How can you clean the hard-shell luggage?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

If you are a devoted traveler, you most likely have hard shell luggage. They are preferred for their durability and renowned ease of use. You can fit so much more in them than you would think, which is always a plus when getting to your destination is an adventure on its own.

However, since you travel so frequently your suitcase probably gets filthy after each trip. As they say: beauty has a price - and that price is constantly washing it .

Unfortunately, the care and maintenance of such luggage prove to be quite cumbersome; but we're here to help! Here we will tell you how to clean your hardshell luggage in eight easy steps.

Cleaning Merhod#1

What will you need?

For this procedure, you will need the following items: water, detergent for delicate fabrics.

What to do:

Step1. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add a cap full of surfactant*.

Step2. Submerge the dirty shell inside for 10 minutes.

Step3. Use a sponge or dishcloth to wipe off any stains from the surface of the luggage, as this is often where they are most visibly accumulated. If you don't have those available, use your fingers - but only as a last resort as that might scratch some hard-shell cases.

Step4. Remove remaining dirt using a new sponge or cloth moistened with clean water until all residue of stains can be removed fully.

Cleaning Method#2

What will you need?

For this method, you will need: distilled white vinegar, baking soda, a toothbrush, a sponge or cloth.

What to do:

Step1. Dip the toothbrush in vinegar and use it to scrub away any dirt and stains on the surface of your hardshell luggage.

Step2. Once done, sprinkle some baking soda on a dampened sponge or cloth and wipe the entire surface clean with it; rinse whenever necessary. You can also use a simple mixture of half-water and half-vinegar if you don't want to bother buying vinegar separately.

Cleaning Method#3

What will you need?

For this method, you will need: a heat gun, clothes dryer, soft-bristled brush.

What to do:

Step1. Use the clothes dryer to blow hot air on your luggage for roughly five minutes; turn it off and let it cool completely between each of your passes over the surface.

Step2. Once the shell is dry enough not to create any visible steam when you hover a hand above it (which depending on the material, might take up to three hours), use the heat gun to melt any grease stains or crusted dirt - but be very cautious about doing so!

Only apply its hot airstream directly on top of the aforementioned spots, because anything else might damage the interior lining of your hard-shell luggage.

How to clean the interior of your hard-shell luggage?

Unlike the exterior, there is no universal answer to this question. Instead, you will need to inspect it carefully and come up with your own strategy depending on what you find inside; some of the best ways are listed below.

What to do:

Step1. If your luggage's interior fabric is made from a synthetic material like polyester or nylon, then all you need is hot water - plain ol' H2O should work fine in most cases.

Step2. However, if it is made of cotton or another natural fiber (hemp, linen, etc.), use cold water instead (or lukewarm) - never hot or boiling!

Step3. You can add one cup of vinegar for every gallon of water to be even more efficient if you want, but that's entirely up to you.

Step4. If your shell bag is made of coated polyester or nylon, then it's best to use a separate bucket with warm water and dish soap inside for this step.

Step5. Either way, after cleaning the interior wipe it dries using paper towels instead of cloth - because no matter how well they have washed afterward, there might still remain some particles that might scratch the surface of your suitcase.

Step6. Once done, use a hairdryer to blow hot air on any parts that might still be wet - but again only if the shell's exterior is made from synthetic materials!

To wash the interior of your hard-shell luggage you can use cleaning detergents, but it's recommended to let them soak for 5-10 minutes before washing.

*Surfactant is a chemical compound that reduces the surface tension of liquids, which allows easier spreading of water on Textile fabrics. A mixture of vinegar and dish soap can also be used if you don't have surfactant available.

How to clean the handles?

When you have already washed the exterior and interior of your luggage, that is time to clean its handles. To clean the plastic or metal handles, use a soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge to wipe away any dirt from them.

For cleaning with hot water you can use dish soap with trisodium phosphate (TSP) if it is available. In case you don't have TSP, the simple washing-up liquid will do - just mix it in a bucket of warm water and dip your rag into that mixture before wiping the handle clean.

As an alternative way, you can also choose a commercial product for this task. Be sure not to leave excess moisture on the handles after rinsing them off because it might cause corrosion over time when exposed to humidity.

In some cases, knobs and other components made from synthetic materials might have silicone grease on them to prevent the components from corrosion. If so, use a soft cloth to wipe away all excess grease after cleaning; then use fine sandpaper or shavings to scrub off any remaining residues before leaving the handles dry overnight.

How to clean wheels?

If you think you don`t need to do it, you are wrong. When choosing luggage, always pay attention to its wheel system as the main reason why your luggage is moving smoothly over any surface depends on them too. The dirty wheels make this system work poorly and slow you down, so try to keep them clean!

To clean the wheel system of hard-shell luggage, remove all removable components first by unscrewing bolts or removing covers, etc. If necessary, use a hairdryer or heat gun to soften any grease that might form a thick layer over time.

