How to Clean a Yoga Mat

woman in plank pose on a yoga mat

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If you do a lot of yoga, you know that your yoga mat can get messy after close contact with nearly every part of your body. Not only is sweat likely to build up on your mat, but germs, viruses, fungi, and bacteria can incubate there as well. So, it's important to know how to clean a yoga mat. Use these tips for cleaning your mat at home or making sure that your mat at the studio is cleaned properly.

Why You Should Be Cleaning Your Mat

A regular yoga practice can help keep your mind and body strong and flexible. There is also some preliminary evidence that a long-term consistent practice can boost your immune system by impacting circulating inflammatory markers. But your yoga mat can also harbor germs that can put a damper on these benefits.

Researchers have found that exercise surfaces like yoga mats are excellent living places for bacteria.

While many bacteria are harmless, researchers have also found pathogenic or potentially pathogenic bacteria including salmonella and staphylococcus. These microorganisms can survive on surfaces and then be transferred to the human body through the touch of hands or other body parts.

While these findings may sound alarming, experts note that it's difficult to estimate the risk of getting sick through surface touch as there are no reports of any associated diseases. Researchers also note that personal hygiene, along with surface cleaning and surface disinfection, play an important role.

The CDC explains the difference between the two important procedures.

  • Cleaning is the initial stage of the disinfection process that removes organic matter, salts, and visible soils. If a surface isn't clean, then disinfecting is less effective. Cleaning involves scrubbing with detergents and surfactants and rinsing with water.
  • Disinfecting destroys most pathogenic and other microorganisms by physical or chemical means.

In addition to reducing your exposure to bacteria, cleaning, and disinfecting will help your yoga mat smell better and reduce your exposure to fungi that can cause conditions like athlete's foot.

Yoga Mat Material Basics

The particulars for cleaning your yoga mat are going to depend on what kind of mat it is, and specifically, what material it's made of. There are different materials that are used to make these mats, but many are made out of rubber, PVC, or a combination of materials. The materials will be categorized as open cell or closed cell:

  • Open-cell mats are porous. Many yogis prefer these mats (especially for hot classes) because they absorb sweat more effectively and provide better traction. But open-cell mats also absorb odor and body fluids.
  • Closed-cell mats tend to be slicker. They are often preferred for gentle yoga practices. These mats are also water-resistant and longer-lasting.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a traditional material used for yoga mats and is still used for many starter mats. Eco-friendly closed-cell PVC is also used for some high-end mats. Natural rubber mats are usually open-cell mats and are known to absorb body fluids and retain smells. There are some mats made from closed cell rubber.

Some mats are made of a combination of rubber and polyurethane while others are made from thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), a mix of plastic and rubber, and other materials. These materials are often recycled and can be open or closed cell.

How Often You Should Clean Your Mat

Both the CDC and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) advise that shared exercise equipment should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.  Disinfectant wipes or sprays are often provided in yoga studios and gyms for this purpose.

If you are taking a yoga class in a health club or at your local yoga studio, check with staff to ensure that mats are cleaned and disinfected after each use, according to CDC and NASM recommendations.

At home, this same practice may be the smartest approach. Since bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for days, it is always possible to transfer microorganisms to your mat after exposure from normal day-to-day activities, like shopping, picking up your kids at school, or sharing common equipment at work. Frequent cleaning and disinfection can help to reduce your exposure.

Sometimes a deep cleaning is needed. For example, if your mat is starting to smell bad or collect body oils, you may want to give it a good scrub. Experts often advise a monthly cleaning if you use your mat daily. Also, if you have recently had a skin infection (such as athlete’s foot or ringworm) or if you used your mat outside or loaned it to a friend, a deep cleaning may be advised.

How to Regularly Clean a Yoga Mat

Both the CDC and NASM provide guidance and tips for cleaning surfaces including exercise mats:

  • Clean surfaces first to remove residues. Use a clean towel or disposable wipe. Many home yogis and studios use a spray that is a mixture of distilled water, white vinegar, and an essential oil like tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is known to have some anti-microbial properties but researchers can't say for sure how effective it is or what strains it has an effect on.
  • Wipe in one direction only and clean both sides of the mat.
  • You can also use a disinfectant spray. Follow product instructions and leave the spray on the surface as long as directed. Disinfectant sprays can be found online. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides a list of approved disinfectants for use against COVID-19.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning.

Cleaning and wiping a closed-cell mat is easy with homemade or general disinfectant sprays. An open-cell mat, on the other hand, may require a special cleanser. You'll find these online on websites that also sell yoga mats. Use recommendations provided by the yoga mat manufacturer.

How to Deep Clean a Yoga Mat

For your monthly cleaning (or whenever a deep cleaning is warranted), there are a few different options. The simplest way is to use dish soap and water and give it a good wipe down with a microfiber or soft cloth. Hose it off then hang your mat or drape it over a chair in a breezy area to let it air dry.

Some people use a washing machine or put their mats in the shower or bathtub as part of the deep cleaning procedure. Some brands even make machine-washable mats. For others, soaking or machine washing may work, but again, follow guidelines provided by the brand.

Follow cleaning instructions provided by your mat manufacturer to keep your mat in good shape for the long haul.

Most open cell yoga mats are absorbent so you want to wet them minimally for maintenance cleaning. Some of the most absorbent mats are able to provide great traction through a design that actively draws moisture away from the surface, which means that if you get them very wet it will take a long time for them to dry all the way through.

More Yoga Mat Cleaning Tips

  • Most mats (especially rubber and TPE mats) should not be left in the sun since it can cause them to start to degrade.
  • Even if you put your mat in the washing machine, putting it in the dryer is never a good idea. 
  • If you sweat a lot, you may want to try layering a mat towel over your mat since they can improve traction and are easy to throw in the wash.
  • Make sure your mat is completely dry before rolling it up for storage.
  • If you have sensitive skin, be careful of the type of disinfectant spray or wipe that you use as some may cause irritation.
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Article Sources
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