Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes?

Can airport scanners see through clothes? Can airport scanners see through my body?

These are examples of questions that you and I ask all the time we walk through those scanners.

In the post-9/11 world, airport security has become a critical concern for travelers and governments alike.

One of the most visible aspects of this heightened security is the use of airport security scanners.

These devices, which use advanced technology to screen passengers for concealed weapons and explosives, have become a ubiquitous part of the airport experience.

However, these scanners have also raised significant concerns about privacy and security.

Some people worry that these devices can see through clothes, revealing intimate details about a person’s body to security personnel.

This concern is not unfounded, as early versions of these scanners did produce images that were quite revealing.

However, modern scanners use privacy-enhancing technologies to obscure sensitive details while still effectively detecting threats.

In this post, we will delve deeper into the role of airport security scanners, the privacy concerns they raise, and how these issues are being addressed.

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes?

The answer is YES.

Airport scanners can technically see through clothes.

Both backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, which are commonly used in airports, have this capability.

Backscatter scanners use low-energy x-rays that reflect back to the machine.

On the other hand, millimeter-wave scanners use low-energy non-ionizing radiofrequency waves.

These technologies allow the scanners to detect a wide range of metallic and nonmetallic threats.

However, it’s important to note that these scanners are designed to respect passenger privacy.

The Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) see a generic human form or avatar to ensure passenger privacy while maintaining security effectiveness.

This looks kind of like a gingerbread man or paper doll.

So, while these scanners can technically “see” through clothes, they do not produce detailed or explicit images of the body underneath.

Instead, they highlight potential threats on a generic outline of a human body.

How Airport Scanners Work?

Airport scanners are a crucial part of the security measures at airports.

They help ensure the safety of passengers and crew by detecting potential threats.

There are two main types of scanners used in airports: X-ray scanners and millimeter-wave scanners.

Each uses different technology to achieve the same goal: keeping air travel safe.

X-ray Scanners

X-ray scanners are a type of imaging technology commonly used in airports to inspect the contents of luggage.

They work by emitting a controlled amount of X-ray radiation.

The emitted radiation passes through the bag and is captured on the other side by a detector.

This detector then converts the X-rays into a 2D image which is displayed on a monitor.

The X-rays are absorbed by different materials to varying degrees.

Dense materials, such as metal and hard plastic, absorb more X-rays and thus appear darker on the image.

Conversely, less dense materials, like fabric and organic materials, absorb fewer X-rays and appear lighter.

This technology is highly effective at detecting metallic objects and other dense materials that could be used as weapons.

However, it’s worth noting that while X-ray scanners are excellent at detecting hard objects, they can struggle with softer, less dense materials.

In terms of safety, the amount of radiation emitted by these scanners is extremely low.

In fact, you would need to go through an airport scanner thousands of times to receive the same amount of radiation as a single medical X-ray.

It’s also worth noting that while X-ray scanners can technically “see” through clothes and luggage, they do not produce detailed or explicit images of the body or personal items.

Instead, they highlight potential threats in a way that respects passenger privacy.

Millimeter-Wave Scanners

Millimeter-wave scanners are a type of body scanning technology used in many airports to enhance security.

They use non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation in the millimeter-wave spectrum to generate a three-dimensional image of the body.

Here’s how they work:

  1. Emission of Waves: Two rotating antennas emit millimeter waves as you stand still inside the machine.
  2. Reflection and Detection: These waves pass through clothing and bounce off your skin, as well as any potential threats.
  3. Image Generation: The reflected waves return to two receivers, which send images, front and back, to an operator station.

These scanners are designed to detect metallic and non-metallic items, including weapons and explosives, that could be concealed under clothing.

In terms of privacy, millimeter-wave scanners produce a generic outline rather than a detailed image of the body.

This outline identifies areas where objects are detected but does not reveal anatomical details.

Therefore, while these scanners can technically “see” through clothes, they do not produce explicit images of the body underneath.

It’s also worth noting that millimeter-wave scanners use non-ionizing radiation, which is considered safe for human exposure in the amounts used by these machines.

Advantages and Disadvantages of these Scanners

X-ray Scanners


  1. Clearer Image: X-ray scanners provide a clearer image of low-density objects.
  2. Less False Results: They are less likely to provide false results than their millimeter-wave counterparts.


  1. Limited Depth: Since the system is looking for the reflected signal and it has a small level, a backscatter system cannot obtain a usable signal from deep within the object being scanned.
  2. Radiation Exposure: They expose humans to low-doses of ionizing radiation.

