Last Updated: March 18, 2021

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

Day 1: 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.

On the first day of cleaning your suitcase, you’re going to try and clean the interior. So, let’s get on with it!

Step 1: Make Sure It Is Empty

This might seem like a redundant step, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve began to wash my lining only to have a chapstick or a button fall out.

People are forgetful creatures; you might think you’ve completely emptied out your suitcase, only to find out when you begin cleaning that there’s that pair of socks you’ve looking for ages!

So, before you do anything else, make sure that all the pockets and compartments are entirely empty. Also, check behind the lining – you never know what you might have forgotten ages ago.

When you’re entirely sure that your luggage is totally empty, move onto step two.

Step 2: Vacuuming The Interior

Vacuuming Suitcase

The first step in actually cleaning the interior suitcase is vacuuming it. If there are any larger pieces of debris, this will get them out the fastest. I recommend using a handheld vacuum cleaner, because you will have the most control with one of these and you will be able to get into all the nooks and crannies of your luggage.

In addition to that, a full-size vacuum cleaner could be way too powerful for your suitcase. Especially if the lining is not removable, but rather glued to the body – a regular vacuum cleaner could rip it out, and then you’d be in a way bigger mess.

That’s in case the lining is not removable; if the lining in your suitcase is removable, take it out first and then vacuum the interior.

If you don’t own a handheld vacuum cleaner, you can just pick up your suitcase, turn it around, and give it a really good shake. Make sure that all debris got out, and then you can just vacuum that spot on the floor like you normally would.

And that’s step one.

Step 3: Washing Removable Lining

So, there are two ways you can do this. 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

Then, you should find the tag somewhere on that lining – it’s going 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.

In case the tag says your lining is machine washable, consider yourself extremely lucky! 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.

If you weren’t born under a lucky star and you need wash your lining, it’s fine. 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.

Here’s a 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.

Step 4: Spot Cleaning The Lining

Spot cleaning the lining can be time-consuming, depending on how filthy it actually is. And the detergent you use will depend on the type of lining in your luggage – usually, it’s nylon, but some more premium luggage with have canvas or similar materials. Be sure to check the tag, and see what the lining is made of, so that you know how to properly clean it.

To clean a nylon lining, mix some water and mild detergent in a bowl, and dip a washcloth in it. Then scrub at the spot until you’re positive you got it out. I would also recommend going over this with a damp washcloth that’s only been soaked in water – this way you will definitely avoid that nasty white ring that can form when you haven’t washed out all of the detergent.

In case of canvas or linen linings, you will need to use baking soda and water. You can use a damp washcloth if you have any bigger spots or a toothbrush to be very precise with the small stains.

If the lining inside your luggage is not actually filthy, but you just want to freshen it up a bit, I would recommend soaking a washcloth in warm water mixed with fabric softener. Rub that all over the lining, and then rub a washcloth soaked only in water – this will make your suitcase smell lovely when it’s dry, and it will pick up any dust or dirt you don’t see.

Step 5: Drying The Interior Of Your Suitcase

Air Dry Suitcase

If you’ve only cleaned a couple of stains, I recommend you get a hairdryer and immediately dry them out. This is definitely the fastest way to make your luggage usable again, and you don’t need to worry about mildew too much if only an inch of your lining got wet.

If you were able to remove the lining and give it a proper wash, you should let it air-dry overnight. Only after you’ve made sure that it is entirely dry everywhere should you put it back in your suitcase.

If you dampened the entire lining that’s still inside your suitcase, I recommend you get a hairdryer and dry it as much as you can. After this, you should leave your suitcase open overnight, to avoid getting mildew or any nasty smells in your luggage.

When the interior is a hundred percent dry and aired out, close your suitcase entirely, and move on to part of – cleaning the exterior of your suitcase.

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 you turn into an alchemist and begin mixing various cleaning solutions, 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

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

First, make sure that you’ve removed any debris or pet hair from the exterior of your suitcase – a handheld vacuum and a lint roller will come in handy here.

The exterior of softshell suitcases is usually made from polyester or nylon. So, it’s going to be very similar to cleaning the lining. Dissolve some mild detergent in warm water, dip a towel in it, and start scrubbing the stains.

If that doesn’t help, you can use a stronger detergent. However, I suggest you also pay attention to the color of your suitcase and use a detergent that won’t do any damage to it. So, if your luggage is black or navy blue, use some sort of a detergent for dark clothes.

It’s cream or eggshell, use a detergent for light clothes – this way there won’t be any color disfiguration.

In addition to that, I always wipe away any access detergent with a towel or a washcloth soaked only in water. This removes any excess detergent, which helps prevent those nasty round outlines in the area where the stain used to be.  

Be extra careful not to soak too much the top of your softshell suitcase – if you go overboard, you risk getting water inside the actual bag, and then you have to do everything over.

When you’re satisfied with how clean your suitcase is, dry it with a hair drier for a little while. Then let it air dry, preferably overnight.

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

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