Jean Buttons and Zippers: Do They Set Off Metal Detectors?

  • By: Chris
  • Last updated on February 4, 2023
  • Time to read: 9 min.
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It’s completely normal to be nervous before a trip. Especially when it comes to security checkpoints.

No one wants to be that traveler who holds up the line or has to suffer through an embarrassing pat down.

No wonder you’re worried about your jeans buttons and zippers setting off a metal detector.

Well, you can relax.

Metal detectors are designed for specific adjustments that operators use to ignore the fastenings on your clothing.

I can’t guarantee you that it won’t ever happen. But after reading this article, I can promise you’ll feel confident walking through any metal detector with your clothes still on.

How Do Walkthrough Metal Detectors Work?

how do walkthrough metal detectors work
Scottish physicist James Maxwell played a significant role in metal detecting birth and advancement.

In 1868, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell discovered that the relationship between magnets and electricity exists as two sides of the same coin.


Electromagnetism, or more importantly, how magnetism and electricity interact, is the foundation of how walkthrough metal detectors work.

I’ll put it in simple terms since we don’t all have a passion for complex physics equations.

wired coils powered by electricity
Metal can be located anywhere on your body thanks to the electrified coils on each side of the detector.

A walkthrough metal detector has wired coils on each side, powered by electricity. It produces a magnetic field set to the desired sensitivity level.

If a piece of metal that meets the threshold of sensitivity passes through the existing field, a corresponding field is returned to the coils.

So, it’s not the metal itself that the coils detect. It’s the magnetic field generated from the conductive properties within the metal.

Make sense?

If not, here’s a short video on the electromagnetic process by walkthrough metal detectors.

So now you know the fundamentals of how walkthrough metal detectors work.

With this insight, let’s answer your questions and set your mind at ease.

Do Jean Buttons Set Off a Metal Detector?

The size of your jean buttons is so small that it is doubtful to set off a metal detector.

But let me clarify for you.

This doesn’t mean a metal detector can’t be set off by your jeans buttons.

As I mentioned already, the threshold level of each metal detector is set for the needs of the security check. And it could change day to day.

do jeans buttons set off a metal detector
Your jean buttons can set off a metal detector. But this is not the norm.

A jean button would set off a metal detector at the highest sensitivity. However, it’s uncommon ever to adjust a metal detector that high.

Think of the last time you went to the airport or into a federal building.

Did the metal detector sound the alarm each time someone walked through?

No, I doubt it.

Why not? 

Most people have metal on their person.

Not only buttons, but there are also items like bobby pins, the frames of your glasses, and piercings.

Well, for an efficient screening (and faster), security professionals lower the sensitivity. This lets most small metallic items pass through undetected. 

But narrowly bulkier items in comparison, like a knife or lighter, will set off a metal detector.

Are Jean Buttons Metal?

are jean buttons metal
Brass is the metal used to make jean buttons. That keeps them malleable when created and durable for years of use.

According to Buttoncare, one of the leading fastener manufacturers in the world, jean buttons are mostly made of brass. This is because brass is long-lasting, durable, and resistant to rust.

Brass is a good conductor of electricity because more than 2/3 of it is made of copper.

High conductive properties make a metal detector more likely to pick up its presence.

But again, a jean button is tiny. Too tiny to set off a metal detector on its own.

Buttoncare records their standard-size jean button at 15 mm in diameter. That is just shy of 5/8 an inch.

What Happens if My Jean Buttons Set Off Metal Detectors?

what happens if my jean buttons set off metal detectors
No big deal. You’ll be okay if a physical inspection doesn’t show any restricted items.

Your jeans buttons could set off a metal detector for three reasons.

  1. The sensitivity threshold of the metal detector is set too high.
  2. Combining the magnetic field of the jean button and any other metals on you total the threshold limit.
  3. The metal detector experienced a false positive.

Before I reveal what happens if you set off the metal detector, let me explain reasons two and three a bit more.

The combination of other metals is a real consideration. 

Yes, your jean button is too small in most cases to set off the metal detector.

But the threshold level is set to pick up a certain amount of magnetic disturbance. It won’t factor in the disruption from a single item.

It weighs the sum of all magnetic field disturbances against the preset threshold.

the sum of all magnetic fields
Each conductive metal will contribute to the total magnetic field around you.

So if you have buttons, a zipper, decorative pins, and a penny or two in your pocket, you’ll probably meet that threshold.

As for false positives, like any other machine, malfunctions are possible.

A false positive could be related to improper metal detector calibration or outside interference by other machines nearby.

These machines could be highly conductive metal and sit too close to the security scanner.

Either way, if you’ve set off a metal detector at the airport, courthouse, or other secured location, don’t worry.

Typically, follow-up procedures and guidelines are non-invasive.

If you’re wearing a metal belt buckle, a wristwatch, or just failed to take your phone out of your pocket, you’ll be asked to remove them and walk back through the scanner.

remove metal items and walk back through
The first time you set off a metal detector, you’ll be asked to recheck your pockets for any forgotten metal.

If all other removable metals have been placed aside, the ordinary course of action is for the security professional to use a handheld metal detector wand.

They would request that you spread your arms and wave the wand along the outline of your body. Any notifications from the handheld detector would lead the operator to inquire about that location.

A straightforward explanation of a piercing or metal implant is often enough to get you waved through the line.

However, for stricter security screenings, like those at an airport, you should not be surprised when additional methods are taken.

worst case there will be a pat down
Even if a metal detector does go off, the most inconvenience you’ll experience is a pat down.

Worst case scenario, you would be subject to a pat down after a full body scan

This is generally done in a private room by a TSA official of the same gender. And a witness is always present for your safety.

