how to clean luggage

With triathlon season quickly approaching, it’s time to think about cleaning all of the gear and bags, especially if you haven’t touched them during the year. Seriously! Just consider where your bags have been and what has gone into them…all that sweaty spandex and shoes. But, this doesn’t just apply to cleaning triathlete bags; it also applies to all of your luggage. And then there’s all that gear

If you’re like us, when was the last time you thought about cleaning luggage, let alone the last time you actually did it? It’s not the first thing we think about coming home after a race. But, maybe it should be. We pack our clothes, personal care items, shoes, dirty clothes, and so much more in our luggage. We place gear bags, carry-on bags, and suitcases on surfaces where so many people have walked and touched and where germs and dirt abound!

We then bring these same bags back into our homes, roll them through the house, and throw them on our beds to unpack. When done, we simply roll them back through the house to store for the next race. But, it’s time you thought about giving that luggage a thorough cleaning — before storing for your next race.

what are some tips for cleaning triathlete gear and luggage

So, take the time now to not only really clean your all your travel supplies, but make sure they’re all in working and proper order. To get started, here are some tips to help make this a part of your on-going unpacking routine.

Tips for Cleaning Triathlete Bags and Luggage

Backpacks/Duffle Bags

With both the end of triathlon season and school starting, now is a good time to tackle the backpacks for adults and the kids. My husband and I both carry one and fill them with dirty gym clothes. Just think of what has gone in these bags and where they have been left – floors, toilets, etc., not to mention the bacteria from the sweaty clothes.

I don’t even want to go into where our kids’ backpacks have been! If you can, it might be a good idea to machine wash – just be sure to check with the manufacturer’s instructions. The same holds true for cotton/nylon duffle bags that are filled with dirty racing clothes post-race and then stuffed into a dirty bike box for the long ride home, often in a hot truck!

First empty out the bags and then give it a vacuum, if need be. You can use an upholstery cleaner, any mild detergent. or antibacterial wipes on soft side bags, both inside and out. If you want them to smell really good when you use them the next time, put something like a dryer sheet or bar of soap inside before storing.

Don’t forget to inspect everything to make sure there are no rips/tears and that zippers are in working work. Repair or replace as needed.

what's the best way for cleaning triathlete bags

Bike Boxes

I don’t even want to think what has been on my husband’s bike after a race or even a long ride. And, of course, all of this gets passed on to the bike box for traveling to a race. My husband’s is a hard box, but yours could be soft. For the hard box, wipe down with soap and water or Simple Green and let air dry. The soft bags are probably too big to machine wash the soft case, so just use the old soap and water technique. If your triathlete doesn’t wipe down the bike, take it upon yourself to do it. Again, we like Simple Green.

Packing Cubes/Dirty Laundry Bags

Wash your packing cubes and dirty laundry bags as directed and make sure you let them air dry completely. We turn them inside out when washing, just to make sure to clean the area where the dirty clothes have been. We also use a washing machine on hot when possible.


We recommend that you follow the manufacturers care instructions for your luggage, but in most cases, you’re probably safe using an upholstery cleaner (soft side), a mild soap mixture, spray cleaner, or antibacterial wipes. Just be sure to clean inside and out, wiping down all handles, locks, and pulls. Open up the suitcase completely, clean out and vacuum, then either wipe the inside and leave open to dry or spray with an air-dry natural clothing spray. You can use the dryer sheet or bar of soap before storage to smell good.

what's the best way to clean triathlete bags and luggage

Inspect all your luggage and make sure the locks and zippers are in working order and there are no tears. Get anything repaired that needs to be or decide if it’s better to toss and replace. You don’t want to be at a race and have that small tear become a complete tear and have to buy a new piece of luggage when your thoughts are on the race.

Luggage Tags

Take time to check all your luggage tags and yes, wipe them down, too. Make sure your name and phone number are clear, easy to find, and up to date. FYI: We never put our home address on our luggage tags; instead, we place our husband’s business card in the tag or just use your name and phone number.

Since most people carry black luggage, we recommend putting some recognizable ID on the handles. We have old check-in tags that are in bright yellow and purple, so we always know our bags as they come around. Pick something bright and easily identifiable for your bags.

Personal Care Bottles and Tubes

Please empty and clean them! Throw away all the product still there and start fresh and if you can’t get rid of the product after a good soaking, discard. Any that you have had all year that have been opened, like toothpaste, make-up, and creams should be thrown out. Start new.

Personal Needs Bags

With a mild soap and hot water, completely wipe out and rinse personal needs bags. I also like to use a little alcohol wipe to clean, once they’re completely dry, as this is where the most germs can grow. If you use plastic bags for anything, including your carry-on liquids, throw them away and start with new ones.

what are some tips for cleaning triathlete bags and luggage

Carry-On Bags

If you are anything like me, I use the same carry-on bag and keep everything in it. When I do my cleaning, I throw away all mints, gum, and what not and wipe down all the pockets. I clean my earphones and all my cords with a damp cloth and lay them out to dry. I then restock it all. Truth is, I usually find all kinds of goodies in there, most of which are trash.

Emergency Kit

If you don’t travel with an emergency kit, you should. But if you do, check all the expiration dates and restock. When I did mine this year, my bandaids were so old the wrapping was a little yellow….If I know I used it on vacation, I replace right when I get home, so I don’t forget.

Update all Personal Information

Check all your lists and copies of frequent flyer numbers, passport, photo ID, hotel loyalty programs, club memberships, and anything else. Make sure all numbers and contact information are up-to-date and that nothing is about to expire, like driver’s licenses and passports. Make sure you keep all phone numbers handy and put them in your phone contact list for easy access when you may need them in a hurry during your travels. Also, check all your loyalty and frequent flyer points to make sure you don’t have any about to expire.

We know this isn’t the most fun part of life with a triathlete or just traveling, but it is a necessary part to keep your family healthy and happy.


Next Up: Tips for cleaning triathlete gear

What tips do you have for cleaning triathlete bags and luggage?