Suitcases have it pretty rough. I make mine carry quite a bit of weight and expect it to perform under the most grueling conditions. I know I’ll have to replace it eventually, but in the meantime, I’m learning how to repair my suitcase and you can too!
Here are some ways your suitcase might break, and some resources on how to fix them.
The suitcase zipper
Oh zippers. They break, split, pinch, and rip. At best, they’re a little sticky, and at worst, burst open while you catch a connecting flight in Heathrow Terminal 3 on the first leg of a six-week trip (not a true story).
If you think you can fix it, check out this article from Life Hacker with detailed directions for most zipper troubles. Lots of gems, such as how to fix a sticky zipper:
“Windex is good because it’s not oil-based, but you can also use bar soap, or lip balm. Start with the zipper all the way up, and slowly apply lubricant to the teeth. Then inch the zipper down some more, reapply, and continue doing that until the zipper comes all the way down.”
How to fix a stuck zipper:
“First, double-check to make sure a piece of cloth or thread isn’t stuck in the zipper. Next, look at the individual teeth. If any of them are sticking out, grab a pair of pliers and move them back into place so they’re all straight.”
And if your zipper slider calls it quits:
“If the slider comes off completely, or if you need to replace the slider because it’s not closing the teeth right, then you need to replace the slider. To get the slider off, use some pliers to cut it off. Once that’s done, attach the new zipper slider by sliding it back onto the teeth.”
If you need to replace your zipper altogether, bravo, you’re more ambitious than most. Personally, I would look into a repair shop first, and weigh the cost before going the DIY route, but it’s doable.
This article walks you through how to do it, what equipment you’ll need, and how to take care of your zippers (they suggest having a zipper fixer kit with you at all times…that’s what I call being prepared!). They also suggest keeping your zippers “happy” with regular lubrication between trips.
The suitcase handle
If your handle breaks off, now is the time to contact your luggage manufacturer for a replacement part. Release the broken handle, affix the replacement, and tighten the screws. If your release mechanism stops working, and a good cleaning didn’t help, replacing a handle would also fix that right up.
If your telescoping handles break off, you’ll need to open the suitcase up, including removing the lining, and expose the bolts that fasten the telescoping handles in place. Replace them in the same way as regular handles by contacting your manufacturer for new parts.
If your handle has a hard time retracting out or in, it might have a bent casing or have debris inside the shaft. Loosen the screws and release the handles to inspect. Sometimes the fix is as simple as a good cleaning and lubricant. If your handles are bent, try straightening them out. This post does a really great job of walking you through how to completely fix or replace a bent handle tube.
To avoid this problem in the future, don’t overload your suitcase and resting heavy bags on the telescoping handles while you pull your suitcase.
The suitcase wheels
When wheels stop working properly, it gets very annoying, very fast. Luckily, if the body is unscathed, you can carry your suitcase. Besides, wheels are pretty easy to fix or replace. If your wheels are squeaky, try to inspect the wheel caster. Clean it of any debris and lubricate it. My instinct was to reach for the WD-40, but the travel forums say otherwise.
“Try any type of silicone lube (which is basically what teflon lube is). I have a can of pyroil silicone lube at home, which I bought at a local auto parts store, and it comes with a straw. It’s a dry lube, meaning it won’t stay wet or leave a greasy residue like WD40 (hence dust magnet). You will have to spray it on occasion, but a lot of other household uses for it, so worth it.”
If you need to replace a wheel, order your new part from the manufacturer (get a few while you’re at it). Open your suitcase and unzip the liner to get to the nut bolts holding the wheel screws in place. Remove the damaged wheel. Pay attention to how the wheel is positioned and try to imitate where it’s placed with the new wheel before screwing it in. Test it out to make sure it’s not wobbly or unbalanced. Or, watch a YouTube video about it.
The suitcase outside
If you have a fabric suitcase, you might eventually find a tear. What a shame to throw out a suitcase just for that! With a combination of duct tape, sewing, and iron-on patches, you can extend the life of your suitcase. This tutorial walks you through how to perform a fabric repair on any type of bag.
If your hard-shell suitcase has a crack, you better believe the auto body repair blogs have found the solution. They suggest you pick up a carbon fibre repair kit online. Blogs have also touted Sugru glue (that becomes like rubber putty) as a great product for all sorts of plastic casing cracks and holes. Here is a tutorial, and here is Sugru.
The suitcase inside
If your suitcase lining or inside pockets have ripped, it might be annoying to constantly be fishing for your items inside the lining. The no-fix way of dealing with this is to use packing cubes instead of relying on your built-in pockets and organizers.
“Cut a square of sticky interfacing large enough to cover the rip and place this behind it, inside the lining. Pull the fabric together so that it meets all the way along the tear – this ensures a near-invisible repair and covers the interfacing. Set an iron to medium and carefully apply it to the front of the fabric: the heat will make the interfacing bond with the material.”
You can also pick up a needle and thread and secure your new patch in place.
Better be safe than sorry
The best way to avoid an unfortunate accident while traveling is to inspect and maintain your luggage before every trip. Clean and lubricate your luggage and double-check anything that looks wobbly or weak before you get on the plane.
Before you start repairing anything, check your warranty: you may be entitled to a brand new replacement and not have to use any of these tips. 😋