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How to Clean a Suitcase

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Suitcases can be a big investment. With good quality full-size suitcases priced well over $100 on average and with luxury luggage often priced over $1000, good suitcases don’t come cheap.

Despite this hefty investment, many travelers don’t give much of a thought to caring for suitcases once they return home from a trip.

Instead of thoughtfully cleaned and put away, many of us toss our suitcase into a basement or chuck it into an attic or closet without giving our suitcases the necessary care that will help keep them looking great and working well for many future trips.

An image of a luggage cart filled with suitcases.

After your Trip: Preparing Suitcases for Storage

Depending on the nature of your travel, you may return home with luggage that is anything but fresh. Dirty laundry stuffed into suitcase liners can send odor seeping into the main compartment. Luggage that crossed the boundaries of concrete into more rustic locations may be soiled on the exterior and needs some TLC to improve the look and prevent the transfer of dirt to whatever the suitcase comes in contact with.

How to clean the exterior of your suitcase

Many suitcases will come with instructions from the manufacturer indicating the best method for cleaning your particular luggage. When in doubt, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Cleaning the exterior of hard-sided luggage

Hard-sided luggage is increasingly popular for its durability and crush resistance. Because it’s nonporous, cleaning the exterior of a hard-sided shell-type suitcase is as simple as wiping the exterior of the case down with a clean rag and a gentle cleanser.

Removing scuffs from hard sided luggage

For any marks or scuffs left after a gentle cleaning of the exterior of your clamshell-style hard-sided suitcase, grab a Magic Eraser or generic melamine cleaning sponge. Use the gentle abrasive action of this cleaner to remove paint transfers, marks from airport conveyor belt bumpers, and other discoloration.

Cleaning the exterior of soft fabric luggage

Soft-sided suitcases – which are more common today – are a little trickier to clean. I find that the best method for cleaning fabric exterior suitcases is using the same trick that men and women used for many years to clean outerwear: a clothing brush like this one.

Using short, stiff bristles of a boar brush – or similar cleaning brush – is surprisingly effective at lifting debris and removing it from a difficult-to-wash fabric surface. Take your suitcase outside, and brush the surface aggressively with the cleaning brush. You’ll be surprised how much dust is lifted from the exterior of your case.

Cleaning the interior of your suitcase

While the interior of our suitcases is largely protected from the dirt and debris in the world around us, our own dirty laundry and occasional spilled personal care product can make the interior of a suitcase just as dirty as the outside. You have a few choices for cleaning the interior of your suitcase, depending on how heavy the soil is.

1. Lightly soiled suitcases

For suitcases that just seem a bit less than fresh, a simple spray with Febreeze or spending a few hours outside on a sunny clear day should bring your suitcase back to a condition ready to head out on your next trip.

2. Medium soiled suitcases

If if there’s a lingering odor in your suitcase or residue of a split personal product like lotion or hair gel, you’ll need to clean the interior of your suitcase a bit more aggressively.

Mix a solution of 3 cups of warm water with 1/2 cup of white vinegar, dip a rag in the solution, wring it out very well (until the rag is only slightly damp) and gently scrub the interior of your suitcase, focusing on air in the areas of visible discoloration or residue. Try not to get your suitcase too wet, as they can be difficult to dry in some climates.

Removing odors: often, airing out a suitcase outside on a sunny day is sufficient to remove a surprisingly aggressive amount of odors, but for extra odor busting power, use charcoal shoe deodorizers or leave the suitcase to sit with a paper bag filled with unscented kitty litter. Both treatments will absorb odors from the suitcase, leaving it fresh and ready for your next trip.

Some travelers even swear by tearing off a piece of Charcoal-Infused Filter Paper and placing it in their suitcase liner to control odors both in storage and on the road.

3. Heavily soiled suitcases

For cleaning heavily soiled suitcases, you may want to call in a professional cleaner. Some dry cleaners accept suitcases for cleaning.

If you are unable to find a cleaner for your deeply soiled suitcase, try following the instructions for a medium soiled suitcase, but use a bit wetter rag and refresh your cleaning solution as needed so you are always cleaning with a clean rag.

If the suitcase became very wet during cleaning, be sure to dry the suitcase thoroughly before placing it into storage. Silica packets, which absorb ambient moisture and prevent mildew of fabrics in storage, is often a great insurance policy for protecting expensive suitcases.

Conclusion

With these tips, it’s easy to maintain your luggage in new-looking condition inside and out. By following a few simple tips for refreshing your suitcase after each of your travel adventures, you can help your luggage last longer, work better, and even retain some resale value in case you choose to sell or consign your suitcase in the future.

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