This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on November 8th, 2021
You travel because you want to see the world and take home all the experiences it has to offer you. However, you’re not too jazzed about taking home the world’s germs.
Between riding to the airport, cycling through the luggage carousel, and rolling through the cobblestone streets of Rome (or the asphalt of Chicago), your suitcase has touched a lot of unfamiliar hands and rubbed against a lot of new surfaces.
Today, we’ll discuss how to clean a suitcase and travel luggage sets, covering:
- Difference between cleaning and disinfecting (and how to do both)
- How to clean the inside of a suitcase
- How to clean the outside of a suitcase
- How to clean fabric luggage
Let’s get started!
Unpack Your Suitcase
The first thing to do after returning from a trip is to resist the urge to plop your suitcase down on your bed, empty it halfheartedly, then plop yourself on the bed shortly after.
This is because there’s probably a bunch of germs that hitched a ride on your suitcase that you don’t want to bring deep into your home. So, until your suitcase is clean and disinfected, try to keep it in your entryway, garage, or on your porch.
Start by unpacking. If unpacking for you is more like shoving the contents of your suitcase, unfolded and unorganized, into a closet corner until you’re ready to deal with them, who can blame you? Just make sure that anything that makes it into your home is clean first.
For clothes, this means you can simply throw all your dirty clothes into a washer when you get home. As for shoes, toiletry bottles, electronics, and other hard objects, you can wipe these down with a disinfecting wipe. Easy peasy! Now, the real cleaning begins.
Cleaning vs Disinfecting
First of all, there’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting, and one is not better than the other. When it comes to how to clean luggage (or any surface for that matter), you have to do both.
Take it from the CDC. They say that cleaning is “the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs.” Meanwhile, disinfecting is the use of chemicals “to kill germs on surfaces.”
So, if you’re doing one and not the other, there may still be dirt or germs from who-knows-where vacationing on your luggage.
That goes for both the inside and outside of your suitcase. Let’s start with the inside.
Cleaning the Inside of Your Suitcase
Make sure everything is out of your suitcase and check all the pockets before you get started on cleaning the interior. Now it’s time to do three things:
- De-crumb your suitcase – You’ll want to get rid of crumbs or big pieces of debris. You could do this by vacuuming the inside of your suitcase or, if you’re outside, by just turning your suitcase upside down and giving it a good shake. You’d be surprised how many snack crumbs and gum wrappers you can find living in the crevices of your suitcase.
- Wash the interior – All kinds of things touch the interior of your suitcase—maybe your hiking shoes or your favorite book that goes with you everywhere (and has touched more surfaces than you can count). So, give the inside a good wash with a wet washcloth (better than a paper towel), mild soap, and water (nothing too crazy, you still want to preserve the fabric). Of course the next step is to disinfect. This can be done with disinfectant wipes.
- Remove stains – As long as makeup and wine exist, stains are an inevitable part of life and travel. Luckily, a stain remover and a bit of scrubbing should do the trick.
Use Packing Cubes
Cleaning luggage is great fun and all, but you could keep dirty items away from your suitcase’s interior lining altogether by using packing cubes. This way, when you get home, you can simply empty everything from each packing cube and wash the cubes themselves rather than the interior lining. This will save you time and elbow grease, but also preserve your suitcase.
How Do You Clean a Smelly Suitcase?
Maybe your suitcase isn’t dirty, per se—it just smells funky. Here are a few things that can cause this:
- You don’t travel very often, so your suitcase spends a lot of time stored away in a dark, warm place (like a basement or a garage).
- You have a very old or vintage suitcase that has a lot of stories, and some smells to go along with them.
- Your suitcase has simply held one too many wet swimsuits or opened chip bags.
Whatever the reason for your smelly suitcase, consider:
- Airing it out – Sometimes what a suitcase needs after being stored away for a long time is some air and sunlight. Try opening up your suitcase for a few hours where the sun and air can get to it.
- Using baking soda – Sprinkling baking soda inside a suitcase is a popular method for getting rid of the musty smell. The amount of baking soda will depend on the amount of stink, so sprinkle until you’re happy. Then shut the suitcase for up to a week and vacuum it up when the stink is gone.
