How To Clean Suitcases – Product Care And Storage Tips

How To Clean Suitcases – Product Care And Storage Tips

Ever wondered how to clean suitcases and keep them looking like new and in pristine condition? In this guide I’ll tell you the best hints and tricks to clean your suitcase, whether it’s an old suitcase or a fabric or hard-side suitcase and I’ll also tell you how to best store your suitcase so it stays in shape and doesn’t fall victim to mildew.

Many times your suitcase or bag will come with certain instructions on how to care for it. Many times we don’t look at those and throw them away and only remember them after we used the bag and really need to give it a good clean.

Of course, you could try and find the manufacturer’s website and then try and find the care instructions for your specific bag, but that is sometimes a bit of a hunt and sometimes that kind of information doesn’t exist at all. (If you still have those instructions, good for you, and don’t throw them away.)

There are certain methods that are fine to be used on certain materials, which I’ll be telling you more about shortly. But maybe you think you don’t even need to clean your suitcase? It doesn’t even look dirty…

Well, let me tell you about all the things that you could find on your suitcase without even suspecting it.


How To Clean Suitcases – Part 1: Why You Should Regularly Clean Your Luggage

clean your suitcase regularly after use
Why you should regularly clean your suitcase

… or any other bag you own: You don’t know where it’s been. Of course, you know where you put down your handbag or suitcase and if it’s the floor, it might even look clean, but can you be sure it is clean?

I don’t want to sound like a Germophobe (maybe just a little bit), but you don’t know what other people might have been standing in and are carrying around on the soles of their shoes, which in turn ends up on the bottom of your bag, which in turn will end up on your hotel bed or if it’s a small bag, even on the kitchen counter. I know. Ewww.

When you’re travelling and your luggage is handled you also don’t know who is handling it and how it’s been handled.

Of course, there might be a very nice gentleman who wears gloves and makes sure your suitcase won’t get a dent or scratch or even fluff on it ever, but there’s also a good chance that same nice gentleman is under a lot of time pressure and doesn’t have the money to afford gloves and we should all spare a moment for him and maybe start up a fund to support him, but I think you get where I’m going with this?

You just don’t know where it’s been. And now that you have thought about it, you can’t really unknow it, right? Sorry, but it was necessary.

The good thing is that apparently, the chance of catching a disease that way is tiny, but it still makes you feel better knowing that your luggage is clean, right? And now I’m going to tell you how to clean it so it really is clean.

Clean Soft Sided Luggage

Softsided luggage (many times this means the material is polyester or ballistic nylon) oftentimes can easily be spot cleaned with only soap and water.

Make sure that you test the cleaning method by just cleaning a small spot on a more concealed area.

If soap (i.e. dishwashing detergent) and water are not enough, next try a spray-on product for stain removal on clothing. Some manufacturers even recommend using a foam type cleaner which is usually used for cleaning car mats or carpets. Upholstery cleaner might do the same trick.

You can also use the cleaning method that was successful to give your full suitcase a nice allover clean. Just be sure not to use any spray-on products on anything that is made of leather. And do not even think about using bleach.

Make sure you let your suitcase dry out completely, as you don’t want it to get mouldy when storing it away. Don’t leave it out in the sunshine as it might cause the fabric to fade.

Clean Hard Sided Luggage

Hardsided luggage (many times made of polycarbonate) unfortunately can show scuff marks, scratches and dirt more easily than softsided luggage.

To get rid of light scuff marks you can use an eraser or sometimes a non-abrasive sponge with a little bit of toothpaste will do the trick. Make sure you clean the area afterwards with a dry cloth.

For dirty hardsided suitcases use a damp cloth and mild soap and water. If the dishwashing liquid and water trick doesn’t work, use an all-purpose non-abrasive cleaner and mix it with water, following directions on the bottle.

Always rinse and dry after cleaning your hardsided luggage.

If you want to add a protective coat after cleaning your suitcase, you can use silicone-based wax that is usually used for cars. Add one layer and shine it.

Of course, with all those tips, remember to check the care instructions given by your luggage manufacturer first.

Clean Wheels And Handles

After every use, give the handles, wheels and the bottom of your luggage a quick wipe with some disinfectant wipes. Baby wipes might also do the trick.

Make sure to test on a small inconspicuous spot before applying to the rest of your luggage, especially when it’s softsided. But even with hardsided luggage some cleaners can cause the colour to fade.

If the wheels are very dirty, i.e. you’ve collected some soil and dirt make sure to remove it first before wiping them down. Wait until the dirt is dry and then use a brush to get rid of it. It makes it much easier to get it out of the wheels properly this way. If the wipes aren’t enough, resort to the diswashing soap and water solution to clean them fully.

Make sure you don’t put your bags on your bed or counter before you’ve given them a good wipe. Remember, you don’t know where they’ve been.

Don’t use any oil based cleaner to avoid it seeping into the fabric or shell and staining it.

Don’t forget to wipe down any zippers or protective corners.

Clean Leather Bags

Leather bags need professional cleaning
How to clean leather bags

Although it is tempting to try and clean a leather bag yourself and there are certain pages that recommend spot cleaning with a damp cloth or saddle soap for stubborn stains, I’d recommend leaving it to the specialists, i.e. a dry cleaner who specialises in bags and other accessories.

Especially if it’s an expensive bag you don’t want to risk the stain to become even further ingrained by using the wrong product.

