Why You Should Clean Your Suitcase Immediately After a Trip

published Jun 16, 2023
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closeup shot of a person wiping cover of a blue and black suitcase with sanitizing wipes; on a bed with beige sheets
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Whether you’re embarking on a road trip or taking to the skies, we have ideas for making your vacation as stress-free as possible. This content is presented in partnership with Hampton by Hilton; it was created independently by our editorial team.

I’m a little particular about travel. As soon as I get home from a , no matter what time, I immediately unpack and throw all my clothes into the wash. But I hardly ever remember to clean the inside and outside of my actual suitcase, which is something cleaning experts say should be done regularly. Here’s how often you should clean your luggage and how to do it.

How Often Should You Clean Your Suitcase?

For those of you who like to come home and immediately go to sleep, I’ve got some bad news for you: The best time to clean your suitcase is right after you unpack it.

“Suitcases often come into contact with various surfaces and environments during travel, including airports, hotels, and public transportation, which can be contaminated with germs,” says Armeka Townsend, cleaning expert at Zep. “Moreover, the contents of the suitcase, like clothes, toiletries, and shoes, can also introduce and harbor microbes.”

The longer you wait to and clean, the more likely your suitcase will breed germs and bacteria, infect things in your home, and frankly, start to stink. And nobody wants a stinky, germ-ridden suitcase. Plus, if some bugs got into your bags while you were away, you’re letting them live inside your belongings.

“The reason suitcases get dirty so quickly, especially if you’re a frequent traveler, is because they sit on very dirty surfaces while in transit, on highly trafficked areas at the airport, and the ground outside,” says Stefan Bucur, cleaning expert and founder of Rhythm of the Home. “But suitcases also get dirty from the inside. Transporting used pairs of shoes and wet clothes can be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.”

How to Clean a Suitcase 

Depending on the suitcase you have, you might be facing multiple parts to clean, from a removable battery to wiggly spinner wheels. Here’s how to tackle the various spots on your luggage.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

How to Clean Luggage Exterior

How you clean the exterior of your luggage depends on how it’s made. If you have a removable battery, pull the battery out and wipe it clean with an antibacterial wipe; do the same for its setting in the suitcase. If you need to clean any of the small electronics, use a toothbrush and compressed air to blow any dirt away. Wipe down any handles or zippers with a disinfectant wipe as well.

For hard-sided luggage, Bucur and Townsend both suggest wiping it clean with a disinfectant solution like soapy water. You can use a soft brush to get out any bits of dirt stuck in crevices. Then, rinse it clean with fresh water and wipe it dry.

For soft-sided luggage, use the same soapy solution and brush to lightly scrub the exterior of it. Pay more attention to stained spots — you can even use a laundry stain remover, as long as you rinse it completely clean afterward. Be sure, though, that you don’t get too much soap into the fabric; it can be hard to get out. After you’ve cleaned all the surfaces, use a fresh wet rag to blot out everything and set it out to dry.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

How to Clean Luggage Tags

Luggage tags are perhaps the easiest to clean. If they’re leather or plastic (which they usually are), just wipe them clean with a damp cloth and then run a disinfectant wipe over them. Remember that you may need to rewrite your contact information if it comes off during cleaning.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

How to Clean Luggage Interior

For the interior of your suitcase, use the soapy water mix and a soft brush to scrub any fabric. If the lining comes out, remove it and put it through the wash on a gentle cycle. Then, use a disinfectant wipe to clean out beneath the fabric (if it’s a hard-sided suitcase) or use soapy water and brush (if it’s soft-sided). Remember to use a clean wet rag to blot out all the soap.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

How to Clean Luggage Wheels

According to Bucur, this is the most important part of your suitcase to clean. “Make sure to give special attention to the wheels of the suitcase if it has them because that’s usually where most bacteria develop,” he says.

Use the same soft brush and soap/water solution, and scrub all the dirt and grime off the wheels. Once you’ve got them gunk-free, wipe them clean with a fresh rag, then spray a disinfectant spray over them. Be sure you get every part of the wheel.

When you’re done cleaning overall, let your suitcase sit out to air dry completely before you store it or use it again. If it’s at all damp when you put it away, it could mildew or grow bacteria — and you don’t want to negate all the work you just did!