How To Clean A Suitcase: Cleaning Tips For All Types Of Luggage

cleaning tips
Written by Michael Hodgson

KNOWING HOW TO CLEAN AND SANITIZE YOUR LUGGAGE AFTER EVERY TRIP IS ESSENTIAL SO YOU CAN PREVENT YOUR SUITCASE FROM WELCOMING VIRUSES AND BUGS INTO YOUR HOME. THESE EASY-TO-DO STEPS WILL HELP KEEP YOUR LUGGAGE CLEAN AND YOUR HOME BUG AND GERM-FREE. 
 
Your luggage carries everything you need wherever you travel. But unless you know how to clean a suitcase properly, beware! That favorite suitcase may now be packing along viruses and bugs, too. And the last thing you want is uninvited guests hitching a ride on your luggage and into your home. Knowing how to properly clean and sanitize luggage before you store it will help ensure you are not welcoming interlopers into your house that could cause trouble for you down the road.
 

In this article:

 

GENERAL LUGGAGE CLEANING STEPS

 

STEP 1: DON'T BRING YOUR DIRTY LUGGAGE INTO YOUR HOME

Your carry-on and checked luggage have probably been touched by numerous hands and been in contact with an untold number of potentially dirty and contaminated surfaces on your trip. For this reason, whenever I return from a trip, I place my suitcase and carry-on “in quarantine” in the garage until I have unpacked it and cleaned all luggage surfaces properly. If you don't have a garage, then a porch or storage area will suffice.
 

STEP 2: BEFORE YOU CLEAN YOUR SUITCASE, UNPACK AND CLEAN YOUR CLOTHES

Unpack in the garage and put clothes straight into the washing machine. This is very easy if you are using packing cubes to organize your clothes. Place your clothes directly in the washer (not on the floor with the thought that you'll wash them later). Wash them on a full cycle and in warm water. You want your clothes to be virus- and bug-free when they are done. If your packing or compression cubes look or feel dirty, or you suspect you may have encountered bed bugs, you can place them directly into a sink with warm water and a non-detergent soap (powdered soap is typically non-detergent) and give them each a good wash and rinse. Hang them to dry. If you aren't going to clean them, then put your travel packing cubes back into quarantine (24 hours at least) in the garage with your suitcase.
 

STEP 3: SANITIZE LUGGAGE HIGH-TOUCH SURFACES

Sanitizing is different from cleaning. Use disinfecting wipes that contain at least 60 percent alcohol to clean the handle, any hand grips on the side, and the wheels of your checked and carry-on luggage. Essentially, focus on any high-touch areas where nasty germs may congregate. Be sure the surfaces stay wet for at least 30 seconds and preferably a minute or more so that viruses and bacteria will be killed. 
 

STEP 4: CLEAN THE OUTSIDE OF YOUR SUITCASE

Clean the outside of your luggage with non-detergent soap and warm water. Use a rag to gently scrub the outside surfaces of your carry-on and checked bag. Do NOT use any bleach, spot removers, or cleaning solvents as this may damage your luggage.
 

STEP 5: CLEAN THE INSIDE OF YOUR LUGGAGE

Use a vacuum cleaner with an edge nozzle to remove dust, dirt, and other bits of debris. Be sure to work carefully into the corners and crevices of your luggage. Keep a sharp eye out for signs of bed bugs. And since you could be sucking up bed bug eggs and bugs themselves, remember to also toss out the vacuum bag (in an outside trash can) once you have cleaned your suitcases. 
 

STEP 6: DRY YOUR SUITCASES THOROUGHLY

This is where sunshine is your friend. Leave your luggage to dry—if possible, under the hot sun for a few hours. The sun will serve two purposes. One, it will dry your suitcases thoroughly. But, more importantly, the heat will potentially kill any residual viruses and bacteria and will also help to potentially eliminate the odd bed bug or two. Of course, if it’s raining or there is no sunshine, drying your bag will take longer. Don't try to speed up the process with a hairdryer or room heater as you could damage your bag.
 

STEP 7: BAG IT AND STORE IT AWAY FROM YOUR BEDROOM

Once your luggage is sanitized, clean, and dry, store it in a clean, cool, and dry place. Do not store your luggage in your bedroom unless you have absolutely no choice due to space limitations. If you must store luggage in your bedroom, bag it and seal the bag while it is still in the garage or on your porch to prevent any chance of a wayward bug (bed bug, cockroach, or other multi-legged creature) wandering out for a visit. Now your clean and sanitized luggage will be ready and waiting for your next travel adventure.
 

 Gear Warrior Soft-sided Luggage in Hawaii

 

HOW TO CLEAN FABRIC LUGGAGE

Cleaning a fabric suitcase isn’t as daunting as it might seem. If you use compression packing cubes, especially water-resistant ones, cleaning your suitcase will be much simpler. One of the many benefits of using packing cubes is that the dust and debris on your clothing won’t spread easily into your fabric suitcase. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to clean fabric luggage:
 

Materials needed:

  • Mild detergent or soap
  • Microfiber towel
  • Soft-bristled sponge or brush
  • Warm water
  • Vacuum cleaner with brush
  • Baking soda or vinegar (optional)

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Empty the suitcase: Start by emptying out all the contents of the suitcase and remove any debris or loose dirt.
  2. Vacuum: Use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to gently vacuum the interior and exterior of the suitcase to remove loose dirt, dust, and crumbs.
  3. Spot clean stains: If there are any visible stains on the fabric, mix a small amount of mild detergent or laundry soap with warm water in a bucket. Dip a soft-bristled brush or sponge into the soapy water and gently scrub the stained areas. For tougher stains, add a little white vinegar to the solution or make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing and rinsing with clean water.
  4. Clean the interior: Wipe down the interior lining of the suitcase with a damp towel or sponge soaked in soapy water. Pay special attention to any soiled areas or spots where spills may have occurred.
  5. Rinse: Once you've finished spot cleaning, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the entire exterior and interior of the suitcase to remove any soap residue.
  6. Deodorize (Optional): If your suitcase has any lingering odors, sprinkle baking soda inside the interior lining and let it sit for a few hours before vacuuming it out. Alternatively, you can use a fabric deodorizer spray to freshen up the interior.
  7. Lint removal (Optional): If any lint or pet hair is stuck to the fabric, use a lint roller to remove them.

