Pretty much every traveler reading this post has spent a bit of time laboring over finding the perfect travel gear, and then probably spent a bit of money in acquiring it. We often agonize over what to take, and how to pack it, but we often forget about another integral part of the whole process: cleaning and storing our luggage after our trip has finished.
Why You Need to Clean Your Luggage
Backpack or suitcase, it doesn’t matter. That baby needs to be cleaned after a big trip away. We literally drag our suitcases through dirt, poop, spit and debris on a daily basis; with a backpack, we do the same, and then we wear it. Now that I’m thinking about how disgusting a piece of travel luggage can become, I’m a little concerned at how close I often keep it — snuggling, holding and sometimes using it as a place to rest my head.
To keep the bag from deteriorating.
Oils and dirt can cause some fabrics or special technical coatings of your backpack to deteriorate over time. Dirt and debris caught in a suitcase wheel could harden and cause issues down the road.
To keep the bag from growing mold.
The last thing you need is to pull your bag or suitcase out of storage before a big trip to find it not only smells bad, but it has also grown mold from those crumbs or spills that weren’t washed out. Getting the mold out of luggage is a tough task, and more often than not, it will be easier to just buy new luggage!
To keep bugs from invading your home.
Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded bed bugs! They could be in your bag, and you might not even know it. Tuck that baby away in a closet without a proper clean, and you might find your home infested with this annoying pest.
How to Clean Your Luggage
The specifics on how to clean your luggage varies by backpack or suitcase. It is always best to check with your luggage manufacturer for details so that you don’t cause any damage that can shorten your product’s shelf life, or void a warranty.
Cleaning a Backpack
Many backpack manufacturers recommend removing lose dirt and debris first with a soft brush. If washing in a tub or sink, be sure to use a mild detergent (so that you don’t damage any protective coatings on that fabric), scrub dirty spots with a soft brush, and thoroughly rinse before hanging to dry.
If you don’t have a bathtub or sink to submerge your bag, a spot wash with a slightly soapy sponge with do the trick. Again, be sure to use a mild detergent.
Cleaning a Suitcase
Use a soft brush to remove dirt and debris from around the wheels of the suitcase. If necessary, use a vacuum. Then, use a soft soapy rag to wipe down the lining. Never submerge a suitcase in a tub of water, and never use oil to lubricate the zips or wheels. The latter could cause more problems and potentially get on your packed clothes when in use again.
What to Do If You’re Concerned About Bed Bugs
My boyfriend and I have done a lot of research on this lately as one of the hostels we stayed at in Germany had bed bugs. We, luckily, got out of our room before spending a full night, but we were still concerned that one or two could have hitched a ride in our belongings. So, we cleaned and dried all of our clothing (it was time for that anyway), and we inspected and cleaned our luggage thoroughly — just to be sure.
*We were traveling with just small carry-on suitcases for this trip, so it wasn’t really a huge deal. Another benefit of downsizing.
- Bugs and their eggs are visible to the naked eye. If you inspect your luggage, you should be able to see them unless they are in a good hiding spot. Wipe out all corners and linings with a wet, soapy sponge.
- Bed bugs don’t like heat. Supposedly you can blast a hiding place with heat from a blow dryer, and while it won’t kill it, it will make the bug show itself.
- You can place your luggage in a plastic garbage bag and set in the hot sun for the day. The extreme heat will kill them.
- Another tactic is to get a bed bug spray or bug bomb and use in your luggage. Be sure to clean and dry the bag before storing away.
Read more: The Truth About Bed Bugs
>> Be sure to read this helpful fact sheet on bed bugs for tips.
Storing Your Luggage
Store your luggage in a dry place as damp places will lead to mold. Tucking a few dryer sheets into your stored luggage is said to help protect from musty smells.
- Osprey Pack Care, Osprey Packs
- Step by Step Guide to Cleaning Your Backpack, Time as a Traveller
- A Neat Freak’s Guide to A Clean Suitcase, Budget Travel
Join the Her Packing List email community!
Get our latest packing lists, gear deals, and travel news by email.