In addition, you can try using a toothbrush with baking soda paste - it`s very effective for cleaning the wheel without scratches. Just apply some paste near each wheel's axle and scrub thoroughly before rinsing off quickly with a hose or wet cloth.

How to clean zippers?

When choosing luggage, always pay attention to its zipper system as it is one of those things that can break very easily, so try to keep them working properly!

To clean the zippers on your hard-shell suitcase, first ensure they are closed and turned inside out - that way you will be able to see every single piece of dirt more clearly and wipe it off quickly. If you need just some simple quick cleaning then use a clean dry brush and pull it alongside the zipper track (not up and down this time).

Now use a soft cloth dipped in some mild soap solution and wipe away all dirty spots from both sides of the zipper.

Only after doing this, you can use a toothbrush and baking soda paste or a commercial cleaning product to gently scrub off any accumulated dirt from the zipper. Again, be sure not to push too hard as this will eventually cause damage to the components.

How to maintain the hard-shell luggage properly?

A key to keeping any suitcase looking good for years is to follow the manufacturer's instructions when it comes to care and maintenance. Most importantly, you should avoid exposing your luggage to high temperatures and humidity at all costs - which means:

  • Do not leave your hard-shell luggage in a car or trunk during hot summer days!
  • Do not expose it to direct sunlight without putting it inside a locker/cabinet!

Most suitcases made out of ABS plastic can withstand extreme temps (upwards of 150 degrees Fahrenheit) - but that doesn't mean that they don't accumulate wear and tear over time; such as small cracks here and there. So, when storing yours make sure you put it somewhere cool and dry; like a storage unit, a cabinet or a closet.

Do not store it in a tight space without proper ventilation - otherwise, the shell might warp and crack as a result of high humidity levels!  

Hard-shell luggage's interior lining can look good for years if you follow the manufacturer's instructions to maintain its construction. Most importantly, do not expose your luggage to extreme temperatures and humidity - which means: don't leave it inside your car during hot summer days, and don't put it directly under direct sunlight without putting it inside a locker/cabinet.

If done right, hard-shell luggage can last up to 4-5 years depending on how often you travel with it - so make sure you know all these tricks before just throwing it away!

Remove chewing gum from the shell luggage

Gum and other sticky substances on the suitcase can ruin its appearance forever. To remove it from hard-shell luggage you will need: some ice cubes, some paper or cloth napkin as well as a metal spoon.

Place some ice cubes inside a napkin/paper and press it against the sticking spot for about 10 minutes until it becomes hard - that way you will be able to peel off the gum very easily without damaging your suitcase's surface anymore. You can use a spoon to collect any residual pieces of gum left on top of the shell.

What should you do if the suitcase has scratches?

There are a lot of household remedies one can use for fixing scratched shell luggage. For example, rub some beeswax to restore its shine, or try using hair wax. If done right - this will help you remove fine surface scratches and prevent new ones from forming in the future.

Another option is to take a soft piece of cotton cloth and dip it into turpentine oil or gasoline after shaking it well. Place that cloth onto the scratched area and leave it there for 5-10 minutes before wiping off any excess product with another clean dry cloth. Repeat this process several times until you manage to get rid of all scratches on your suitcase's exterior.

You can also try mixing together vodka and lemon juice in equal portions, apply it to the scratched area with a soft cloth, and leave it there for about 10 minutes. Next, wipe your suitcase clean with another dry cloth - that should remove any remaining scratches.

Don't forget to clean all stains before rubbing anything into your hard-shell luggage! Otherwise, you may end up pushing them deeper into the material which will make them more difficult to remove later on.

To prevent getting scratches onto your high-quality suitcase always use protective covers when traveling by plane or train; especially if you are carrying any valuable or fragile items inside of it (e.g.: jewelry).

Choose a durable and qualitative hard-shell luggage

Finally, you need to select hard-shell luggage that will be able to withstand normal wear and tear over the years. That means: never buy one that is too flexible and thinner than usual!

A good quality suitcase should be made out of durable ABS plastic - which can last for years if you take care of it properly (e.g.: by always keeping it in a cool and dry place, or placing it inside a locker/cabinet whenever possible).

Of course, suitcases made out of glass fiber composite are also very likely to get scratches but they're more resistant to humid environments than ones made out of pure ABS plastic. Take your time when choosing one, otherwise, you might end up purchasing the same suitcase again because you couldn't find any better alternative!

Final words

Keep your shell luggage in a dry place, vacuum it a couple of times per year to remove dust particles, and protect the surface with wax (e.g.: beeswax) if necessary. If you take care of your suitcase properly - it will last way longer than one month.

If done right, hard-shell luggage can last up to 4-5 years depending on how often you travel with it - so make sure you know all these tricks before just throwing it away!