To learn more about airport security and TSA regulations, head to my article on metal detectors going off from body piercings. You’ll know how TSA officials clear you for a flight but still respect your privacy.

Will Zippers Set Off Metal Detectors?

Because zippers are comparatively small, their electromagnetic field would not meet the threshold of a walkthrough metal detector to set it off.

will zippers set off metal detectors
They probably won’t, but zippers can set off metal detectors depending on the sensitivity settings.

The same sensitivity and threshold adjustments for jean buttons will apply to zippers.

Unless the threshold of the metal detector were set higher than usual, the metal detector would not go off.

Or, if you have enough metal on your body in conjunction with the magnetic field of the zipper, the sensitivity threshold could trigger a metal detector’s alarm.

Are Zippers Metal?

Yes, zippers can be made of metal. But not all of them are.

According to a prominent zipper manufacturer, Zippersource, there are 5 different materials used to make a zipper.

These are metal, molded plastic, nylon, water-resistant vinyl, and fire-resistant fiber.

are zippers metal
Zippers can be made of several materials, metal being one of them.

The distinct metal finishes used in zippers are aluminum, brass, antique brass, and black oxide.

The two primary metals, aluminum and brass are good conductors of electricity. The black oxide is used to coat a brass zipper to give it a black matte finish.

And antique brass is just regular brass that has been treated to appear worn.

What Happens if My Zippers Set Off Metal Detectors?

You can wear a zipper through TSA checkpoints. But a visual or physical inspection can occur if it happens to set off a metal detector.

The two most common methods are a handheld metal detector or a pat down.

what happens if my zippers set off metal detectors
Just like with jean buttons, a pat down is usually the extent of further investigation.

Just like with jean buttons, a zipper could set off a metal detector for 3 reasons.

  1. The sensitivity threshold of the metal detector is set too high.
  2. Combining the magnetic field of the zipper and any other metals on you total the threshold limit.
  3. The metal detector experienced a false positive.

TSA Clothing Rules

Do you feel a little better about your upcoming security screening?

You should. 

Countless zippers and jean buttons pass through metal detectors every day. Most of the time, they go undetected.

But what about other metallic items you might not think of until you’re waiting in line?

No one likes to be unprepared for airport security checks by the TSA.

tsa clothing rules
TSA doesn’t have a set clothing rule. But they do have suggested guidelines to make your experience easier.

So, just to put your mind at ease, you can view TSA’s website for what you can and cannot wear.

To preserve time, I reviewed the Transportation Security Administration’s suggestion on garments with metal.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much listed.

But they do note the following.

“To reduce the likelihood of an alarm that results in pat-down screening, remember to remove all items from your pockets before you go through screening. You should avoid wearing clothes, shoes and jewelry with a high metal content.”


TSA PreCheck: What is It?

As a traveler in the United States, you do have another option. You can apply to the TSA PreCheck program.

tsa precheck
TSA PreCheck is a great way to skip the lines and not worry about every metal piece on you.

TSA PreCheck is a travel program for low-risk travelers looking to speed up the security screening process.

You must apply for PreCheck to be accepted. And there are some qualifications to be approved.

  1. You must be a US citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
  2. You must never have been convicted of specific crimes.
  3. You must pay the nonrefundable enrollment fee.

The current enrollment fee for the TSA PreCheck application is $85.

TSA Precheck Benefits

What’s excellent about TSA PreCheck is all the benefits of being a member.

tsa precheck benefits
Short lines. You don’t have to take your shoes off. What else could you ask for?

Specific to your concerns, you will not have to remove jackets, belts, or shoes when reaching the airport security checkpoint.

So don’t stress about a zipper or a few buttons causing an alarm.

Also, you get access to a designated PreCheck line for screening.

According to the TSA PreCheck website, in July 2022, upwards of 95% of TSA PreCheck travelers waited less than 5 minutes in this line!

You can’t tell me that’s not amazing.

Other benefits of TSA PreCheck include not having to remove laptops from your carry-on bag or liquids and gels.

If this sounds like it’s for you, I agree.

it's worth the 85 dollars for tsa precheck application
$85 is a steal for five years of no-hassle flight experience.

It’s totally worth the $85. Your enrollment in the program lasts for 5 years after a thorough background check.

As you get close to the 5-year expiration date, you can apply to renew your membership up to 6 months before.

FAQs About Jean Buttons and Zippers Setting Off Metal Detectors

Any more questions? If so, keep reading.

Do You Have to Take Off a Zip-up Hoodie for TSA?

do you have to take off zip up hoodie for tsa
You will have to remove a zipper hoodie unless you’re an approved member of the TSA PreCheck program.

Unless you are waiting in a TSA PreCheck line, you must take off any outerwear, like a zip-up hoodie, during screening.

This also includes any jackets, coats, or oversized sweaters.

You’ll be asked to place these items on the belt for individual scanning. Just as your shoes are.

Can Zippers Go on Planes?

Yes, zippers can go on planes. They are not seen as a threat by TSA and will not be confiscated before boarding a plane.


Well, I hope I have helped you in some way.

traveling has its own pressures
Travel days can be the worst! But you can check this box off the list.

I know traveling comes with its own pressures without agonizing about metal detectors going off.

Trust me, TSA can’t change the science. On average, your zippers and jean buttons aren’t prominent enough to set off their metal detectors.

And for those wondering about strolling into federal buildings or concert events, these places tend to have even less reason to increase the sensitivity of their walkthrough metal detectors.

So stop stressing and carry on your day without worrying about your clothing causing unexpected embarrassment. 

But before you go, you might also be interested in my articles on if metal detectors can detect disposable vapes or dental implants.

The answer might surprise you!

best places to metal detect

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