What Does TSA Do With Confiscated Items? (Detailed Guide)

Ever wondered what happens to any of the items the TSA confiscate from passengers at the security checkpoint? Like a small knife, or a full sized bottle of shampoo.

Do they end up in a warehouse, or a black market? Do they get donated, recycled, or auctioned off? And is there any way to get them back?

In this post, I will answer all these questions, in addition to some tips on how to avoid losing your items to the TSA in the first place, and how to deal with the situation if it happens. 

What does the TSA do with confiscated items?

In February 2023, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened approximately 2.3 million passengers daily.

This means if only 1% of these passengers brought a single prohibited or dangerous item to the security checkpoint, it would be a total of 21.000 items that the TSA needed to confiscate.

But first, let’s address a common misconception, the agency job is not actually to “confiscate” items. 

Their job is to detect potential threats to the 2 million air travelers flying each day by preventing any hazardous or prohibited objects from getting into the secure area of the airport and the airplanes.

So If you have a prohibited article inside your carry-on bag- like a box cutter or utility knife for example, the officer will give you several options.

  • To transfer it to your check in bag
  • Send it back home with someone who dropped you off
  • Ship it at the airport (assuming the airport has a shipping center )
  • Leave it in the TSA hands ( give it to them voluntarily, Huh the word really doesn’t matter).

Most of the passengers cannot exit the security or have the time for some of the options above.

So they go with the last option, leave the item in the TSA hands.

Remember that if a passenger brings something dangerous or illegal, like cannabis, the TSA might inform the police department at the airport, and these might result in some severe fines.


But, what does the TSA do with those confiscated items?

Well, it depends on the type and the quantity of the items.

But generally the TSA agency does not keep any of these items.

They dispose any hazardous and prohibited item, while they don’t donate non hazardous items to the state agencies

If TSA ends up with possession of your item at a TSA security checkpoint, they will likely hand the item over to the state who can then decide to donate the item, throw it away, or sell it on an online surplus auction or physical retail store. 

Everyday items that are always handed over to TSA

The 3-1-1 liquid rule really confuses many people

This results in many passengers leaving behind their oversized liquids, gels, and aerosols that exceed the 3.4-ounce limit.

These include water bottles (filled not empty water bottles), shampoo, lotion, perfume, sunscreen and even some food items like yogurt, jam, and peanut butter.

In 2019, the TSA collected more than 1.5 million lb of these items, which is equivalent to about 24 full-size dump trucks.

Other items that people surrender are knives, scissors, corkscrews, and other sharp objects.

The agency also keeps a lot of sporting goods, such as golf clubs, baseball bats, hockey sticks, and ski poles. 

Most of these items are similar to bludgeon weapons or mace, even though allowed in checked bags, but not in carry-on bags.

Some of other strange items that the TSA has encountered include snakes, spear guns, fake grenades, chainsaws, and a human skull.

You can see some of these items on the TSA’s Instagram account, where they post photos and some dad jokes.

What happens to the items after the TSA confiscates them?

I wanted to find the exact process an item goes through when the TSA confiscates it.

So I found this thread from the @askTSA team on X which summarize it.

The askTSA customer service replied that prohibited items that are left at the screening checkpoints are considered voluntarily abandoned.

The agency gets rid of any prohibited liquids, aerosols, and gels, also any hazardous materials in a way that agrees with Federal and local laws and regulations.

They don’t sell or donate any of these items.

Obviously guns, weapons, and any amenities will be transferred to the local law enforcement.

But for non hazardous or non prohibited items like clothing, electronics, toys etc.., they donate them to the State Agencies for Surplus Property (SASP).

Then the state agency will decide what to do with them.

They can donate or sell them in various ways, including public auction websites like GovDeals, Public Surplus, eBay, or through other means like local retail stores.

Liquids, gels, aerosolsNoYesNoNoNo
Knives, scissors, toolsNoNoNoYesYes
Sporting goodsNoNoNoYesYes
Explosives, flammables, chemicalsYesYesNoNoNo
Clothing, shoes, books, toysNoNoYesNosold
This table shows what happens to different types of items that people surrender at the airport security checkpoint.

It is important to point out that these items can include products that passengers forget or lost at the security checkpoint or checked baggage.

These can include clothing, shoes, books, toys, and other non prohibited items. 

Can you find your product on an auction website?

If you leave or surrender a personal item at the TSA, you might be thinking if you can get it back or locate it especially on an auction website.

The answer is: maybe, but it’s not easy. 

As I already mentioned earlier, the TSA does not keep track or know what will happen next to any item they transfer to the state, and the state agencies do not provide any information about the origin or the history of the items that they sell. 

It is very difficult to identify and locate your specific item among thousands of others that are available for sale.

However, if you are determined to give it a try you can visit the websites of some of the online auction platforms that the state agencies use, such as GovDeals, Public Surplus, GSA Auctions ,and eBay

Just search for “TSA confiscated…” followed with the name of the item you are looking for.

On some websites you might have to browse through a lot of categories and listings, and bid against other buyers, but you might get lucky and snag your item at a great deal.

How do you know that TSA officers will not steal your belongings?

The response is: you don’t, but don’t worry most of the TSA employees are honest .

Additionally; the TSA has a strict code of conduct and ethics for its workers, and it has a zero-tolerance policy for theft, fraud, or abuse. 

The TSA also has a robust system of oversight and accountability, which includes audits, inspections and investigations.

If you suspect that a TSA staffer has stolen or misused your item, you can make a complaint on their official website or you can file a claim at the claims section.

Final Thoughts 

Leaving your item to the TSA can be frustrating and disappointing, especially if it has sentimental or monetary value.

However, you can always avoid this situation by following the TSA’s rules and knowing what can and can’t go through the standard TSA airport security.

Do a quick check if your item will be permitted or not, and you can rest assured that the TSA will not confiscate it.