Clean your luggage after every trip to protect against bed bugs and germs

by Jul 5, 2022Health


Don’t bring germs and bugs into your home after you travel. Know how to properly clean and sanitize your carry-on and checked luggage to keep your suitcases looking good as well as bug and germ free.

Your luggage has been rolling through dirty streets and sitting on hotel room floors, not to mention being tossed into dirty overhead bins on airplanes and onto grimy belts at baggage claim. There is no way of knowing what germs, viruses (flu, SARS, MERS, H1N1), bugs, and grime your luggage is now packing along as you return home. Follow these quick and easy steps to clean your luggage after every trip to prevent bed bugs, cockroaches, viruses, and germs from making your home their new one.

Never bring your dirty luggage inside

Your suitcase has been handled (dare we say, manhandled) by numerous people and your bags have certainly been in contact with an untold number of potentially dirty and contaminated surfaces on your trip – the airplane floor for example. Whenever I return from a trip, I place my checked luggage and carry-on in a quarantine of sorts, stowing it in the garage until I have unpacked them and cleaned all surfaces and contents thoroughly. If you don’t have a garage, then a porch or storage area will suffice – assuming other animals and bugs won’t then find their home inside.

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When you unpack, clean all your clothes immediately

Unpack in the garage and put clothes straight into the washing machine. This is very easy if you are using packing cubes to organize your clothes. Putting them in the washer deters bugs, i.e. not on the floor with the inten to wash them later as bugs may take this as an invitation to begin wandering. Wash your clothes on a full cycle and in warm water. You want your clothes to be virus- and bug-free when they are done.

I find this is also a good time to handwash my packing cubes by placing them directly into a sink with warm water and a non-detergent soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) and give them each a good scrub and rinse. Hang them to dry. If you decide your packing cubes do not need cleaning, them keep them in quarantine for 24 hours, perhaps in the garage with your suitcase.

Sanitize high-touch surfaces of your carry-on and luggage

This is simply to ensure you are eliminating germs and viruses that may be lingering on the wheels and handles of your luggage. Use disinfecting wipes to clean the handle, any hand grips on the side, and the wheels of your checked and carry-on luggage. If you are using a duffel or luggage without wheels, thoroughly wipe down the bottom of the bag as it’s been sitting on all sorts of unclean surfaces – yuck! Be sure the surfaces you sanitize stay wet for at least 30 seconds and preferably a minute or more so viruses and germs will not survive.

Quick tips to sanitize luggage for germ and bug prevention

Clean the outside of your suitcase

After sanitizing, clean the outside of your luggage, too, to keep it looking as new as possible. Use a non-detergent soap and warm water. My preference is a microfiber cleaning rag to gently scrub the outside surfaces of my carry-on and suitcase. Do not use any bleach, spot removers, or cleaning solvents as this may damage your luggage.

Vacuum and then wipe clean the inside surfaces of your luggage

Use a vacuum cleaner with an edge nozzle to remove dust, dirt, and other bits of debris. Be sure to work carefully into the corners and crevices of your luggage. Keep a sharp eye out for signs of bed bugs. And since you could be sucking up bed bug eggs — or bugs themselves — remember to also toss out the vacuum bag (in an outside trash can) once you have cleaned your suitcase and carry-on.

Vacuum your suitcase inside and out to protect from germs and bugs

Dry your suitcases thoroughly

Once you have wiped down the outside and cleaned the inside of your luggage, you need to dry it to prevent mold and mildew. Sunshine is your friend here. Leave your luggage to dry – if possible in a hot sun for no more than an hour or two since too much sun can also damage the fabric. The sun serves two purposes: One, it will dry your suitcase thoroughly. But, more importantly, the heat will serve to potentially kill any residual viruses and bacteria and will also help to potentially eliminate the odd bed bug or two. If it is raining or cloudy or you have nowhere secure to place your luggage outside, then leave your luggage open and in the garage or on your porch to dry. Do not resort to a blow dryer or other artificial heat source as this could damage your luggage.

Store your luggage properly

Once your luggage is sanitized, clean, dry, and out of quarantine, you need to store it. If you can, keep your luggage stowed in a cool, dry closet. Do not store your luggage in your bedroom unless you have absolutely no choice due to space limitations. This increases the risk of introducing undiscovered bed bugs (it’s possible) into your bed. If you must store luggage in your bedroom, bag it and seal the bag well while it is still in the garage or on your porch to prevent any chance of a wayward bug (bed bugs, cockroaches, or other multi-legged creature) wandering out for a visit.

That’s it. Easy! Now you can begin dreaming of your next travel adventure with clean and sanitized luggage ready to serve you well again.

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