The Right Way to Clean Your Suitcase—and All Types of Luggage—After You Travel

This task should always be on your post-travel to-do list.

If you dislike unpacking your suitcase at the end of a trip, the idea of an additional step—cleaning that luggage—probably seems like a dreaded chore. But maintaining this travel essential (whether it's a hard or soft piece) is necessary.

The goal isn't necessarily to remove every dent or scuff: After all, a suitcase is something you (literally) drag around the world. "You'll want to keep it tidy, but it will be a losing battle to try to keep it pristine," says Pavia Rosati, the co-author of Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist) and founder of travel site Fathom. "A well-worn suitcase is the sign of a well-traveled person, so carry the wear and tear as a badge of honor."

That doesn't mean you can't remove regular dirt, dust, or germs from your suitcase, though. We tapped Rosati and other cleaning experts to share their best tips for cleaning luggage—from the exterior shell to the wheels—and keeping it in good condition at every step of your journey. But even if you follow their advice to the letter, never forget the most important rule when it comes to suitcase cleanliness: "Never, ever put a suitcase on a bed," Rosati says. "No matter how clean you think it is."

Beige suitcase in living room
Mikel Taboada / GETTY IMAGES

How to Clean the Outside of a Suitcase

First, it's important to remember that whether you're traveling by plane, train, or bus, you will not be the only person to touch 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-touch surfaces with an alcohol-based solution and a microfiber cloth (for sustainability, Rosati prefers this over single-use wipes).

When you return home, however, it's important to give your suitcase's exterior a deeper clean. Since there are two types of luggage (hard-sided and soft-sided), you'll need to clean each thoroughly according to the material.

Cleaning Hard-Sided Luggage

Hard-sided luggage usually has a polycarbonate or metal outer shell.

Materials You'll Need

  • Soap and water or all-purpose cleaner
  • Microfiber towels

Follow the proper steps to clean hard-sided luggage, according to Jennifer Parnell, co-founder of Humble Suds, a line of non-toxic, plant-based cleaning products.

  1. Wipe down the outer shell with mild soap and water or a pH-balanced all-purpose cleaner, such as Humble Suds All Purpose Cleaner. Don't use bleach or another abrasive type of cleaner, as it could cause scratches or damage the exterior, she says.
  2. Continue by wiping the handles, as well.

Cleaning Soft-Sided Luggage

Soft-sided luggage is typically made with nylon, canvas, or polyester.

Materials You'll Need

  • Microfiber towel
  • Soap and water
  • Baking soda

Here are Parnell's best practices to clean a soft-sided suitcase:

  1. Soak a towel in soap and water and wring out the towel.
  2. Wipe down the case with the dampened cloth.
  3. For oil-based stains, sprinkle with baking soda and vacuum off after letting it sit for 15 minutes.
  4. For regular stains, dilute a tablespoon of laundry soap in 8 ounces of warm water or soap and water and blot the stain.
  5. For tougher stains, consider applying a non-toxic upholstery cleaner. Follow the directions based on the manufacturer's instructions.

How to Remove Scuffs on a Suitcase

After your suitcase has been cleaned, turn your attention to any scuffs and scratches on the bag—these steps might come in particular handy if you have leather luggage.

Materials You'll Need

  • Microfiber cloth
  • All-purpose spray
  • White vinegar
  • Gentle dish soap
  • Leather cleaner

Here are Rosati's steps to clean scuffs and other unwanted marks from the exterior of your suitcase, depending on its material:

  • For both fabric bags or hard-case luggage: Use a damp cloth paired with an all-purpose spray like Method, a homemade white vinegar-based cleanser, or gentle dish soap to remove unwanted marks, suggests Rosati.
  • For leather suitcases: Rosati suggests rubbing your suitcase with a bar of nourishing Bickmore Saddle Soap to restore its appearance.

How to Clean Suitcase Wheels

Your suitcase's wheels might be the dirtiest part, since they come in direct contact with the ground.

Materials You'll Need

  • Soap and water or all-purpose cleaner
  • Microfiber towels
  • Screwdriver

Here are Parnell's steps to clean wheels on your luggage:

  1. Apply a soap and water mixture or spray the wheels with all-purpose cleaner.
  2. Wipe down the wheels with the cleaning solution.
  3. Run the wheels over a microfiber cloth to dry them.
  4. "If you would like to deep clean your wheels, you can choose to remove them with the appropriate screwdriver size," says Parnell. "Clean them thoroughly and screw them back on."

How to Clean the Inside of a Suitcase

Lingering odors (from unwashed laundry) and debris (from annoying shampoo spills) can leave your suitcase's interior worse for wear. There are a few things you can do to remove both, says Rosati.

Materials You'll Need

  • Baking soda
  • Vacuum
  • Dish detergent

Follow these steps to clean the interior of your suitcase:

  1. Sprinkle a dash of baking soda in your suitcase and let it sit overnight.
  2. In the morning, vacuum every nook and cranny of the interior.
  3. If you had a major spill of shampoo, body lotion, or sunscreen, 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.
  4. To remove stubborn stains, use a mild solution of dish detergent and water, then sponge the area lightly.
  5. As a proactive measure, you can spray the bag with a light coat of Scotchgard for added protection. (Just remember to always test such products on an inconspicuous spot first.)
Updated by
Nashia Baker
Nashia Baker, Associate Digital Editor for Martha Stewart
Nashia Baker is a skilled writer and editor in the journalism industry, known for her work interviewing global thought leaders, creatives, and activists, from Aurora James to Stacey Abrams. She has over five years of professional experience and has been a part of the Martha Stewart and Martha Stewart Weddings teams for the last 3 years.
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