- Using kitty litter – This can be effective, but messy. So, you can do this by filling a pillowcase with kitty litter and placing the pillowcase inside the suitcase for a few days.
- Spraying with white vinegar and water – White vinegar truly is the versatile household product everyone says it is. Try one part white vinegar and three parts water in a spray bottle and allow your suitcase to air dry.
For preventing odor, stick a dryer sheet in your suitcase before leaving home to keep everything in it smelling like you just washed it.
Cleaning the Outside of Your Suitcase
If the outside of your luggage could talk, it would have some pretty wild stories, but you probably don’t want your luggage to look as battle-worn as it is. Cleaning it efficiently can make it look like new.
Hard Shell Luggage
Wondering about hard vs soft luggage? The exterior of a hard shell suitcase is water resistant and much more durable to washing and scrubbing than soft shell suitcases. So, if you’re a clean freak, this is your time to shine.
Cleaning a hard sided suitcase can simply be done with a damp microfiber cloth and some mild soap. Scrub to your heart’s content. Then rinse and disinfect.
Once again, this is where a disinfecting wipe comes in handy. An alternative to a disinfectant wipe is a solution of half a cup of bleach per gallon of water. Wipe all around the suitcase exterior and try to keep your suitcase wet with this solution for five minutes. This should kill whatever germs your suitcase picked up from being roughly handled and rolled around in that greasy stuff they put on luggage carousels.
It’s rare that your suitcase will make it home without at least one scuff mark. Even after a good scrub, finding some scuff marks on your beautiful suitcase is heartbreaking, but normal. Don’t worry! That is why we created the BEIS Buffer, to keep your hardside luggage looking just as chic as when you bought it.
How Do You Clean Fabric Luggage?
To clean the exterior of a fabric suitcase, you’ll need:
- A scrub brush
- A foaming fabric spray (i.e. carpet cleaner or sofa cleaner)
- A vacuum
Spray your entire suitcase with foaming spray. Then scrub with a brush, focusing mostly on visible tough stains. After letting your product sit on your suitcase (for however long the product advises), vacuum off the foam. You can repeat this for stubborn dirt and tough stains.
Cleaning the Bits and Bobs
As you’re cleaning your suitcase, it’s important to get it all clean. Make sure you’re not skipping over these areas:
- The handle – This is the part of your suitcase that is probably touched the most by unknown hands.
- The wheels – Suitcase wheels that are stopped up with dirt, not only perform worse, but also become really efficient at germing up your floors. Put on some gloves, close your eyes, and give your wheels a good scrub.
- The bottom – Similar to the wheels, the bottom of your suitcase picks up a lot of dirt from the ground, so give this part of your suitcase some extra attention when you’re cleaning.
- The pockets – Consider using a small brush to get into the small corners and crevices of your suitcase pockets and remove any dirt that might be tucked away in there.
Let Your Suitcase Dry Overnight
After your suitcase is fresh and spotless, open it up and lay it out (outside if you can), so that it can completely dry overnight (a closed, wet suitcase is a recipe for mold and mildew).
Finally! It’s time to wash your hands, change your clothes, and officially come home. Take a load off, you’ve earned it.
Make Travel Easy
With all the preparation that goes into traveling, knowing how to wash a suitcase is just one of the many things you have to plan for. The last thing you want to worry about is if your luggage can handle the trip. So a durable and easily washable travel bag can mean a shorter distance between you and your television when you get home. Luckily, that’s exactly what BEIS specializes in- hard luggage sets that add a flair to your travel look while also providing functionality.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html
Conde Nast Traveler. How to Clean Your Luggage After a Trip, Because Germs. https://www.cntraveler.com/story/how-to-clean-your-luggage
Travel Nite. How to Deodorize Suitcase. https://travelnite.com/how-to-deodorize-suitcase/
Hawk Hill. 5 Methods for Cleaning Vintage Suitcases and Deodorizing Old Luggage. https://www.hawk-hill.com/cleaning-vintage-suitcase-smell/
- Clever Journey. How to Clean Your Suitcase to Make it Look Brand New. https://www.cleverjourney.com/how-to-clean-luggage/