This is why you should always clean your luggage before you use it again – plus tips on how to do it

Our luggage goes through a lot when it comes with us on trips, so it's important to care for it both before and after

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Summer is finally here, and for many of us, that means finally taking our luggage – be it suitcases or carry-on bags – out of storage for the first time in months for some exciting summer trips.

But there's no denying that our luggage goes through a lot when it travels with us, be it trawling across the airport floor, coming along to the less-than-clean toilets, or being stashed into the dusty, dank hold of a plane, train, or car for the duration of our journey.

It makes a lot of sense that luggage should be cleaned immediately after a trip. But what about cleaning your luggage before using it again after it’s been sitting in storage for a while? Well, it turns out that this might be just as essential!

Why you should clean your luggage

If you’re heading off on vacation imminently this summer (and already know how to perfectly pack your clothes), cleaning your suitcase, hold bag or even rucksack before using it again is probably a clever idea, though it may not have crossed your mind before now.

An open, pink luggage case with its contents on display

(Image credit: VonHaus)

Why you need to clean luggage

For most of us, our luggage will have been sat in dark cupboards, basements or attics for months by the time we use them again. During this time, a lot can happen to your suitcase or bags.

Victor Tam, Co-Founder and CEO of Monos, explains, 'while in storage, your luggage can be subject to dust, dirt, and even pests that can cause damage to the fabric and zippers. Also, if there is any moisture in your suitcase, this can lead to mold which can then spread to your garments as you begin packing for your trip. This is why proper luggage storing and cleaning is needed, especially if it has been left unused for a long period of time.'

Hyacinth Tucker
Hyacinth Tucker

Hyacinth Tucker is a cleaning and laundry expert, and is affectionately known as the 'Laundry Lady'. She's the founder of The Laundry Basket, LLC, where she brings her unique flair and expertise to the world of laundry care and cleaning.

'If your luggage has been sitting in the closet for a while, it's essential to give it a thorough clean before your next trip,' Hyacinth Tucker, owner of The Laundry Basket, confirms. 'To do so, start by wiping down the exterior with either an alcohol wipe or a gentle mixture of dish soap and water,' she advises. This will ensure your luggage is thoroughly sanitized without damaging it.

If your case is looking worse for wear after months of neglect, it may have accumulated certain stains – or perhaps there are stains left to tackle that you didn’t notice when putting it away. To address this, Hyacinth Tucker has a variety of options: 'For stubborn stains, a soft cloth or sponge dipped in a mild detergent solution should do the trick, with some gentle scrubbing of the luggage.

'For fabric bags or hard-case luggage, a damp cloth paired with an all-purpose spray or white vinegar-based cleanser works wonders in removing unwanted marks,' she says.

White vinegar is also an excellent way to remove any mold that may have accumulated on the bag; simply spray on an equal mix of white vinegar and water before scrubbing with a microfiber cloth.

Why you should disinfect bags

Cleaning your luggage before a trip and after months in storage is one thing. But it’s perhaps even more essential to thoroughly disinfect any bags immediately after returning from a getaway – for a number of reasons!

First, consider how much dirt your luggage likely encounters as it travels through airports, cars and hotel floors. 'Over time, luggage can attract dirt, grime, and even bacteria from previous trips, which can transfer to your belongings back home and cause issues with hygiene,' Hyacinth Tucker says.

Will Cotter, a professional cleaner and COO of FreshSpace Cleaning agrees, explaining that airport floors can be the worst culprits for dirt and grime: 'Imagine you're on a trip and your luggage accidentally ends up on the airport floor. If you clean it afterward, you're making sure you're not bringing those germs along with you,' he says.

hotel room with luggage rack and bed

(Image credit: Getty images / chendongshan)

One of the biggest issues with not cleaning your luggage immediately after bringing it home, is that you run the risk (albeit a small one) of bringing bed bugs into your home.

