If you’ve never opened your suitcase a crack and gotten a powerful whiff of your shampoo, count yourself lucky. The smell comes with a dread of what you’ll see when you look inside — a fear that almost always comes true. One of your toiletries has exploded, and your shampoo/conditioner/body wash/toothpaste/etc. has permeated the entirety of your luggage. It’s enough to make you want to dump it all in the trash, but perhaps you should try this first.
Unsurprisingly, trying to avoid ‘toiletry bombs’ is better than having to deal with them. The first step is buying a good toiletry bag made of a water-resistant, easily washed material. This will help contain the explosion, and a messy travel kit is much easier to clean than a giant suitcase with all your clothes in it. You can contain spills even further by locking your liquids in ziplocked bags, too.
If you’re the kind of guy who self-bottles his favorite products for trips, Jason “The Germ Guy” Tetro, author of The Germ Files, has the smartest travel tip we’ve heard in a while: “If you’re going to be buying any kind of container for your products, always make sure that you only fill it about 1/3 of the way. Then you’ll never have to worry about an explosion,” since the liquid will have plenty of room to squish around inside the bottle, instead of bursting out.
Alas, accidents will still happen, and mistakes will still be made. If the explosion has already happened, the good news is that your clothes just need to be thoroughly washed, whether in a washer/dryer via hotel services or just soaking them under the shower and letting them hang dry.
Your travel bag/suitcase is another story. “Toiletry bags and luggage are made to be abused,” explains Tetro. “So one of the nice things about them is they’re able to resist a small amount of water and also a very gentle soap.” The difficulty comes when something designed for adhesion (like toothpaste or shampoo) spills, because you’ll need a lot of running water to fully clean it out. That’s likely fine if you have a bag made of waterproof canvas or nylon, but very bad news for leather and suede.
The other problem is simply the size of the bag. “You can’t really just take your suitcase, put it under the sink and rinse it, right?” says Tetro. “What you have to do is use a child’s tub or some other type of vessel that you can just dunk it in there and try and dilute [the mess] out.”
Whatever the bag and whatever the spill, you don’t need to worry about disinfecting it as much as removing the spill itself, because it can become a breeding ground for bacteria — which is why you should be cleaning your bag anyway. “You want to absolutely make sure that anything that you’re using is cleaned on a regular basis so that you don’t have that [bacterial] buildup,” he says. “If you allow them to grow to high enough concentrations, they may end up leading to problems like infections.”
And that’s a much bigger problem than any toiletry explosion.