have the magnet-item in the same plastic tray as your quart-bag, just put it with the other contents of your pockets... but not next to your credit cards :-)
3. Show up early in case there is a delay (you should be doing this regardless)
4. Tell us how it goes!
posted by -harlequin- at 7:08 PM on April 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas, folks. I'm gonna try to take it as a carry-on. Will post an update after the trip to let you know how things turn out!
posted by cubby at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2010

Response by poster: So: I put the stuff in my toiletries bag and carried it through the line. My bag got pulled, and the TSA agent went straight for the ferrofluid. She did two different tests, and asked me what it was. I decided to lie and called it "moisturizer." She put it through the X-ray machine a second time and then sent me on my way.

Seems like the answer to this one is probably dependent on the individual TSA agent. I got lucky and was able to get by; another agent might have decided it was too suspicious. But the bottom line for me: it is possible to take ferrofluid as a carry-on.
posted by cubby at 4:15 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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