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How to take care of your luggage—In-transit and at-home tips for protecting, cleaning, and storing your luggage

September 10, 2019

Travel is anything but a vacation for your luggage. Every time I drag my suitcase off an airport conveyor belt, I notice how much it’s aged. (I know, that’s a reason to only do carry-on, but I’d rather my suitcase be a little worse for the wear and tear than I.) 

By the way, if you’re purchasing a new suitcase, keep in mind that soft luggage may actually be more durable than hard-shelled luggage. Seems counterintuitive, but that hard shell can crack if it’s tossed too hard or if too-heavy items are placed on top of it. Soft-sided luggage has a lot more give. 

There are things we can do to minimize that rough-and-tumble ride on our luggage while traveling:

Wrap your luggage. 

There are several options for this, and all will offer some protection from scuffing and dirt. 

Leather duffle bag sits in the middle of a road with a blurred background

• Plastic wrap at an airline kiosk. Most major airports have stations for wrapping your suitcase in durable plastic. This wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s not free—about $15 per bag—or environmentally friendly. And the TSA can cut through the wrap (hopefully not damaging your suitcase in the process) if they want to examine the contents or your luggage.  

• Purchase a protector. There are plenty luggage protectors online, from plastic sleeves to fabric wraps, to spandex covers with your selfie on it. Really. (You won’t need a ribbon to spot your bag on the conveyor!) These protectors have an opening for the handle, and most expose the wheels so they remain functional — but check to make sure the one you’re considering does if you don’t want to wind up carrying your bag rather than wheeling it.

• DIY. If you’re the tiniest bit handy with a sewing machine, you can make a custom cover for your suitcase. It’s simply a pillowcase-like cover the size of your luggage. Or you can use any big cloth bag that’s approximately the right size. Simply cut holes in the bottom for the wheels to pop through, tie it at the handle, and you’re good to go. 

Protect your hard-working wheels.

• Buy wheel covers that screw onto the bottom of your luggage and sit over the wheel. 

• Don’t overpack your suitcase. And take a minute to distribute the weight in your luggage so it’s evenly distributed over the wheels. 

• Don’t pull your wheels over rough terrain. You think your car tires don’t like potholes? Imagine how hard they are on your suitcase’s tiny wheels! Your luggage wheels will last longer if you pick up your suitcase when you’re on gravel, dirt, and traversing potholes. 

• Replace ragged wheels. Some suitcases have the option of replacing wheels. If yours does, you can look online for new wheels that are similarly made and the right size. 

Open suitcase with hat, camera, and clothing inside. Shoes, a notebook, and wallet sit just outside of the suitcase

Avoid mishaps

• Store items that might leak, like sunscreen, shampoo, and other toiletries, in zip-top plastic bags or sturdy, lined toiletry bags.

• Remove shoulder straps or anything else that can cause your bag to get stuck on a conveyor.

• Send it on. Some travelers ship their luggage ahead of them rather than trust it to the transit system. I’ve never tried this, but with rising fees for checking baggage, this might sometimes be a feasible option. It’s certainly a good idea to ship home fragile items that you’re purchased on your trip that are too large to carry on. 

Clean your luggage 

Your luggage has housed everything from dirty clothes to sticky toiletries and probably a snack or two, so once home, resist the urge to dump everything out and toss it aside. Instead:

• Vacuum out all the debris. Hand vacs are perfect for this task.

• Clean all washable exterior parts (including wheels) with a cleaning rag, soap, and water. Dry everything well. 

• Use a damp cloth to wipe out the inside. Leave the suitcase open for a few hours, to make sure it’s completely dry. If you have a good spot to dry and air it outside, that’s even better. 

• Scuffs are par for the traveling course, but if your luggage has a tear, repair it, or have it repaired by a seamstress or shoe repairperson. 

Put some thought into storage

• Fold inside pockets away and close the expander section (if your suitcase has one) by zipping it shut. Remove detachable straps and place them inside the suitcase. 

Stacked suitcases of various colors

• To save space, place smaller suitcases inside larger ones. Pad around the inside suitcase, if necessary, to protect the outer one from snaps and buckles, etc. (You can also use empty luggage for storing seasonal/infrequently used items. I use mine for extra blankets.)

• Add a silica gel pouch and/or a lavender sachet before storing.

• For added protection, put your luggage in a cover (see above) to keep it clean. This is especially useful if you’re going to be storing it in a storage unit or an attic or someplace where it might collect dust. 

• Choose a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. A damp basement, for example, can cause the luggage to mold. And sunlight can cause fading.

• Don’t stack other items on top of soft suitcases. And don’t stack heavy items on top of any luggage, hard-shelled or soft.”

• Keep your luggage away from nails (if you’re storing in an attic, for example) and other sharp objects that could puncture it. 

• If you hang your suitcase, make sure it’s not too heavy (keep it empty), to prevent stressing the handles. 

Where do you store your luggage? What’s in it? Do you have any tips for protecting bags during travel?

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2 comments

  • Mary

    September 17, 2019 at 10:01 am

    I’m pretty diligent about carefully storing my luggage pieces, making sure they are clean, dry, and all zipped up before stashing them on the landing of our attic stairs where’s it’s relatively cool and assuredly dry. But, when it comes to usage, I put my luggage to the test! I use both soft side and hard case pieces, but I insist on four wheels for those sometimes mad dashes through the airport. I have chosen purple as my luggage color (and my husband’s pieces are gray), because I have no patience for weeding through the sea of black bags floating around the baggage claim carousel. I saw my first luggage protector (stretchy fabric covering) on our latest adventure. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with it. It would be easy to spot, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the hassle or the minimal protection it might provide. Thanks for all the practical advice, Care to Keep!

    1. Karen Mary

      September 18, 2019 at 6:43 am

      Those stretchy protectors would be a hassle, wouldn’t they? I agree, for the little protection they provide they’re not worth the trouble for me. Besides, they would cover up our pretty luggage! I can spot my floral luggage easily, and I still tie on a ribbon for good measure. Thanks for writing, friend!

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