My question is as simple as it sounds. With the liquid filled to the top of an open container;

How to transport liquids in open containers without spilling?

Specifically if I prepare myself a drink or a soup in the kitchen and then want to consume it in the living room I usually walk there with the food in my hands. Does using a serving tray make a difference?

I tried to walk

  • more slowly
    • The liquid still seems to slop. Surprisingly even more than before.
  • more evenly
    • I can't notice a difference

At work I sometimes spill water in the stairwell. So a solution should also work on an uneven path.

  • 2
    @Alex As you said yourself, waitresses do this all the time. This isn't something that needs an uncommon solution, because the simple fact there are millions of people doing it everyday means it's a common solution.
    – Wipqozn
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 19:34
  • 1
    I've always thought a tray with an spinning gyroscope secured to it (for stabilization) would be a wonderful invention. It would always move smoothly through space (I think), so any drinks or soup bowls placed on it would move smoothly through space too. That is WAYYYYY too elaborate for your situation, but I wanted to mention it anyway. Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 19:57
  • 1
    @Alex Your question doesn't require any special tools, though, and you're not looking for an uncommon solution. You specifically asked for the method waitresses use to transport liquids. Asking for the method used by professionals is not on-topic on lifehacks, because we're about looking for out of the box solutions, and the standard method used by a professional is not uncommon or out of the box.
    – Wipqozn
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 12:19
  • 2
    Don't fill your cup to the top or use a bigger cup. It's just common sense.
    – CustomX
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 10:02
  • 2
    I have seen (in Istanbul) waiters carrying lots of drinks on a tray suspended from 3 chains. This seems to work very well.
    – RedSonja
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 13:32

10 Answers 10


The trick is to sort of isolate your arm and shoulder from the rest of your body when you're moving, so that your body's moving but the combined unit of your arm, shoulder, and hand carrying the drink isn't.

The only way I can achieve this is to fix my attention on what I'm carrying rather than looking at the floor or stairs as I walk, but it's much more difficult on uneven terrain. It does require a bit of practice to get the technique off pat.

I'd also say it's easier to go upstairs with a drink in hand in this way than it is to go downstairs, particularly if there's a handrail to hold onto with your other hand - I suspect because one's peripheral vision is taking in the stairway when going up, and the handrail provides more stability. If I have to carry drinks downstairs, I just don't fill right to the top, but still manage to slop it a bit anyway.

Having a tray or a saucer just means, when it slops over, it's at least on the tray and not on the floor, but doesn't seem to improve the chances of not spilling it, in fact, quite the opposite - I'm more likely to spill something on a tray than directly in my hand, but that may simply be down to lack of practice.

It might be better for you to buy yourself one of those cups with a lid for carrying downstairs.


It helps a lot if you hold the drink loosely, in the tips of your fingers so there won't be a lot of shock when walking, making the drink spill less. I know this from my own experience, as a waitress.

  • Holding the drink loosely doesn't just absorb shock, it allows it to swing forward and back a little - if the entire container swings forward it will hold the drink better than if the liquid swings forward and the container stays level.
    – bdsl
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 2:29

How about cling-wrap? You could cover any bowl, container, cup, etc. over the top, and it would become a makeshift lid.

I realize it is something else to have in your desk, and it costs money, but if all else fails it might just be the best solution :)

Good luck!

  • Could you please explain this more thoroughly, please? I don't understand in which way cling wrap could help here.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 7:40
  • @Alex, Sorry! I'm often not very clear. I edited my suggestion :) Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 20:35

If you hold the cup from the top, with your hand over the cup so that your palm is above the opening of the cup and your fingers are around the top rim of the cup (I tried to find an image but failed), then the cup will maintain its own center of gravity, as opposed to being jolted by your own movements.


I have a severe natural tremor which is suppressed with a betablocker (Propanalol), but I still use a few tricks to help with what the medication does not correct.

Some of these include.

  1. Not filling up containers so much.
  2. Minimising trip length.
  3. Stretching a piece of cling-film across the container making it water tight. this will also keep what ever is in the container fresher and warmer for longer.

I have also found trying not to think about it helps a lot. Thinking about it can cause a small amount of anxiety which makes the issue worse.


You could make a surface carried with hooks (above the surface of the liquid) and then carry it by means of a rope to your hand. This should keep the surface of the liquid and the carrying surface parallel at all times, any (non-violent) swings you induce will generate a centrifugal (intertial) force (not really a force but...) keeping the liquid in the container. Here is a commercial example but you could make it for yourself.
source thinkgeek.com

  • This solution works with a walker (with an "S" hook to handle) and with crutches and a bit of practice.
    – Stan
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 0:08

The trick is to control the sopping of the fluids and other stuff. When carrying a glass, you can move it forward pretty quickly without spilling it by tilting the glass. The same applies for trays, plates, etc. Whenever you are walking around, make sure you swish you fluids accordingly in the same manner.


I've seen camera rigs that stabalise perfectly while you run. This guy explains how to built one for $500. Maybe figure how to build something like this for carrying open fluids.

Or make a lid for yourself that's easy to remove last second. $5


Maybe a device similar to this?

enter image description here

It stabilises the movement by countermovements. Source: http://www.google.com/liftware/

  • If you could attach something that could hold a glass, yes. Is there something similar available?
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 0:35
  • I don't think so. My search revealed nothing so far. Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 11:56
  • 2
    Starting at $295 i think these would be beyond most people budgets for such a task.
    – Terry
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 20:43
  • I'd agree to that. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 20:05

I've recently tried this new approach, I have to walk 2 floors upstairs and I always spilled some of my coffee on my way up, I first tried making round movements with my holding hand and it seemed to work tough it wasn't good enough, so I tried a new approach by swinging the opposite arm, that way whenever I mark a step the hand is vertically aligned to my feet and the swinging and hand position absorb the shock of the step, I've found this myself useful as I can even walk upstairs a bit faster without spilling.

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