This task should be an essential on your to-do list as everyone begins to embark on more trips and vacations again.

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Whether you're an over-packer or loathe to unpack your suitcase at the end of a trip, the idea of cleaning your suitcase seems like a long-dreaded chore. However, with the heightened awareness of germs and bacteria after COVID-19, it's essential to properly sanitize your luggage before embarking on your trip and after you return home.

Pavia Rosati, co-author of the newly released book Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist) ($24.24, amazon.com) and founder of travel site Fathom, has packed (and unpacked) a countless number of suitcases in her own travels. "A good suitcase is a workhorse," she says. "You'll want to keep it tidy, but it will be a losing battle to try to keep it pristine. A well-worn suitcase is the sign of a well-traveled person, so carry the wear-and-tear as a badge of honor."

Ahead, Rosati shares her tips for cleaning luggage and keeping it in good condition at every step of your journey.

woman walking outside airport with luggage
Credit: m-imagephotography / Getty Images

Treat the exterior for scuffs, scratches, stains, and germs.

First, it's important to remember that whether you're traveling by plane, train, or bus, you will not be the only person who has touched your luggage. "You don't know where your suitcase has been or who has handled it, so it's a good idea to clean it accordingly," says Rosati. She recommends disinfecting your suitcase's high-touched surfaces (the handles and wheels) with an alcohol-based solution and a microfiber cloth ($13.95 for 24, amazon.com). For sustainability, Rosati prefers this over single-use wipes.

After your suitcase has been sanitized, those scuffs and scratches on the bag could use some treatment. For both fabric bags or hard-case luggage, Rosati uses a damp cloth paired with an all-purpose spray like Method ($3.49, target.com), a homemade white vinegar-based cleanser, or gentle dish soap to remove unwanted marks. For leather suitcases, Rosati suggests rubbing your suitcase with a bar of nourishing Bickmore Saddle Soap ($7.99, amazon.com) to restore its appearance.

Sanitize and deodorize the interior.

For lingering odors on the inside, Rosati advises sprinkling in a dash of baking soda and letting it sit overnight. In the morning, vacuum every nook and cranny of the interior. If you had a major spill of shampoo, body lotion, or sunscreen over the journey, suction it up with a dual-purpose wet/dry vacuum; you may have to blot the spill with a bit of water to loosen residue as you work. To remove stubborn stains, use a mild solution of dish detergent and water, then sponge the area lightly.

As a proactive measure, you can spray the bag with a light coat of Scotchgard ($5.38, amazon.com) for added protection. (Just remember to always test such products on an inconspicuous spot first.) And don't forget this last tip from Rosati. "Whatever you do, don't forget the most important rule when it comes to suitcase cleanliness: Never, ever put a suitcase on a bed," she says. "no matter how clean you think it is."

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
October 1, 2021
Scotchgard is a carcinogen. Don't even consider having it in your house...