After coming home from our 10-day vacation in Europe, I noticed how filthy my luggage had become. Just take a look at the picture that I took below.
So, I did what any reasonable person would do. I went on Google and searched for how to clean luggage. It turns out that it’s not that simple. Fabric, hard shell, and leather suitcases each require different techniques. Then, there are additional techniques for cleaning the interior, restoring plastic parts, and cleaning off grease and scuff marks.
I decided that this would make for a great article because there’s so much information to share. So, I researched everything I could, tested it out myself, and wrote the ultimate guide for cleaning luggage. This post will share the best techniques for cleaning luggage and answer the most commonly asked questions.
Ready to start? Let’s start by cleaning the main compartment first!
Rather watch a video? In the video below, I show the most basic instructions on cleaning luggage. I’ll go into more detail in the full article.
Part 1: How to Clean the Inside of a Suitcase (Lining)
- Start by taking out all removable items, like attachable pockets, laundry bags, and everything else. You can wash those separately in a bowl full of water and laundry detergent or just throw them in the washing machine.
- Open all of the zippers and give your luggage a good shake. Then vacuum your suitcase. This gets rid of all of the larger particles.
- Using a wet cloth, wipe down all parts of the interior lining without any soap. Using too much soap makes a mess, so instead, use a simple wet cloth.
- If you still have some dirty patches after wiping everything down, like the brown stain in the picture above, mix some laundry detergent with water (1:5 ratio) and apply it to the dirty areas using an old toothbrush.
- Finally, wipe down everything with a soft cloth and warm water until all of the soap is out.
The deeper stains took some more effort while rubbing with laundry detergent to get out fully, but I managed to clean everything quite easily.
Part 2: How to Clean the Suitcase Exterior
Next, you should clean the exterior. The technique that you should use heavily depends on the luggage material, so I wrote separate sections for fabric, hard shell, and leather luggage. Don’t worry about all the tough spots that don’t come out (like the black grease stains in the picture below) because I’ll show you how to get rid of them in the third part toward the end of this post. Part two deals with giving your luggage a general clean, which in my case, removed all the easy-to-clean spots and restored the color to a deeper red.
Tip: Use a luggage cover on your next flight if you want your suitcase to stay fresh – you can just throw the luggage cover in the washing machine every now and then.
How to Clean Soft Fabric Luggage (Nylon, Canvas, Polyester)
I’ve found that the best way on how to clean fabric luggage was with a foaming upholstery cleaner.
- Get rid of the larger particles by giving your luggage a good shake.
- Prepare your cleaning product. Any fabric and textile cleaner that foams up when applied will fit this technique. Sofa cleaners, car seat cleaners, and some foaming carpet cleaners will all work just fine.
- Spray your whole suitcase with the foaming spray until everything is white. (Use more foam than in the picture above because the foam settled down while I took the picture.)
- Rub in the foam with a brush, paying the most attention to visible dirt patches.
- After 5-15 minutes (depending on your product), vacuum off all of the foam with a wet/dry vacuum cleaner.
- Repeat the process for the patches that didn’t come out. If you can’t get rid of it even after the second clean, it’s probably a grease patch, which has to be treated differently. I’ve included advice on how to clean grease off luggage further down in the article.
- Clean all of the plastic parts with soapy water and a washcloth.
- Leave your luggage in an open space, preferably in direct sunlight, with all of the zippers open to let it dry for a while.
How to Clean Hard Shell Luggage (Polycarbonate, ABS, Polypropylene, Aluminum)
- First, prepare your cleaning product. Dish soap mixed with water works really great.
- Clean a small part of your luggage with soapy water and a washcloth. If everything appears to be coming off nicely, continue with the whole case.
- After you’re finished, make sure to wipe down the residue from the soap with clean water and a washcloth.
- If some spots don’t come out with dish soap, try cleaning them with either baking soda mixed with toothpaste or nail polish remover. Test on a less visible spot first to see if the baking soda/nail polish remover doesn’t ruin the plastic.
