Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How to restore a fabulous vintage suitcase.

I'm going through a phase at the moment, collecting vintage suitcases. They are great for some extra storage and they look really good too. I've been snapping them up all over the place for the last few weeks. Some are in amazingly good condition for their age, others...well, not so much. Here I'll give you a few tips to get rid of any musty smells and restore them to their former glory.

A stack of gorgeous vintage suitcases
Some tools of the suitcase sprucing trade 

The first step is to give them a good wipe over with warm water and a damp cloth to remove any surface grime. We'll give them a better scrubbing down the track. The first thing you'll want to do is to get rid on any musty smells that are lingering, and to do that you will need some kitty litter.

Breeder's Choice kitty litter to remove musty smells
A recycled newspaper littler with no scent added such as "Breeder's Choice" is what you should be looking for, the one with the scared-looking ginger kitty on the front. Put a few decent sized scoops in each suitcase- the bigger the suitcase the more scoops- and close the lid.

Garbage bags, they complement any decor
Stick each suitcase in a giant garbage bag and seal it up tight. You might have to join a few bags together and use some tape if the case is a big one. Leave them like that for at least a week, making sure that they are in a dry part of the house- dampness most likely caused the problem in the first place. Once you've put up with giant garbage bags adorning your home, empty out the kitty litter and thoroughly vacuum out the interior.

Spots of old mould 
If the suitcases have had mould in them this is when you take care of it. Take the case outside and use some Pledge 'Grab It' wipes to remove any spores that may still be present use unscented ones as they won't mark paper or fabrics. It is important that you do this step outside so you don't spread the spores around the house, and that you rub gently- the aim is to get any spores to stick to the wipe rather than embed further.

Once you've done this use some Glen-20 spray on the area to deactivate any remaining spores, there are directions for containing mould on the can. The thing about mould is that you can't really 'kill' it, so make sure that any mould affected cases are kept in dry parts of the house and are aired regularly. Don't use them to store anything that would be damaged should the mould reoccur.

Michael- my hand model- using an electric wire brush to remove surface rust
You should remove any surface rust from the latches and handles to that they don't degrade further. I used an electric tool with a wire brush and some vinegar for this case as it was particularly rusty, if yours isn't so bad use some steel wool and vinegar. Remove any rust residue and vinegar with warm water.

These handles are leather but the case is vinyl
The next few steps depend on what your case is made of. Start with some warm, soapy water and a sponge to remove any dirt and grime, you may need a soft bristled brush for any particularly stubborn bits. If the case is leather then use a leather cleaner or creme, if it is vinyl use something like 'Armour All'  and a soft cloth. To shine the locks and prevent further rusting use a bit of light oil, I used a sewing machine oil.

Suitcases provide great storage and can look great stacked up
So now I have a stack of beautiful vintage suitcases to store a bunch of the 'stuff' that just accumulates around this dear little house, and they look great! The especially cool thing about them is that they all have a story behind them; from a name tag on the inside of the lid, to stickers from some weird and wonderful destinations.


  1. They look fantastic, well done!
    Claudia xo

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! There aren't as many cool suitcases here... people have been snapping them up for ages. Every now and then you might get lucky, but they're not going to be super cool looking.... you have a great collection!

  3. This is great! Thanks for the tips :) You've done a beautiful job. We have quite a few lovely vintage ones hanging around the house also that just need a bit of a former-glory-injection. Now we know where to start :) x

  4. Wow..what a brilliant idea and they look fantastic. Well done.

  5. Brilliant post! I have several old suitcases and grab more whenever I see them. They sell well and are also perfect for storing all my old linens. I sometimes line them with old fabric and pasted sheets from a comic book inside another. Marina (Jane) x

  6. Thanks! This was such a useful post! xoxo

  7. this is such a great post, i want to go and find a suitcase just to try the tips :-)

  8. Oh my god, kitty litter! I have a travellers steamer trunk that I used as a coffee table, and it has the most gorgeous interior, but I can't store anything in there because it reeks to high heaven of mustiness. You are a genius. Thank you!

  9. thanks so much for this info - i have been looking for this for AGES as i have about 3 i have been wanting to do up for ages! Have you got any tips on re-lining the case with fabric?

  10. I've never done that, sorry! I have found a couple that have been relined though. One seems to have used a spray adhesive.

  11. Question: I have a vintage suitcase from Poland (COOL!) that I am in the process of restoring. I am also interested in sturdy-ing up the walls. Is this a possible task? Re-enforcing the walls to make them sturdier? Any tips? Ideas? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Marc, that does sound cool :) I'm not too sure what you could do to sturdy up the walls, if you weren't going to use it as a suitcase but rather as storage I would suggest a simple timber frame on the inside? But I would probably be lazy and just store books or magazines in it so that they provided structure :p

  12. So I have an old steamer trunk I am restoring and the luggage decals were all but removed... they were destroyed and mostly peeled off. I have found about 90% of the original luggage decal/stickers, but they don't have the adhesive because they have carefully salvaged... What should I use to adhere them to my steamer trunk? I am nervous that whatever I use will "stain" through to the front, or allow them to come off after a year or so...

    1. Really hard to say; the potential for damaging such delicate and unstable vintage paper is pretty high. I would maybe try some light, acid-free adhesive but there are no guarantees!

  13. Thanks so much for this! I just bought a pair of vintage suitcases and desperately needed the tips :)

  14. The revealing and additionally strapless mermaid wedding dress outline is
    the most famous one. Richard Avedon photos had also
    filled some of the finest magazines in the United States.
    Cool, neutrals will always find a place in your summer wardrobes.

    Also visit my webpage ... celebrity cruise line dress code

  15. Hi does anyone know where I can get a fitted Art Deco men's travel vanity case relined in sydney? Cheers


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...