I've noticed this with two pieces of luggage over the years, in different flats and closets entirely. When stored in an enclosed space, there's a noticeable smell similar to that of petrol (gasoline). I'm fairly sure the luggage hasn't come into contact with any such substance, at least not while it was in my hands.

After a few years with only occasional use, the plastic on one suitcase had become so brittle it simply shattered on opening. I assume this is related to the smell. Are there combinations of materials and designs that produce this kind of effect in suitcases? How can you avoid buying suitcases like this that become bad for traveling?

  • Cheap suitcase?! – Nean Der Thal Apr 12 '13 at 11:40
  • If you are using toilet cleaner: Take a look at the contents. Does it incidentally mention: "Sodium hypochlorite" or "with active chlor" ? – Thorsten S. Apr 12 '13 at 12:24
  • @HaLaBi: No, I bought a pricey one after the cheap one broke. – Ingmar Apr 12 '13 at 12:50
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    I edited the question to make an explicit connection between the suitcases and traveling. IMHO the question should no longer be closed in its current form (and possibly not in its original form). – Tom Au Apr 12 '13 at 19:47
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    This is all caused by loss of plasticizer from the plastic. see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasticizer and my comment on the answer. – Level River St Nov 2 '15 at 3:36

Nearly all plastics are made from crude oil by manipulating the molecules to form long chains (polymers) and are not the most chemically and physically stable of materials. What you're seeing are the effects of some plastics deteriorating, with the polymer chains breaking up and forming shorter compounds (the shorter the molecules, the more likely they are to be liquid or gaseous). The main mechanisms are:

  • Oxidation (reaction with oxygen in the air)
  • Hydrolysis (reaction with water, mainly vapor in the air)
  • UV degradation (caused by exposure to light, especially sunlight)

Heat will typically accelerate such processes. So to reduce degradation, keep the plastics in a cool, dry, dark place, ideally inside an airtight seal. But even that will not prevent degradation completely. You'll just have to live with the fact that things made from plastics don't last forever.

Note that modern plastics often contain stabilizers intended to prevent the degradation processes. It's likely (but not certain) that companies that produce more expensive gear will spend more money on developing stabilizer recipes for more long-lasting plastics and tests to find out which ones work best.

A definitive solution would be to get a suitcase not made from plastic, not even partially. Probably very hard to find and expensive, though.

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    Brittleness can also be caused by loss of plasticizer en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasticizer The soft PVC in your cheap imitation leather jacket is not the same as the hard PVC in your drainpipe, and the main difference is that the soft PVC is filled with a plasticiser, which, in its pure state before it is mixed with the PVC, is a greasy liquid. It's possible that a plasticizer of insufficiently high molecular weight was used. This would lead to gradual evaporation of the plasticizer leading to brittleness (and would also account for the smell.) – Level River St Nov 2 '15 at 3:32

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