- Dry your luggage thoroughly with all zippers open.
How to Clean and Restore Leather Luggage
First, remove all of the dirt with a dry cloth. Avoid vacuuming the exterior, as it leaves visible scratches. Also, avoid cleaning with a lot of water, as it may damage the leather. For all of the corners and smaller places, use a dry toothbrush. After most of the dust and dirt is gone, try removing the most visible marks with a special leather cleaner (leather sofa cleaner works great), applying it with a soft cloth. If your case is suede, use a special cleaner for suede leather, which’s usually applied with a brush.
If your case is really beaten up, you can use a special leather marker to take care of the largest scratches. However, make sure that you purchase the right color. As always, if you’re cleaning any leather, don’t forget to apply a leather conditioner, which removes some scuff marks and restores the original color.
Step 3: How to Remove Scratches/Scuff Marks from Luggage
Just imagine how much your luggage has been tossed around when it’s checked in. Luggage handlers have to move tons of suitcases every day, so they aren’t too careful with your suitcase, which can result in many scratches. I managed to hide/remove around 80% of the total scratches on my suitcase’s plastic parts with the techniques mentioned below.
Removing Scuff Marks from Plastic Luggage Parts (Handles and Wheels)
First of all, get your plastic luggage parts squeaky clean. Use soapy water and a cloth to remove dirt from scratches. Now you have three options for restoring your black plastic luggage parts:
- Use regular olive oil. Gently rub it on the plastic with a soft cloth. Although it’s a temporary solution (it will last a few months if you’re using your luggage often), this makes your plastic parts restore the vibrant deep colors that they once had. Olive oil makes all of the smaller scratches almost invisible.
- If your plastic parts are black, you can find a black plastic trim restorer in most auto stores. It’s a thick, black paste that needs to be rubbed on your plastic parts with a soft cloth. However, be careful not to get it on other parts of your case. This paste makes your black luggage parts pop and hides all of the smaller scratches. I used this technique in the picture above.
- Lastly, you can try using a heat gun. Unfortunately, this is the most dangerous method of all three because you can easily damage your luggage. Just heat your plastic parts about 10-20 inches away with a heat gun until your plastic parts restore their rich color.
Removing Scuff Marks from Hard Shell Luggage Exterior
First of all, you should always clean your case with soapy water before attempting to remove scratches. This will clean all of the dirt and goo out of the scratches that make them more visible. After that, you should use a simple pencil eraser (I borrowed this tip from getawaytips.azcentral.com.) Believe it or not, the results of this are nearly magical. All you have to do is rub the eraser on the scratch a few times, which will result in the smaller scratches completely gone and deeper ones less visible. For the deeper scratches, try applying a regular toothpaste and rub it in with an old toothbrush, which will make most of the deeper scratches disappear.
Lastly, you should apply regular car wax/car polish to the exterior if it’s a smooth and glossy material. It will fill most of the scratches, give your case a bright shine and protect it from future scratches. Avoid getting the wax on black plastic parts, as it will leave a white residue, which can be hard to get out. You should try a test spot at first and continue only if everything looks good. If the wax leaves white residue on black plastic parts, you can get them off with a regular pencil eraser.
Removing Scratches from Leather Luggage
If your leather suitcase has scratches, it can easily be hidden with the right products. Start by cleaning your case with a dry cloth to remove most of the dirt so that you can assess the condition of your suitcase. After determining how many scratches need to be removed, you have a few options on how to remove them.
- If your case is in pretty good condition, it should be okay to use a regular leather cleaning product, like a leather sofa cleaner. These come in different colors, which usually restores the original color.
- For some of the deeper scratches, try using olive oil. Pour a teaspoon of olive oil on a smooth cloth and gently rub it in your deeper scratches. Let it sit for five minutes and clean it off with a soft, dry cloth. This should fill the leather with olive oil and make restore it to its original color.
- Try using regular shoe polish on the deeper scratches. Note that you should be using the right color that matches your luggage. Although this is only a temporary solution, most of your scratches will be gone!
