How to Clean the Inside of an Old Suitcase

It’s hard to pass through a thrift store’s luggage section without seeing some piece of vintage luggage that’s just begging for a little tender love and care. While it may look like a disaster, old luggage can be cleaned and refurbished to its former glory. And if you do it right, your luggage will smell like springtime and butterflies (or at least won’t stink of mold and mildew) once again.

To start with, it’s a good idea to empty the suitcase of any unnecessary items and removable pockets. Then shake the thing out – this is probably best done outdoors, and over newspaper or a trash can to contain any possible mess. Next, vacuum the thing with a hose attachment. It’s amazing how much junk builds up over the years, especially in those tight spaces where it’s impossible to reach. Also, be sure to check the wheels and latches – they’ll likely need some extra care.

If the luggage is made of leather, you can use an old toothbrush and mild cleanser (I’m a fan of Simple Green) to get into the grooves around handles and latches, and to brush off any stuck-on grime. You can also use the brush head on your vacuum cleaner to remove any pet hair or other difficult-to-remove debris. And, of course, a lint roller is a handy tool for removing pet hair and lint from canvas and linen suitcases.

Those pieces with fabric linings can be a bit trickier to clean than those with hard shells, since the fabric itself may not be sturdy enough to stand up to a lot of scrubbing pressure. If the lining looks fragile, try a light spray of Lysol – just don’t saturate it – and let it air dry. If the lining is still grimy after this, scrub it with a stiff-bristled brush and again, be sure to use a light touch if the material seems frayed or torn.

Once the fabric is clean, it’s time to tackle the mold and mildew. If it’s really bad, I’m sorry to say that it might be best to discard the luggage and find a replacement – especially if there is a large amount of fungus growing within it. But, if the mold and mildew are only in small patches, go ahead with step two.

To remove the odors, once again use baking soda. You’ll need a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, a few drops of lavender essential oil and a small dish to mix it in. Then, pour the mixture inside the suitcase and close it up. Leave it alone for a day or so, and then vacuum it out. Repeat this as needed until the odor is gone. (If it doesn’t go away, you could also put a bowl of baking soda in the suitcase and shut it for another day or two.) Now your luggage will smell great again – and it’ll be ready for its next trip!