Millimeter-Wave Scanners


  1. Accurate Distance Measurements: Millimeter-wave scanners provide more accurate distance measurements of nearby obstacles when installed in a car.
  2. Small Antenna Sizes: They have small antenna sizes, allowing large numbers of antennas to be packed in a small area.


  1. Vulnerability to Atmospheric Conditions: Millimeter-wave scanners are vulnerable to atmospheric and other meteorological parameters.
  2. Less Effective at Detecting Low-Density Objects: They are less effective at detecting low-density objects compared to X-ray backscatter scanners.

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes? Privacy Concerns

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes?

The Controversy Surrounding Airport Scanners

Airport scanners, particularly full-body scanners, have been a subject of controversy due to privacy concerns.

These scanners, which include X-ray backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, can technically “see” through clothes.

This has led to an outcry from passengers and civil rights groups who view these scanners as an invasion of privacy.

The controversy is further fueled by the fact that these scanners are often unable to differentiate between certain types of materials, leading to false positives and additional screening for innocent passengers.

However, it is critical to remember that airport security is critical to our safety.

The idea is to identify potential dangers before they board a flight.

So, while the scanners have the capability of seeing through your garments, this does not imply that they do.

Legal and Ethical Issues Surrounding these Concerns

The use of airport scanners also raises several legal and ethical issues.

One major legal concern is the argument that body scanners breach child pornography laws as they generate indecent pictures of minors and adults alike.

Ethically, there are concerns about racial discrimination, with reports suggesting that black passengers and those wearing certain religious head coverings like hijabs or turbans feel profiled.

There are also concerns about the potential health risks associated with exposure to the low doses of ionizing radiation emitted by some types of scanners.

Are There Steps Taken to Address These Privacy Concerns?

Definitely YES, the relevant authorities have taken steps to address these concerns.

For instance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made recommendations to ensure privacy notices are complete, available at locations using facial recognition technology (FRT), and to develop plans for auditing program partners for privacy compliance.

In the UK, passengers can ask for a private search instead of a body scan and can request a security officer of the same sex to analyze their scan.

Furthermore, airports are increasingly focusing on data security and privacy, setting guidelines regarding privacy, radiation exposure, and maintenance requirements for these scanners.

Privacy Filters and Algorithms

To address privacy concerns associated with airport scanners, several privacy filters and algorithms have been developed.

These technologies examine the millimeter-wave surveillance images to locate and segment the threats and place them on either a silhouette of the person or a wire-frame humanoid representation.

In this way, all human features are removed from the final image and personal privacy is maintained.

For instance, one system called TAC creates a “green ghost” image with black sections signaling a potential threat.

They do not show genitalia, breasts, or buttocks.

The images are created by Terahertz technology that highlights when an object is blocking the body’s natural wave pattern.

Dressing Appropriately for Airport Security

Dressing appropriately can help streamline your experience at airport security. Here are some tips:

  • Wear as Little Metal as Possible: Avoid clothing with metal embellishments. Be ready to remove your belt if it has a metal buckle4.
  • Wear Slip-On Shoes: Shoes with laces or buckles can slow down the security process, so it’s best to avoid them if possible.
  • Wear Light Layers: Wearing a light jacket or cardigan is a good way to stay comfortable on a plane. But, if you’re going through security, make sure you take it off before you go through the metal detector.
  • Wear Comfortable Bottoms: You’ll want to be comfortable at the airport (no stiletto heels!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t still look good. Try relaxed trousers with a blazer or jeans with flats and a simple black blouse.

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes? Steps to Maintain Privacy While Being Scanned

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes?

Maintaining your privacy while being scanned at airports is important. Here are some steps you can take:

  • When it comes time to walk through the checkpoint screening equipment, travelers need to remove all items from their pockets. When doing so, put those items (keys, wallet, cell phone, lip balm, etc.) directly into your carry-on bag instead of into the checkpoint bin to reduce touchpoints between your belongings and the bins.
  • Be sure any metal objects have been removed from your person in advance. Even fingernail clippers are not allowed.
  • Be sure to secure your film in your carry-on bag and request a hand inspection prior to the screening.

Can Airport Scanners See Through Clothes? Frequently Asked Questions

Do Airport Body Scanners See Your Naked Body?

Technically YES BUT airport body scanners do not show your naked body on their screen.

