Guide: How To Clean A Suitcase? [Fabric, Leather & Hardshell]

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Cleaning the suitcase is crucial as it give a fresh look and displays a positive impression in public. Thousands of people use suitcase for traveling to keep their belongings.

These bags tend to get dirty depending on place you are visiting and each suitcase is different based on material; hardshell and a softshell. Both are different and require unique cleaning treatments. 

In the below guide I have discussed on how to clean a suitcase along with its maintenance, storage.

Cleaning Exterior Of Luggage

Each suitcase is different like hardshell suitcases made of Plastic (Polycarbonate, ABS) or metal (aluminum) and they are relatively easier to clean. On the other hand, softshell suitcases are made of fabric, nylon, and polyester; they absorb dirt and require a bit of effort to clean

It’s advisable to clean luggage after every trip to remove any accumulated dirt and germs. The cleaning frequency might also change for individual use cases depending on the number of trips or places you visit. 

Before starting the cleaning process, double-check manufacturer guidelines for your specific product. Avoid harsh chemicals; use just simple stuff, usually in common households. 

Things You Need To Clean Suitcase

  1. Sponge
  2. Baking Soda
  3. Mild Dish Soap
  4. Lukewarm Water
  5. Microfiber Cloths
  6. Spray Bottle (optional)
  7. Soft Brush or Toothbrush
  8. Isopropyl Alcohol or White Vinegar

Cleaning Softshell (Fabric) Luggage

Softshell Luggage

Softshell luggage, known for its flexibility and durability, requires a specific approach to cleaning due to its soft materials. 

These materials can range from high-tech nylon to polyester, each offering resistance to wear and tear while remaining lightweight. Its only downside is it absorbs water and stains more easily

Note: Some softshell suitcases of brands like Travelpro and others come with a protective coating, which makes them water and stain-resistant. Do not clean it with a soapy solution, which can damage this layer. 
  • Fill the spray bottle with lukewarm water and add a few drops of dish soap. Shake gently to mix.
  • Take a small sample size area at corners and apply this to the test, either it is not decorating the suitcase. After verifying, spray a light mist of the solution over the surface of the luggage and use the soft brush or sponge to exclude stain and dirt. 
  • After thorough cleaning, use a wet microfiber cloth and wipe all soapy solution. Make sure to repeat it, just rinse, and wipe until there is no soapy solution left. 
  • Allow the luggage to air dry completely before using or storing it. Avoid direct sunlight or heat sources, as these can lose the material or affect the shine of the suitcase. 

Cleaning Hardshell(Polycarbonate, ABS) Luggage

Hardshell Luggage

Hardshell luggage is made from tough materials such as polycarbonate or ABS plastic; these suitcases offer superior protection against knocks and drops.

It does not absorb dust, unlike softshell luggage. Instead, it can easily get scratched, and a thin layer of dirt might fade its shine. They are relatively easier to clean and do not require complicated stuff. 

  • Create Your Cleaning Solution: Mix a small squirt of dish soap with lukewarm water. This mixture should be gentle, and no harsh agents should be added in concentrated amounts. 
  • Soft Cleaning: Dip your microfiber cloth into the soapy water, wring it out well, and gently wipe the exterior of your hardshell luggage. The microfiber cloth is ideal as it’s soft enough to prevent scratches while removing dirt.
  • Stubborn Stains: If you encounter any stubborn stains, use more pressure with a cloth or even a soft sponge. However, always proceed with caution to avoid scratching the surface.
  • Rinse and Repeat: Lightly dampen another cloth with clean water and go over the suitcase to remove any soap residue.
  • Air Dry: Let your luggage dry naturally, away from direct heat or sunlight, to prevent any potential damage to the material.

After drying, you can use wax on a hardshell suitcase and use it as well, but it is not a deal breaker. However, it can be for a leather suitcase. 

Cleaning Leather Luggage

Leather Suitcase

Cleaning suitcase, especially made of leather, requires extra care and the right approach to ensure it stays in its original condition. With its luxurious and durable material, leather luggage demands specific maintenance to preserve its quality and appearance. 