- If you can get your hands on a leather marker in the right color, you can simply paint the scratch with the pen, and it will be less visible.
How to Get Black Marks/Grease Stains off Luggage
I came across these black spots on my suitcase just when I thought I was close to finishing cleaning my case. I thought it was just some dirt, but I figured out that it was mechanical grease upon closer inspection.
It turns out that grease on your luggage is pretty standard for checked baggage. (Some people have reported that almost all of their suitcase was covered with black grease spots after being checked-in!) If you try cleaning grease with the wrong products, you’ll end up rubbing it in deeper, so avoid that at all costs. Instead, follow the technique mentioned down below.
- First of all, you should get most of the grease off by pouring some dry baking soda and cornstarch on the dirty spot. Rub it in with a toothbrush and let it sit for a while. This should soak up most of the grease from the spot. After a few minutes, when most of the grease is soaked up, brush off the baking soda/cornstarch.
- Next, fill a glass halfway with warm water, add a tablespoon of dish soap, and a tablespoon of Oxi Clean (or similar alternatives.) Mix it all up and apply to the greasy spot with an old toothbrush, rubbing it in for one or two minutes.
- Finally, clean it all up with a soft cloth and warm water.
After the first try, I removed around 60% of the grease, and when I repeated the procedure one more time, I removed a little more. I ended up with around 80% of the grease gone. If your suitcase is bright-colored and covered with stains, most likely, it will be impossible to get them out fully.
Just note that this technique slightly damaged the fabric. Most of the grease was out, but the spots where I applied baking soda and Oxi Clean became slightly lighter, and the fabric seemed to be slightly worn down. If you look at the picture above closely, you’ll see that the fabric looks slightly worn-down after cleaning. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a better solution for cleaning grease, so it’s just something that you’ll have to deal with.
How to Clean Mold off Luggage
Not only is mold disgusting, but it’s also horrible for your health as well. However, the good news is that you can clean it out fairly easily, even if your suitcase has been sitting in the basement for a year and is fully covered with mold. You can clean it all out with white vinegar! If you’re dealing with mold, it’s better to do it outside, as it’s bad to breathe in. Take your case out in an open space and clean it all up with a damp cloth. Make sure to wear a face mask for protection.
Next, fill up a spray bottle with white vinegar. Spray the vinegar all over your case and let it soak in for a few minutes. Clean it all up with a soft cloth and warm water. It’s advised to repeat this process for a second time to kill all of the mold that’s left. After that, continue cleaning the rest of your luggage as usual (with an upholstery cleaner, steam cleaner, etc.) Finally, leave your case to dry with all compartments open in a well-ventilated space. Vinegar has a powerful smell, which will be evident for a few weeks. However, after a few weeks, your suitcase should stop smelling like vinegar.
How to Clean Wine and Shampoo Spills in Luggage
It can be a real mess if one of your wine bottles breaks in your checked luggage. Not only do you have to clean up the red stains, but there’s also glass everywhere! The same goes for shampoo bottles that accidentally open up and spill over all of your clothes. That’s not a problem, though, because you can easily clean shampoo and wine.
Here’s how you do it:
- Vacuum all of the broken glass shards.
- If it’s still fresh, clean up most of the liquid with newspapers or a wet vacuum.
- Mix up some laundry detergent with warm water (1:2 ratio) and clean the dirty spots.
- Clean with some warm water and a washcloth.
- Repeat until the stain disappears.
- If you’re having a hard time, change laundry detergent to dish soap, vinegar, and baking soda, but be careful not to damage your luggage. It’s better to try out on a hidden spot first (like the bottom of your case.)
Other Commonly Asked Questions About Cleaning Luggage
Can You Dry Clean Luggage?