 

 Tarmac XE Luggage on a sidewalk

 

HOW TO CLEAN HARDSIDE LUGGAGE

Cleaning a hard-sided suitcase requires a slightly different approach than cleaning a fabric one. When choosing the best luggage for you, note how to clean different suitcases. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to clean hardside luggage. 

 

Materials Needed:

  • Mild detergent or dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Soft cloths or sponges
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner
  • Magic eraser
  • Toothbrush (optional)
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Empty the suitcase: Start by removing all items from the suitcase and ensure it's completely empty.
  2. Vacuum: Use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to remove any loose dirt, dust, or debris from the exterior and interior of the suitcase.
  3. Spot clean stains: For stubborn stains on the exterior, mix a small amount of mild detergent or dish soap with warm water in a bucket. Dip a soft cloth or sponge into the soapy water and gently scrub the stained areas. For tougher stains, you can use a soft-bristled brush or toothbrush to scrub the area. Rinse with clean water and dry with a towel.
  4. Clean the interior: Wipe down the interior of the suitcase with a damp cloth or sponge soaked in soapy water. Pay special attention to any soiled areas or spots where spills may have occurred. Rinse with clean water and dry with a towel.
  5. Remove scuff marks: If there are scuff marks on the exterior of the suitcase, you can use a magic eraser to gently buff them away. Alternatively, you can make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the scuff marks, then gently scrub with a soft cloth or sponge.
  6. Deodorize (optional): If your suitcase has any lingering odors, leave a small bowl of baking soda inside the interior overnight to absorb any odors. Vacuum or wipe out the baking soda residue in the morning.
  7. Disinfect (optional): To disinfect the interior of the suitcase, you can wipe it down with a solution of white vinegar and water or use rubbing alcohol or a glass cleaner. Allow it to air dry completely before using or storing.
  8. Polish (optional): If your hard-sided suitcase has a glossy finish, you can polish it with a plastic-safe polish to restore its shine.

 

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What are the best products to clean a suitcase?

Knowing how to clean a suitcase properly starts with using the right products. The best products to clean a suitcase depend on the material, but generally, mild detergent or dish soap, warm water, soft cloths or sponges, and a soft-bristled brush are essential. Optional items include white vinegar for disinfecting, baking soda for deodorizing, rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner for stubborn stains, and a magic eraser for scuff marks on hard-sided suitcases.
 

Can you wash the inside of a suitcase?

Yes, you can wash the inside of a suitcase. Before you begin, make sure you empty the suitcase completely. Use a vacuum to remove any loose dirt or debris.  Next, wipe down the interior with a damp cloth or sponge dipped in a mild detergent solution, and pay close attention to any soiled areas or spills. Rinse the interior with clean water and allow it to air dry thoroughly before returning your items to the suitcase. This helps prevent mold and mildew growth. For fabric interiors, consider the extra step of a fabric deodorizer spray to eliminate any lingering odors and leave the interior fresh and clean.
 

How often should you clean your suitcase?

The frequency of cleaning your suitcase depends on personal preference, but it's generally recommended to clean it after every trip.  Traveling exposes your suitcase to various environments, including airports, hotels, and vehicles, where it can pick up dirt, dust, and other debris. Knowing how to clean luggage properly after every trip ensures that any dirt, stains, or odors accumulated during travel are promptly addressed, keeping your suitcase fresh and ready for your next adventure.
 

How can I prevent my suitcase from getting dirty during travel?

To prevent your suitcase from getting dirty during travel, there are several strategies you can employ:
  • Use luggage covers or protective shields: Invest in a luggage cover or protective shield to shield your suitcase from dirt, scratches, and other external elements during travel.
  • Pack liquids in bags: Place any liquid items such as toiletries, shampoo, or sunscreen in sealed plastic bags to prevent leaks or spills from soiling the interior of your suitcase. Packing a toiletry bag will also help you with easy retrieval.
  • Use laundry bags for dirty clothes: Pack a separate laundry bag to store dirty clothes during your trip. This helps keep them contained and prevents them from coming into contact with clean items in your suitcase.
  • Avoid putting wet clothes in your suitcase: If you have damp or wet clothing, avoid packing them directly into your suitcase. Instead, allow them to air dry or use a separate waterproof bag to transport them until they can be properly dried.
In addition to these preventive measures, having a well-organized packing system can help keep your suitcase clean and organized throughout your travels.  Check out our ultimate travel packing list to ensure you have everything you need for your trip.


Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):
How to Do Laundry While Traveling

 

By Michael Hodgson on June 15, 2020 

A lifetime of globetrotting across all seven continents fuels Michael's ongoing passion to explore the world, all in search of a great story or photograph for the HI Travel Tales blog he runs with his wife. Join the Subscriber Club to track his global adventures.