It’s recommended to clean leather luggage every few months or as needed; depending on usage, you feel the shine is fading and a layer of dirt has accumulated. Avoid harsh chemicals or excessive water, as these can tear the leather. 

You’ll need a microfiber cloth and lukewarm water to clean leather luggage. Dish soap can be used, but very sparingly with diluted concentration. Here’s a simple guide:

  • Solution Preparation: Mix a tiny amount of dish soap with lukewarm water. Aim for a very diluted solution to avoid harming the leather.
  • Gentle Wiping: Gently wipe the surface of your leather luggage using a microfiber cloth slightly dampened with lukewarm water (or the diluted soap solution, if necessary). The microfiber is soft enough not to scratch the leather while effective in removing surface dirt.
  • Spot Cleaning: For any stubborn stains or spills, carefully pour a minimal amount of the diluted soap solution on a small cloth area and gently rub it with mild pressure.
  • Dry Properly: After cleaning, allow the luggage to air dry naturally. Avoid direct exposure to sunlight or heat, as it can cause the leather to dry out and crack.

Condition: Consider applying a leather conditioner to keep the material supple and prevent drying or cracking once dry. Take conditioner on a microfiber or soft sponge that comes along, and evenly apply it to give a nice shiny coat. 

Cleaning Suitcase Wheels 

Suitcase wheels bear the brunt of your travel adventures, rolling through dirt, mud, puddles, and everything in between. They come in contact with various types of grounds, terrains and dirt. Small particles gradually accumulate within the holes or inside the wheels, hindering the wheel’s functionality

A good rule of thumb is to give them a quick clean after each trip to prevent buildup and ensure they’re always ready for your next journey. 

Remove Loose Dirt: Use the soft brush or old toothbrush to remove any loose dirt or debris from the wheels. Extract tangled hairs, sticky substances like chewing gum, and hardened dirt. 

  • Prepare Cleaning Solution:
  1. Mix a small amount of mild soap with lukewarm water.
  2. Use a magic eraser for stubborn dirt.
  3. Ensure your hands are aligned, and work on the wheel’s circular shape.
Wheels are sturdy but just be careful; any hard pressure from the side angle can deviate or imbalance the alignment of the wheels. 
  • Scrub the Wheels: Dip the brush into soapy water and scrub the wheels thoroughly. Pay special attention to the crevices and any moving parts where dirt accumulates.
  • Wipe Down: After scrubbing, use a damp cloth to remove soap residue and loosen dirt from the wheels.
  • Dry: Let the wheels air dry completely before using the suitcase again. It prevents moisture-related issues and ensures the wheels don’t drag water indoors.

Cleaning Suitcase Handles

Suitcase handles are essential for transporting your luggage and the most touched part of luggage, making it a stop point for dirt and germs. Keeping it clean is crucial for hygiene purposes. 

It’s advisable to clean the handles regularly while travelling, especially after passing through high-traffic areas like airports and train stations. A quick wipe with disinfectant wipes can keep the handles sanitary on the move.

After your trip, thoroughly clean the handles and disinfect any accumulated dirt. A simple solution of mild soap and water applied with a soft cloth works well. Ensure to rinse with a damp cloth and dry completely.

Cleaning Interior Of Luggage

Cleaning the interior of your luggage is crucial to maintaining its cleanliness and ensuring a pleasant travel experience. It involves several key steps, each serving a specific purpose.

Firstly, empty the suitcase; this step allows you to access all areas for thorough cleaning by removing all items from the compartments. Doing so creates the space needed to clean every interior corner to clean dirt and debris that might hide under that item from accumulating. 

Once the suitcase is empty, vacuum the interior and focus more on corners to properly exclude dust particles. Vacuuming not only helps to maintain cleanliness but also eliminates allergens and bacteria, creating a healthier environment. 

