What Is Lurking In Your Yoga Mat?

The question of what is lurking in your yoga mat may not have come across your mind recently. After all, yogis are into their practice, and give only a passing thought to what they are sitting on. As a woman who tends to perspire profusely during and after a workout, I tend to want to keep my mat (and other equipment) as clean as possible without  adding to my body’s burden of chemicals. And a recent article published in Environmental Health Perspectives demonstrating a link between the use of flame retardants in plastic yoga mats and fertility outcomes raised some concerns. Another study found pathogenic bacteria in large quantities on yoga mats that were not regularly cleaned. Considering how many times my face and hands touch my mat, this gave me pause. So what’s a practitioner to do? Let’s begin by looking at the types of mats out there.

Types of Yoga Mats

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)  – PVC mats often had plasticizers added, which increased the number of chemicals (namely lead, dioxin, and phthalates) employed in their manufacture. All of these chemicals are of known toxicity. These mats are not earth-friendly or biodegradable. Some mats may also contain latex, which some are allergic to.
  • Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which is a more environmental and health friendly  alternative. TPE is a combination of rubber and plastic and is said to be biodegradable and recyclable.
  • Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA), thinner than PVC and TPE, considered less toxic than PVC. Its manufacture does not require the use of a plasticizer like PVC, and is BPA-free. It is acceptable for use in baby products like teethers and in shoe soles.
  • Natural Latex Rubber – A naturally derived product extracted from rubber trees. It tends to be thicker and heavier than the other materials, and can take longer to dry when washed. It also contains latex, so those who are allergic to this material should avoid it. It is a more biodegradable and chemical-free alternative to synthetic materials. Just remember that it can degrade in sunlight or with the use of certain essential oils.
  • Nitrile Butadiene Rubber (NBR) – A synthetic rubber-like compound (what nitrile gloves are made of).
  • Natural Cork – While sustainably sourced, they may not be as “sticky” when dry, necessitating spraying before use. They look beautiful and are a little more expensive.
  • Organic cotton/jute – The most natural and earth-friendly alternative. They can be a little scratchy, but provide sufficient friction. Some can be put in the wash. These can also be more expensive.

Given all of the alternatives out there, it behooves us to ask the right questions and find out how companies manufacture their mats if you want to avoid harmful out-gassing of chemicals from your yoga mat.

Cleaning your Yoga Mat

Specific yoga mat cleaners are available, but it’s really easy to make one yourself from 3 parts water and 1 part vinegar to which a few drops of essential oil are added. (This is less drying than rubbing alcohol.) Tea Tree, Lavender and Eucalyptus are favorites. Let dry in a well-ventilated area.

Let’s find out what’s lurking in our yoga mats and take steps to stay healthy and buy earth-friendly products. Namaste!

References:
Article in Gymgearinfo.com about PVC and TPE mats
Article in TypeAYoga.com re: what you need to know

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