Suitcases can be a big investment. Help your suitcase last – and look newer for longer – by cleaning it regularly. In this article, I’m sharing my best tips for cleaning suitcases.
Despite investing anywhere from $100 to $1000 dollars in a suitcase, many travelers don’t give much thought to caring for suitcases once they return home. Instead, we toss our suitcase into storage and forget about it. However, cleaning suitcases can help us inspect for parts of a suitcase that need to be repaired, identify wear, and keep them looking great for many future trips.
After your Trip: Preparing Suitcases for Storage
Depending on the nature of your travel, you may return home with dirty luggage. 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.
The following section may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Removing simple 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.
Deep Cleaning a Suitcase
For luggage that comes off the airport baggage claim looking rough, here’s my guide to deep cleaning a suitcase and making it look new again:
Supplies you’ll need:
- A degreasing cleaner – like TSP (get it here on Amazon) or Simple Green (get it here on Amazon)
- Cordless Drill
- Scrub brush head for drill (I used this set from Amazon)
How to Deep Clean a Suitcase
Total time 20 minutes
Gather Degreaser and Scrubber
You’ll need a scrub brush to reach deep into textured surfaces, grooves, and gouges. A degreasing cleaning will help break up the greasy black gunk left behind by airport equipment and baggage claim conveyer belts.
Scrub suitcase with cleaner
Even with a scrubber drill bit, you may need to use a little elbow grease! Black marks take some time to remove.
Wipe with a clean, damp cloth
Suitcases get very dirty- and not just dirt you can see! Pause and wipe down your suitcase as you scrub to remove layers of dirt and restore the original color and finish.
Removing Scuff Marks from a Suitcase
Cleaning scuff marks off a suitcase can be tricky. Because many hard-sided suitcases feature a textured surface, removing scuff marks may take extra steps. Here’s my process:
- ✏️ Rub the scuff with a pencil eraser. This one is great for cleaning your suitcase in the middle of a trip! Rub a pencil eraser on the scuff mark. Scuffs are often bits of plastic transferred to a suitcase during a skid on a belt. Sometimes, rubbing skid marks with another low-friction plastic can lift the particles off your suitcase.
- 🧽 Spot clean with a magic eraser. While worth trying, I find that with textured suitcases, the friction created by the surface can make the sponge disintegrate before the scuff is gone.
- Use the 🧳✨ Pink Stuff + A Nail Brush. The drill brush method described above should remove all scuffs. If you want a, well, less power-tool-oriented solution, dab some Pink Stuff Cleaner on the scuff mark and scrub the scuff with a nail brush. The abrasiveness of the cleaner and the scrub brush should lift the scuff and leave your suitcase unblemished.
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.
How to Clean 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 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 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). Then, gently scrub the interior of your suitcase, focusing on areas of visible dirt. 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. For extra odor-busting power, use charcoal shoe deodorizer. You can also 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 becomes very wet during cleaning, dry it thoroughly before placing it into storage. Silica packets, which absorb ambient moisture and prevent mildew of fabrics in storage, are often an excellent insurance policy for protecting expensive suitcases.
With these tips, it’s easy to maintain your luggage in new-looking condition inside and out. Even if you got a cheap suitcase, it’s worth taking care of to avoid replacement costs.
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 if you choose to sell or consign your suitcase in the future.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.