Last Updated: January 11, 2023

How To Clean Your Suitcase: A Step By Step Guide

Did you spill coffee on your suitcase in a rush to get to the airport and time, and now you have no idea how to get the stain out. Or do you just want to freshen up your suitcase, so that it looks brand new for your next trip? 

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you’re in the right place – I’m about to teach you how to clean your entire suitcase! This detailed guide has helpful tips on cleaning your luggage inside and out, as well as tips for various kinds of suitcases – leather, softshell, hardshell… 

This guide is only for those of you who want to know how to deep-clean your suitcase. In case there is something broken on your luggage and you want to fix it, be sure to check out our comprehensive suitcase repair guide to find out what you need to do

Cleaning The Interior Of A Suitcase

If you want to properly clean your entire suitcase, to ensure that you don’t have to do that again for at least another year, it is going to take two days. And that’s because you will need to let it dry overnight, to be absolutely sure that you won’t have issues with mildew because of residue moisture.

  1. Empty your suitcase completely. Not only the main compartment but all the pockets and remove any detachable bags or pockets.
  2. Open all the zippers including all the pockets, inside and out. 
  3. Tip your suitcase upside down and shake it to remove all the debris and dust you can.
  4. Vacuum the interior preferably with a small hand-held vacuum, or with a small attachment from a larger one.
  5. Use a wet cloth to wipe the inside for the first time. This removes any simple stains.
  6. For more difficult stains use either laundry detergent (for nylon) or baking soda (for canvas) with water (5:1 or 10:1 ratio).
  7. Wipe out the detergent numerous times with a very wet cloth afterwards.
  8. Leave everything open to dry overnight or longer. Or use a hairdryer to speed it up.
Vacuuming Suitcase

Vacuuming the Interior of your suitcase

Air dry your suitcase overnight

Air-dry your suitcase overnight

Washing Removable Lining

If you’re lucky enough to have a suitcase with entirely removable lining, then all you need to do is take it out of your suitcase. If there are any other detachable pockets, make sure to remove those as well, until your luggage is entirely bare.

Suitcase Cleaning Instructions

Find the tag somewhere on that lining to tell you exactly what you can and can’t do with it. You can see in the image above that the lining is my suitcase is not machine washable, so I will need to spot-clean it.

If your tag says your lining is machine washable, just throw it in the washer on gentle cycle, and then let it air dry. Do not put the lining back into the suitcase until it is 100% dry, or you risk getting mildew – a damp and dark suitcase is like a heaven to fungus.

To wash it by hand get a big washbowl and fill it with warm water and some washing detergent. Then, scrub the lining just like you would a normal T-shirt.

Pro-tip: if you want your suitcase to smell lovely when you use it the next time; after you’ve cleaned the lining to the best of your abilities, get some warm water and your favorite fabric softener. Soak it up in it a while, and then rinse it with clean water. Once the lining is dry, it’s going to smell lovely – just like your freshly washed clothes.

Cleaning The Exterior Of A Suitcase

Once the interior of your suitcase is completely dry, you can now begin cleaning its exterior. 

First, make sure that it is entirely closed so that no moisture can leak inside it. And then go to the section about the type of your suitcase – leather, plastic, and nylon are all cleaned differently. 

Cleaning Hardshell Suitcases

Before using chemicals or detergents, just try to give any exterior stain a really good rub with a towel.

I managed to get out this stain with a damp towel, without any added detergents or solvents.

Cleaning Exterior

Before & After cleaning with a towel

And don’t be afraid to press hard on your luggage. Hardside suitcases were built to endure all kinds of torture, and I seriously doubt you can break it by scrubbing the shell.

Anyway, dampen a towel and try to scrub away anything that shouldn’t be there – in most cases it will work because you’re cleaning plastic.

Another thing you should try is to remove the stain with an eraser – this can usually clean plastic really well, and it’s extremely easy and fast.

If you can’t get out the stain this way, then you will need to use some sort of cleaning detergent – kitchen clear or normal detergent are usually fine. In case the exterior of your suitcase is textured, get some white vinegar (and mix it with water) – it’s the one thing that really can clean textured plastic.

