how to: clean vintage luggage

Hi there!

Here’s a super quick and easy how-to for my fellow vintage luggage lovers out there. I hope you enjoy it! (This tutorial covers how to spruce up plastic-exterior luggage. Leather luggage is another beast, to be tackled at another time.)

Step 1: Find a piece of vintage luggage you love. It’s hard to pass through any thrift store’s luggage section without peeping a piece or two that’s worthy of some tender love and care.

I found this 1970s-era Samsonite train case at the bottom of a box of $1 luggage at Burnsville’s Salvation Army, with the original tray and everything.  Don’t you love the milky white color?

Step 2: Step outside, open your suitcase and shake that sucker out. If it’s really dusty or dirty inside, break out your vacuum and suck the gunk out with the hose attachment.

Step 3: Assemble your cleaning supplies: Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, window cleaner (J.R. Watkins’ Window Cleaner smells so good), paper towels or rags.

Step 4: Wet your magical eraser and give it a good squeeze. Get to work on scrubbing away the scuffs, stains and other blemishes that old luggage is bound to be blessed with. Once you’ve given your piece a good working over, dry it off with a clean rag.

If you’re sprucing up a train case, clean the interior mirror with glass cleaner. I’m partial to  J.R. Watkin’s Window Cleaner—it smells divine. Window cleaner also works well on shining up the hardware.

Step 5: Wipe down interior with clean, damp rag or paper towel. Dry!

Step 6: Give the inside a little sniff test. Smells okay? Skip to step 8. Smells like grandma’s attic? Go to step 7.

Step 7: Freshening up the scent of the interior is easy. Get together baking soda, some lavender essential oil and a small dish.

Mix a couple tablespoons of baking soda with a few drops of lavender essential oil in the dish. Place the mixture in your cleaned out luggage and close it in there.

Leave it shut for a day or two, and the grandma’s attic odor should have disappeared.  I’ve also read you can use a car air-freshener in the same manner, but I usually hate the way those stink smell, so I prefer to go the all-natural route.

Step 8: Enjoy your clean & fresh vintage luggage! What you do with it is up to you.

Stack it. Collect it. Slap some  stickers on it. Store stuff in it.

Or my favorite use: Pack it full & hit the road.




16 thoughts on “how to: clean vintage luggage

  1. Thanks for the great tips! With all the traveling I’m doing this summer, I am on the lookout for cute luggage. Now I have some more options! :)

  2. Pingback: how to: remove grease pencil markings « high plains thrifter

  3. Pingback: how to: care for vintage pyrex « high plains thrifter

  4. thanks for the info, i just found a fedcal train case at a thrift stor i want to use for an upcoming trip. It definitly needs love!!!

  5. this is very helpful, as is your post on removing grease pencil markings from thrift store finds. however, do you have any tips on how to remove the grease pencil from paper? i purchased a couple of professionally framed paintings with grease pencil on the brown paper backing. any ideas?

    thank you, margaret

  6. Thank you so much for this! I’ve always been so reluctant to buy vintage luggage bags because I didn’t want my clothes to smell bad. Thanks!!

  7. Any advice on getting the gooey ick off of the metel parts of a train case? I found one in my grandmothers attic that is exactly like the white one above only red, but it has been there for a long time and has stuck on sticky gooey dirt that I am having trouble removing. Your blog is fabulous and so I thought you might have some ideas… thanks!

  8. Pingback: how to: remove lipstick stains from clothing | high plains thrifter

  9. Good stuff in there! I also leave bars of Yardley Lavender Soap (in the boxes) in cleaned-up cases. Can’t hurt, might help. Also LOVE Contractors Solvent from the hardware store for gooey gunk on outside parts of plastic cases (try it in an inconspicuous place first). Thanks for the great article.

  10. I have this exact case except in blue! I’m cleaning it out and actually planning on using it to go on a train trip in a couple of months. I also have the matching suitcase. I got them both for free when I was helping my hoarder neighbor clean out his apartment.

  11. Thanks for your tips on removing the odor!! I have a yellow Sears Featherlite that I love, but smells of old makeup :/ I’m going to try your remedy tomorrow!

  12. Dryer sheets or bars of soap work good for freshing old suitcases. (Remove the wrapping on soap and leave case closed for several days)

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