 A lint roller or brush can be used as an alternative to vacuuming, but vacuuming provides thorough cleaning. 

For stains, the luggage interior is not supposed to be washed thoroughly. The objective is to use a soap solution to clean only the stained area and not spread to other parts. 

Use a cloth, dip its small corner in soapy water, and gently rub it over the stain until it is gone. After that, leave it open until the fully dried and soapy smell is gone. 

Steam Cleaning

Steam cleaning is a powerful and effective method for deep cleaning various surfaces, including suitcases. It uses hot steam to penetrate deep into fabrics and hard-to-reach areas, effectively loosening dirt and grime and killing bacteria and germs without harsh chemicals. 

This method is especially beneficial for those with allergies, as it can help reduce allergens without leaving chemical residues. Steam cleaning is eco-friendly and suitable for hard and soft surfaces.

You can hire someone or do it yourself with a steam cleaner machine that costs less than 50 bucks. After steam blows, leave it and let its moisture dry. 

Disinfecting The Suitcase

Choosing the right disinfectant to kill viruses and bacteria effectively is important when disinfecting your suitcase. Products containing at least 70% alcohol, bleach solutions (when safe for the surface), or EPA-registered disinfectants are recommended. 

Products like Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Microban 24-Hour Sanitizing Spray are popular choices that have been proven to kill a broad range of pathogens.

When selecting a disinfectant, consider the material of your suitcase and any specific safety or environmental concerns you may have.

Pay special attention to high-touch areas such as handles, zippers, and wheels. Apply the disinfectant according to the product’s instructions, ensuring the surface remains wet for the recommended time to kill germs and odors effectively

Consider wiping down the suitcase’s interior for the inner section, especially if you’ve travelled through high-traffic areas or stored potentially contaminated items inside.

Dealing With Trapped Odors

Dealing with odors trapped inside your suitcase is crucial for ensuring a pleasant travel experience. Musty odors often develop due to moisture accumulation, leading to mould or mildew growth within the suitcase’s interior. 

To address musty smells effectively, first, check you have vacuumed and cleaned the dirty area with the soapy solution that is specifically causing this order. After cleaning, allow the suitcase to air dry completely in a well-ventilated area. 

Despite thorough cleaning, odors may persist. Consider placing activated charcoal or baking soda inside the suitcase. These substances are known for their ability to absorb and neutralize odors effectively. 

A fabric freshener/odor-neutralizing spray can also help eliminate musty smells and leave a fresh scent behind.

Pet-related odors are challenging, especially if they have permeated the fabric or lining of the suitcase. In addition to cleaning the interior with a mild detergent solution, use a specialized pet-specific odor eliminator spray or enzyme cleaner. 

These products are specifically designed to break down and neutralize odors caused by pet accidents. After applying them, leave your suitcase open for at least an hour and vacuum it again to exclude all residual chemicals. 

Maintenance & Care Tips

Regular maintenance and proper storage may sound like extra work, but both are crucial to your suitcase’s length. Some basic suitcase care routines that require minimal effort and will be beneficial in the long run. 

You can use a suitcase plastic cover that is handy while travelling and protects the outer shell from getting scratched and dusty. After each trip, inspect your suitcase; early detection can mean simpler repairs, potentially saving you from more significant problems.

Storage Recommendations

When not in use, store your luggage in a cool, dry place to prevent any moulds or mildew formation, which is especially important for materials like leather or fabric. Avoid places with extreme temperatures or direct sunlight, as these can degrade the materials over time.

Consider storing your luggage with a protective cover to shield it from dust for long-term storage.

Keep it upright to maintain shape and prevent creases or fabric warping. Stuffing your luggage with bubble wrap or clean towels can also help preserve its shape and protect its interior, especially if it is a softshell suitcase.   

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, keeping your suitcase clean, well-maintained, and properly stored is crucial for ensuring its longevity and functionality. 

By following the specific cleaning instructions for different types of suitcases, you can avoid damage and keep them looking fresh and ready for your next trip. 

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