Don’t use any cleaners that are too abrasive; this could damage the plastic and you could ruin the shell of your suitcase. And stay away from acetone – it can eat through some plastics, and you do not want that!

Cleaning Softshell Suitcases

Cleaning soft shell suitcases is a little more difficult because they absorb dirt and grime. Here are the steps to use:

  1. Remove any debris or pet hair from the exterior of your suitcase, Use a handheld vacuum or a lint roller
  2. Dissolve some mild detergent in warm water, dip a towel in it, and start scrubbing the stains.
  3. For more difficult stains use a stronger detergent or a textile cleaner that foams.
  4. Wipe away any excess detergent with a very damp cloth.
  5. Clean the handles and wheel areas with a damp cloth.
  6. Leave to dry overnight or preferably in the sun on a good day. Use a hairdryer to speed things up.

Extra Tips For Colored Materials

If your suitcase is cream or eggshell, use a detergent for light clothes – this way there won’t be any color disfiguration.

For colored materials, you could try a detergent that is good for color that you use in your washing machine.

Cleaning Leather Suitcases

Leather Suitcase

If the exterior of your suitcase is genuine leather, then you will need to be extra careful with it. You can’t use abrasive cleaners or even detergents – they could damage the leather or stain it, and that you will just make everything worse.

Instead, you should use a cleaner specifically designed for leather. There are loads of different ones, so you can pick up whichever one you like. Armor All Leather Care is a cheap (about $5) and really effective option – it doesn’t really matter that it is intended for car interiors, as long as it is made for leather specifically.

Spray a little(!) bit directly on the area you want to clean, let it sit for a few seconds, and then gently wipe it away. Repeat the process a couple of times until you’re satisfied with the looks of your suitcase. Follow this up with a leather conditioner, for extra shine and softness!

And be careful – if you spray too much, it will leave streaks that aren’t that easy to get out. It’s better to have to do this process two or three times, than to ruin the exterior of your suitcase entirely.

And if your suitcase is made from faux leather, I’m stumped. I have a bag that has nasty blue marks all over it, and I’ve tried dozens of time to clean it, and failed miserably every time. I’ve used everything from rubber erasers to bleach, and nothing worked.

If you have any idea how to remove blue marks from a white faux leather bag, please let me know the in the comment section (I will be forever grateful)!

Cleaning Aluminum Suitcases

If you have an aluminium suitcase, you can just treat it like a huge chunk of metal. Get a cleaner specifically for aluminum, spray it on the shell, buff it in and watch your suitcase regain its old shine. It is as simple as that.

You can also try to use your kitchen cleaner – if it can make your sink look brand new, it can help you clean your suitcase.

Cleaning The Zippers

This is by no means a step you have to do, or one that I would even recommend you do. But in case you’re selling your suitcase or just really like your stuff to be clean, you can also take some extra time to properly clean out the zippers.

Get a kitchen cleaner, mix it with some water and dip a cotton bud in it. Then you can really go to town cleaning all the teeth and the pullers until they look brand new again. Just be careful not to get any cleaning solvent on the shell or lining of your suitcase.

Cleaning Other Hardware On Your Suitcase

This is pretty straightforward – the hardware on suitcases is usually either metal or plastic. If it is metal (like the telescopic rods of the wheel handle), get a kitchen cleaner (something for sinks or stoves), mix a little bit with water, dip a towel or a washcloth in it and polish it clean.

If it’s plastic, (like corner guards or top of the wheel handle), you will usually be able to get out dirt with a damp towel. If not, go back to the part about cleaning hardshell suitcases – you will everything you need to know about cleaning plastic there.

If it’s the wheels… just skip that part. It is seriously pointless – the moment you put your suitcase down on concrete again, all your hard work will be undone. But if you really want to clean them, you can use warm water or a basic wet wipe.

Oh, and be sure to dry the hardware immediately – especially any metal parts – to avoid water damage or corrosion!

Pin It For Later!!! 

Wondering how to get those nasty stains out of your suitcase? This detailed guide will help you make your old suitcase look brand new and shiny!

About the Author Sara Oprašić

Leave a Comment: