Non detergent soap for luggage?
August 14, 2016 3:38 PM   Subscribe

How can I clean my luggage without ruining it? Recommendations for "nondetergent soap" have not helped me find the right product.

On my way back from Thailand, my checked backpack was soaked in possibly either baijiu or some kind of fuel. (My partner and I disagree about what it could be.) It smells bad and like something that could be bad for the bag if not cleaned properly.

It's this bag. The Eagle Creek website and other places say to use a non-detergent soap, but I'm not sure what that means. The laundry aisle wasn't helpful. I thought Dreft soap flakes would work, but the box said "detergent."

When I find it, I'll wash in warm water in the bathtub, taking the bag into pieces as much as I can.
Can you recommend a specific nondetergent soap for me to use?

posted by MsDaniB to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap is a true soap, not a detergent. It's widely available--I live in the boondocks, relatively speaking, and I can get it at my local grocery store and drug store--and comes in lots of scents, as well as unscented. I've used it to clean things and it worked well. You will probably want to experiment to see what level of dilution you need to clean your luggage--I wouldn't use it full strength. Here is a dilution chart with a section on household uses--it might help give you an idea of how much water to add.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Plain old Ivory White bar soap is an actual soap not detergent. Get wet, then use a fingernail brush (I really like these ones from lee valley for fabrics but any will do) to apply soap to bag. Rinse well with water.
posted by Mitheral at 4:06 PM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Tech Wash.
posted by The Architect at 4:07 PM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Huh. First I said "Doctor Bronner's!" out loud, and then I asked myself "Do I really know the difference between a soap and a detergent?" A voice inside me, that hailed from circa 1992, said "Yes you do, you git." But it wouldn't tell me what the difference was; only that I once knew it.

So I asked Google, aaaand: soaps are alkali salts of fatty acids! Whoah, it's like the nineties are back or something! Thanks for helping me to remember chemistry. The fact that Dreft says "detergent" on it means that it didn't start as a fatty acid; to be "soap," the FDA requires that it do the bulk of its cleaning with those alkali salts of fatty acids. From what I can tell, the generic "use a non-detergent soap" dictum is really trying to get you avoid harsh cleansers with perfumes and surfactants and other stuff that may damage your bag in unpredictable ways.

So, yeah, Dreft, sure, maybe you could use that. If you were looking in your cupboard for stuff you already had that was gentle and probably wouldn't shorten the life of your gear, then I can think of a few things I'd pick before Dreft. Like what my brain said first: Dr. Bronners. Or maybe Dawn. Mind you, not Dawn Ultra or anything other than original-formulation Dawn. (Or, on preview: or Ivory soap!) But if I didn't have any, and I did have Dreft, and I didn't want to leave the house, I'd use Dreft. I'd also try a non-critical space (like an internal divider, maybe?) and wash just that spot, and let it dry, and see if it worked, and if the fabric felt in any way crispier or more brittle after the soap was gone.

But if I was willing to to leave the house, and I did want to wash my special global trekking bag with something I knew wouldn't shorten its life, I would head down to my local outfitters and pick up a bottle of Nikwax Tech Wash. Because that is the stuff I use on my gear. However, I live in Portland, so renewing the rain-beading properties of performance fabrics is high on my list, you know? I have used the Sandal Wash in lots of non-sandal places where cared more about odor removal than about waterproofing, so you may want to think about that.

Or you may just want to toss it in a tub with some Dreft. If so, I would strongly suggest cool water, not warm.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Grated Ivory or Dr. Bronner's (liquid or grated solid) should do fine. If you want to be thorough, you can add washing powder, borax, and/or baking soda. There are lots of different recipes online for laundry soaps, but I haven't done that much lately, so I don't have specific recommendations.

I THINK Fels Naptha and Zote are pure soaps too (that is, not detergents), but I'm not positive, and they're made for laundry.

Big Lots and some "ethnic" markets usually seem to carry these things if your regular grocery or drug store doesn't.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:31 PM on August 14, 2016

Best answer: It's mostly nylon. I suspect detergent would be bad for any waterproofing. I would wash it in the tub with grated Ivory soap. Mix the soap with water and let it dissolve well, and don't use too much; getting excess soap out of stuff is a big pain. You can just agitate it by swooshing it about and turning it over. Rinse it well. baijiu or some kind of fuel is likely to be worse than detergent for any coatings, so don't delay.
posted by theora55 at 5:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Murphy Oil Soap
posted by hortense at 8:19 PM on August 14, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. I used grated ivory soap, because that's what I had on hand. The bag was actually quite dirty...not surprising after 9 years of frequent use (usually while sweating out my sunscreen).
It'll take a while to dry out completely, but I'd bet the mystery stink is gone.
I will check out the other suggestions at my leisure!
posted by MsDaniB at 9:15 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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