If you’re trying to protect your bag from getting dirty in the first place, you can use a product such as Scotchgard Fabric & Upholstery Protector.

It will make it much easier to remove possible grease stains afterwards. Make sure to keep a good distance when you apply the spray and don’t overdo it, as it could darken certain coloured fabrics.

Clean Cotton and Canvas Luggage

Before you break your head on how to clean canvas luggage or a cotton bag, check the tags as many of them can be machine washed. If they’re not suitable for machine wash, maybe because of embellishments or they have a right base that would be destroyed in the process, resort to spot cleaning.

The easiest solution is to use the good old dishwashing soap and warm water solution to get best results. Always make sure to use it on a little area that’s more inconspicuous first to make sure it doesn’t stain further, depending on the stain.

Let it dry flat.

Rubbing dry baking soda on the spot and working it in with a soft brush such as an old toothbrush usually works well on canvas bags. Then use another soft brush to clean it off.

Baking soda for cleaning suitcases
Baking soda can be used to clean bags

To avoid stains after spot cleaning, immediately dry the bag using a hairdryer.

Getting rid of smells and odours

One of the easier solutions is to sprinkle some dry baking soda over the interior of your suitcase and vacuum it out after at least one hour.

If that doesn’t work and you’re not a fan of using lemon spray or others, you could then try leaving some charcoal in a sock in the closed and empty bag for at least one day. You can get charcoal from a pet store, although it may be called carbon, which is usually used in aquariums.

If that still doesn’t get rid of the smell (what did you get in your bag?), try mixing vinegar with water in a 1 to 5 mixture. Afterwards the bag will need to be aired out though for at least a few days.

Another easy solution would be to use Febreze spray to eliminate the odour.

Getting rid of mould

It is easy to resort to using bleach when thinking of mould, but if you truly want to get rid of the mould and not just make it disappear topical, try using vinegar/water (1:5) solution to clean it away.

If you are bent on using bleach and warm water solution, make sure to test it on a small area first. You don’t want to get rid of mould just to end up with a stained bag.

Getting rid of bed bugs

I know you don’t even want to think about the impossible, but it could happen. Usually you’d associate bed bugs with cheap hostels and motels, but even some better hotels have been known to have cases of the creepy crawlies.

To avoid getting bed bugs, follow the recommendations above and clean the outside and handles and wheels and take extra care to clean zippers and alongside seams or rubber ribbing on the outside of your luggage. Apparently those are all the spots where bedbugs can catch a ride home with you.

Once you’ve already got bugs, getting rid of them is fairly easy, but be sure to be thorough.

Place all of your belongings in plastic bags (you can even get dissolvable ones) and tie them up. Put all of your clothing straight into the washing machine and wash on hot and then dry on hot.

One easy solution is to spray the bag with 91% isopropyl alcohol, which will kill the bedbugs on the spot. All you have to do afterwards is vacuum the entire bag. Wipe down the outside as well.

Store the suitcase in a plastic bag.

How to store suitcases

After you’ve cleaned your bag, it is important to make sure it is fully dried before you store it away.

To help soft bags keep their shape, stuff the bag. Use paper or other material. Make sure the place you’re keeping the bag in isn’t prone to moisture.

Leather bags are best stored in cotton bags or if you don’t have one, use a pillow case.

Softsided bags are best kept upright and next to each other, unless you can nest them. If you can put bags into bigger bags, make sure they’re clean first and keep the smaller bag in a plastic bag to avoid contamination.

Use silica gel sachets or dryer sheets to keep them dry, as well as preventing mildew and keeping a fresh smell.


Remember to always check manufacturer’s instructions (if you’ve got them) and otherwise try out the cleaning solution on a spot that’s not easy to see to make sure you won’t stain your whole bag.

If you’ve got any other tips and hints, or any other comments or questions, just leave them below. I’ll get back to you asap.

Safe, clean and fun travels!

8 Replies to “How To Clean Suitcases – Product Care And Storage Tips”

  1. As a traveller, the info is very useful for me. I did not realise how much dirt we can get on your luggage and will definitely clean it from now on. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for a great article for cleaning suitcases. I will be travelling soon so I will definitely be using these tips to keep my bag clean.
    You actually opened my eyes when it comes to the dirt we may be getting on our bags as we travel.
    I also have a leather bag which I actually didn’t know you could take to a dry cleaner for cleaning.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Thabo,

      Thank you for your comment. I know, it really does open your eyes. Yes, you can take them to a dry cleaner, but one that is specialised in it, not just your everyday dry cleaner, that’s important. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Maybe surprisingly, I have never considered really cleaning my luggage before. Thanks for providing these tips – I will be cleaning out all of my baggage before my next trip!

    1. Hi Christen,

      I know what you mean. You don’t really think about what could possibly hitch a ride with you on your travels. I’ve changed my thinking in regards to it too after having done my research for this post. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  4. Goodness me, I never would have thought there was so much to consider with my travel bags. To be honest they just live on a shelf in my garage where my cats like to sleep. I think i will take up this great advise and start taking better care of them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Thank you for your comment. I think that might be true for quite a few people haha. Your cats probably love you for it, but your luggage probably doesn’t.:)

      You might want to check out my other post Best Luggage Brands 2018 as I’m guessing you might need to update your current luggage or at least get another one for the kitty to sleep in.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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