'Bed bugs are known to travel on luggage – that’s how they get around the world, in even the fanciest hotels. They do not discriminate!' cleaning expert and owner of Clean Queen Denver Katie Lambert says. 'As such, it’s so important to unpack as soon as you get home, throw your things in the laundry, and then vacuum and wipe out luggage before storing it away again.'

The same applies to other creepy crawlies, actually. Katie warns, 'One time I traveled back from Hawaii, and a cockroach was in my bag, but I didn’t know, as I didn’t unpack it right away. My parents' house was infested with roaches for months.' Now that’s a horror story if ever we’ve heard one!

Maintaining your luggage after each trip can also have benefits for the longevity of the item too, Victor points out. 'Cleaning after each of your trips not only keeps your luggage free from bacteria and germs, but it can also help it look new for longer,' he says.

Will Cotter, COO of FreshSpace Cleaning
Will Cotter

Will Cotter is a professional cleaner and the COO of FreshSpace Cleaning, a local cleaning service located in Jacksonville, Columbus, Detroit, Memphis, and Cleveland. His main company is based in Indianapolis, and has sister companies in Oklahoma, Milwaukee, and Louisvill

How to deep clean your luggage after returning from a trip

Now that we’re all feeling thoroughly terrified over the idea of not cleaning our luggage after vacation, you may be wondering about the best way to sanitize your suitcase or weekend bag, to ensure it’s as hygienic as possible.

Unpacking immediately is obviously the most important first step. 'You should unpack as soon as you get home to ensure no food or any other items from your vacation (sand, etc) stays in your luggage, as these can cause mold growth,' Katie says.

Katie Lambert
Katie Lambert

Katie Lambert is a cleaning expert and owner of Clean Queen Denver. She has been an independent cleaning expert for over 15 years, starting with working at her older sibling's cleaning service, before setting up her own company. She has now been running Clean Queen Denver for over 10 years.

Once unpacked, make sure to rid your luggage of any little remaining crumbs. 'Take it outside to shake, or use a handheld vacuum to remove dirt on the interior,' Will says.

When it comes to deep cleaning it, Will Cotter suggests, 'For the exterior of your luggage, I like to use either a soft dry brush or wipe it down with baby wipes,' he suggests. Or, use a microfiber cloth instead, slightly dampened with rubbing alcohol. Wipe the zippers, handles, and straps. Check the wheels for any caught-up dirt or hair and clean them up, too.'

If you don’t want to use rubbing alcohol, there are alternative options, Katie says. 'You can use a microfiber cloth and water with a touch of your favorite all purpose cleaner to clean your luggage, getting at every nook and cranny. Just be sure not to make it too wet,' she warns.

folded shirts in suitcase with summer hat

(Image credit: Getty images / Boy_Anupong)

After this, it’s important to allow the case to air out. 'Once everything’s done, I leave the luggage open to air dry completely, ideally overnight,' Will advises.

If you notice any lingering odors on your luggage (if perhaps something has split inside), you should also take a moment to address this before stashing the item away. And there’s an easy trick to help you do so.

'Sprinkle some baking soda on the area that smells and let it sit overnight to absorb any possible odors, then vacuum it out,' Hyacinth Tucker says. 'Then, consider applying a light coat of Scotchgard for added protection against future spills.'

Finally, if you know you’re going to be storing your luggage away for the foreseeable future, Katie suggests doing what you can to protect it against any possible mold or damp damage until you use it again.

'I like to pop a moisture-absorbent package inside the suitcase to keep it dry, especially if you live in a humid environment. I always use something like Damp Rid,' she says.

Contributing Editor

Amy Hunt is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor primarily covering homes and interiors, wellness, travel and careers. She was previously Lifestyle Editor at woman&home, commissioning and editing the homes, books and features sections of the website,

In 2019, she won the AOP Digital Journalist of the Year Award, for her work on Having worked in the industry for over eight years, she has contributed to a range of publications including Ideal Home, Livingetc, T3,Goodto, Woman, Woman’s Own, and Red magazine.