If you mean using a dry cleaning service, then yes. Most dry cleaning services offer to clean your luggage for around $30-$70. I researched several services, and it looks like most of them will also do small repairs on the suitcase, such as restoring the plastic parts, cleaning up any tears or worn-down fabrics, and restoring leather parts. So if you have the money, you could take your suitcase to a dry cleaning service, and they’ll probably do the best job of restoring it. That said, it’s better to call them first because a lot of dry cleaning services don’t mention cleaning luggage on their websites.
If what you meant by dry cleaning luggage was using DIY dry cleaning kits, then the answer is positive. Home dry cleaning kits usually come with a large laundry bag and several dry cleaning cloths. They’re intended for smaller clothing pieces but can work for larger items, like sofas and luggage as well.
Before using the dry cleaning cloth, you should clean your fabric suitcase with a regular upholstery foam spray. (I gave instructions on this at the beginning of this article, under “How to Clean Soft Fabric Luggage.”) When you’re finished with the upholstery foam spray, wipe down your whole suitcase with a dry cleaning cloth, paying the most attention to any stains that are left. When you’re finished, throw out the dry cleaning cloth, and wipe down the whole suitcase with a clean, white cloth. After that, let it sit in the sun or somewhere warm for a few hours to let it air dry.
How to Clean Luggage from Bed Bugs?
Getting rid of bed bugs from luggage isn’t that easy. That’s why I created a separate guide on getting rid of bed bugs from luggage. Make sure to check it out, as it has detailed steps on what you should do.
Can You Clean Suitcases with Baking Soda and Vinegar?
Baking soda and vinegar actually work really well for cleaning luggage. If you want to use baking soda and vinegar, here’s the best way to do it:
- Sprinkle dry baking soda across your whole suitcase, and rub it all in with a brush or a cloth. This sucks up any grease, kills off a lot of microbes, and freshens up the fabric.
- Vacuum the whole suitcase to get rid of all the dirt and baking soda.
- Mix vinegar with water (1:2 ratio) and fill up a spray bottle with the mixture.
- Spray your whole suitcase with the mixture so that everything becomes wet.
- Rub everything in with a brush, and let it sit for five or ten minutes.
- Clean everything off with a dry cloth, and leave your suitcase in an open space for a few days, so that the smell of vinegar goes out.
Note: Try this on a small spot on the underside of your luggage first to see if nothing gets damaged.
Can You Wash a Suitcase?
I doubt that you could fit a suitcase in a washing machine. However, you can definitely wash suitcases under running water. They’re meant to withstand rain and wet conditions, so nothing should get damaged unless the suitcase has any cardboard/wooden internal parts. You can open up the interior lining on most bags by unzipping a zipper and see if the bag has any cardboard/wooden internal parts.
To wash your suitcase under running water, fill up a bathtub with warm water, add laundry detergent, and soak your suitcase in there for a while. Use a brush to clean off all the dirty spots and rinse them off under clean, running water. Easy-peasy!
Can You Steam Clean Luggage?
Another great way to clean luggage is with a steam cleaner. Professional steamers are used for cleaning sofas, mattresses, carpets, and other soft fabric furniture. If you have one lying around the house, I’d even argue that steam cleaning your luggage is probably the best and easiest way to go.
Here’s how you can steam clean luggage:
- Vacuum the whole suitcase to get rid of all the larger particles.
- Pre-treat the dirtiest spots with an upholstery cleaner. Spray it directly on the spot, wait around five minutes, and then clean everything off with a clean cloth.
- Treat the whole suitcase with a foaming upholstery cleaner/shampoo, which will essentially loosen up all of the little particles stuck in the fabric, which will result in a better finish after steaming. Spray it all over the suitcase, rub it in with a brush, and wait five to ten minutes.
- After waiting a few minutes, start steaming your whole suitcase with your upholstery steamer. Go in slow motions, and use the appropriate attachment (a cloth attachment or a brush, depending on your model.)
- Lastly, leave your suitcase in an open space until it’s completely dry.
If you don’t have any cleaning products at home, you could vacuum the suitcase and steam clean it (skip steps 2 and 3), which will get fairly good results anyway.
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