While these scanners can technically “see” through clothes, they do not produce detailed or explicit images of the body.

Body scanners use a technology called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) for full-body scans at airport checkpoints.

Essentially, the machines send millimeter waves toward a passenger’s insides.

The waves go through clothing and reflect off the passenger’s skin (and whatever else is concealed) and bounce back an image, which is interpreted by the machine.

However, what the Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) see is a generic human form or avatar.

This ensures passenger’s privacy while maintaining security effectiveness.

This looks kind of like a gingerbread man or paper doll.

With millimeter wave machines that have the privacy software installed, TSOs are only seeing this outline with a green ‘clear’ or a red ‘stop and check’ signal.

So, while these scanners can technically “see” through clothes, they do not produce explicit images of the body underneath.

Can You Refuse to Go Through an Airport Body Scanner?

Yes, you are legally allowed to refuse to go through an airport body scanner for any given reason.

In the U.S, according to TSA security screening procedures, if you opt out of the body scanner, the alternate option is a full body pat-down.

However, you should also be aware that if you are selected for “enhanced screening” also known as the dreaded “SSSS” on your boarding pass, the TSA can still insist that you go through the body scanners.

How Many Layers of Clothing Can Airport Scanners See Through?

A full-body scanner developed in China using space radar technology has been demonstrated to be capable of seeing through 30 articles of clothes.

This means that airport scanners can see through at least 30 layers of clothes.

However, it’s important to note that while these scanners can technically “see” through clothes, they do not produce detailed or explicit images of the body.

Instead, they highlight potential threats in a way that respects passenger privacy.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Drugs Hidden In Clothes?

While airport scanners cannot outright detect a specific drug, they show security personnel the content of people’s luggage and any items that may be carried on a person.

If the scanners detect any suspicious items, security personnel investigate to confirm whether any illegal items are present.

If drugs are found, law enforcement may then get involved.

Drugs stored inside special compartments or hidden pockets in clothes are also easily detected by security personnel.

Full-body scanners detect items even if they’re otherwise concealed. Security personnel will see the suspicious items highlighted on their scanners and investigate immediately.

So, while airport scanners can’t directly detect drugs, they make it nearly impossible for security personnel to not notice or spot drugs being carried by passengers

Can Airport Scanners See Through Underwear?

No, airport scanners are designed to be unable to see through underwear.

Instead, the outlines of underwear can be seen.

However, TSA employees have occasionally claimed to catch a glimpse of private parts through blurry images.

Do Metal Detectors See Through Clothes?

No, metal detectors cannot see through clothes.

However, metal detectors can detect metallic objects through clothing.

They are designed to detect any metallic items that a person might be carrying under their clothes, such as weapons or metal contraband.

However, they do not provide an image of the body or the clothing. Instead, they simply alert security personnel to the presence of metal.

So, while metal detectors can “see” metallic items through clothes, they do not see through clothes in the way an X-ray machine or a full-body scanner might.

Can the TSA See my Bra?

Yes, the TSA can see your bra during the body scan.

However, they do not see it in the way you might think.

The body scanner does not show your naked body on its screen.

Instead, it shows a generic human form or avatar to ensure passenger privacy while maintaining security effectiveness.

This looks kind of like a gingerbread man or paper doll.

With millimeter wave machines that have the privacy software installed, TSOs are only seeing this outline with a green ‘clear’ or a red ‘stop and check’ signal.

However, underwire bras might get you flagged when going through the body scanner or metal detector.

If you want to avoid dealing with the extra pat down, you might consider opting for a non-underwire bra.

Do You Have to Take Off Your Hoodie at the Airport?

Yes, you may need to take off your hoodie when going through airport security.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that passengers remove bulky outerwear before beginning the security screening process.

This includes outerwear like hooded sweatshirts.

Whether a hoodie is considered bulky enough to be removed probably depends on the thickness of the fabric and the tightness of the fit.

If you do wear your hoodie at the airport, you should keep the hood down.

Not taking your hoodie off might increase your chances of getting an uncomfortable pat-down search.

If you really don’t want to take your hoodie off, the TSA will perform additional screening to make sure you are not hiding anything.

Any baggy clothing will increase the chances of receiving a pat-down inspection.

While a zip-up hoodie has more jacket characteristics, it’s probably better to wear a zip-up hoodie so you can easily remove it and put it in a separate bin for screening.

Make sure you remember to wear a t-shirt or something underneath.

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