Skip to main content

Luggage 101: How to clean and store hard shell and soft sided luggage

Your luggage wheels are absolutely disgusting

Four multicolored suitcases stand in front of the house. luggage near the family car ready for the holidays trip.
NataliAlba / Adobe Stock

From your bedroom to the street, the airport floors, and the belly of the plane, your luggage has seen it all. Both the inside and the outside of your baggage take quite a beating as you travel from place to place. Many people choose to replace their luggage as soon as it starts to show signs of wear. However, good-quality luggage can last over a decade if cared for properly. These are the steps you need to take to get your suitcases looking as good as new (and make them stay that way).

Keith Pitts / Unsplash

Cleaning hard shell luggage

Cleaning your hard shell luggage is a fairly straightforward process, and you will only need a few simple materials.


The supplies you will need are:

  • Mild detergent or dish soap
  • Soft cloths or sponges
  • A toothbrush or soft-bristle brush
  • Towels
  • Warm water


  • To begin, you will want to remove any loose dirt or dust that is on your travel bag. Running a soft cloth or a brush along the outside of your suitcase will give you a good surface to work on and prevent any scratching during the cleaning process.
  • Next, you will want to prepare your cleaning solution by mixing a small amount of mild detergent or dish soap with warm water. Before applying the solution to the entirety of your luggage, test a small, inconspicuous area, such as the bottom of the suitcase, to ensure that it doesn’t cause any discoloration or damage.
  • Once you have done your test, you can dip your sponge or cloth into the solution and gently wipe down the exterior of your luggage. You can use a toothbrush or a soft-bristle brush for smaller, hard-to-reach areas such as seams, corners, and crevices. Throughout this entire process, you will want to make sure you are being gentle to prevent any scratching.
  • If you have any scratches in your suitcase, you can apply a paste of equal parts toothpaste, baking soda, and water on the affected areas. Gently rubbing the paste with a damp cloth should remove the scratches from your luggage.
  • After wiping down your case with the soapy solution, repeat the process once more with regular water to remove any soap residue.
  • Then, you can use clean, dry towels to dry the luggage thoroughly.
katyveldhorst / Pixabay

Cleaning soft-sided luggage

Cleaning soft-sided luggage is slightly different than cleaning hard-shell luggage, as the materials are fabric-based and may need a bit more attention and care to get pesky stains out.


The supplies you will need are:

  • Mild detergent or dish soap
  • Soft cloths or sponges
  • Warm water
  • Hair dryer (optional)
  • Fabric protector spray


  • Just like the hard shell luggage, you will want to start with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent or dish soap. If you are only in need of spot cleaning, you can gently blot the affected areas with a soft cloth or sponge. If your travel bags need a more thorough overall cleaning, then you can once again scrub the entire surface of the bag with your cloth or sponge.
  • After you wipe the suitcase down with a damp, soap-free cloth, you will want to place the luggage in a well-ventilated area to dry.
  • To speed up this process, you can set a hair dryer on a low temperature and fan it over the entire suitcase.
  • Once your luggage dries, you can apply a fabric protector spray to help keep your bag stain-free and safe from water in the future.
Man with tatted arm packs suitcase for adventure travel trip. Packing bag with camera, laptop, portable battery charger and electric toothbrush. Modern travel blogger concept
BublikHaus / Adobe Stock

How to clean the interior of your luggage

Once you have taken care of the outside of your travel bags, you can get started on the inside. You will want to make sure that your suitcase is completely empty. If there’s any dirt or debris inside of your luggage, you can use a vacuum cleaner to remove it. Then, you can take the same soap and water mixture as before and scrub down the area. For more prominent stains, you can use upholstery shampoo.

After rinsing the interior with a damp cloth to remove any detergent residue, keep the suitcase open and allow it to air dry to prevent any mold or mildew growth.

Paya Mona / Shutterstock

Taking care of the wheels and handles

Excessive debris in the wheels and handles of your luggage can cause scratching and break down your suitcase faster than normal. Make sure that your wheels are free of any hair, gravel, mud, or other debris before you begin the cleaning process. Then, you can use a disinfecting wipe or microfiber cloth and an all-purpose cleaner to gently wipe down your wheels and handles.

If your suitcase’s wheels are squeaky or stiff, you can apply a silicone-based lubricant to the axles, which will keep the wheels running smoothly.

Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Storing your luggage and keeping it clean

Although cleaning your luggage is incredibly important, it is even more essential to store your bags properly and take preventative measures to keep them in pristine condition. The best place to store your travel bags is somewhere that is free from moisture, such as under a bed or inside of a closet. If you must store your suitcase in a place that is more prone to moisture, such as a garage or a basement, then consider investing in a luggage cover. You can also keep luggage covers on while you are traveling, as they will keep your bag free from the bumps and knocks of flying.

Additionally, you will want to leave your suitcase partially unzipped to allow your luggage to breathe. If you want to go the extra mile, then throw in a bar of soap or cotton ball soaked in essential oils to keep your bag smelling great.

Overall, regular maintenance and cleaning will help to prolong the life of your hard shell and soft sided luggage. Also, you will want to make sure that you are following the care instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure you don’t damage any fabric or special coatings that your bags may have.

Editors' Recommendations

Amanda Teague
Amanda, an accomplished freelance writer with four years of experience, is a dedicated explorer of both the world and the…
This is the must-have travel item iPhone 15 users need (and it’s less than $20)
This eSIM will be as useful as Global Entry
Portrait of handsome smiling man in casual wear holding his luggage and messaging through his mobile phone while sitting in the hall of the airport.


If there's one thing that we can't live without (especially when we're traveling) it's our smartphones. But finding the right plan for that iPhone 15 can be difficult. International travelers have been battling the fine print of cellphone plans for years, and so far, most resolutions are either short-lived or more hassle than anyone can realistically bear. From the intended flexibility of Google-Fi to T-Mobile’s expansive international benefits, cellphone companies of all sizes have spent years rolling out (and reneging) intricate cellphone plans tailored to frequent travelers. 

Read more
Hotel bedsheets: The truth about how clean they really are
How clean are hotel sheets?
Hotel staff changing sheets.

Let's get straight to the point: are your hotel bedsheets clean?

Picture your next trip — sun and sand, maybe picturesque mountains, a great view from your hotel room where a comfy bed with fluffy pillows and the softest sheets beckon you. Peel back the covers, and everything looks amazing, but before you crawl in, take a minute. Are hotel sheets clean … really?

Read more
How to get a passport: This company acts as your concierge and eliminates travel stress
You'll still have to deal with the holiday crowds at the airport though
passport and vintage camera on a world map

Most people don't have a passport. According to the U.S. Census, only 35% of Americans do. If you're one of them, don't worry — it's easier than ever to get one.

Whether you've been putting off the passport application process because it's too much of a hassle or you're just not sure where to start, we can help you get a new passport stress-free before the new year.

Read more