Common Chemicals to Avoid in Yoga Mats

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT


Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.


Love it or hate it, that ‘new yoga mat smell’ may be bad for your health. While some natural yoga mats have a perfectly benign ‘new’ smell when you first unroll them, this smell can also be caused by the off-gassing of a variety of chemicals.

If you’re looking for our top picks as far as yoga mats go, two companies, in particular, stand out: Gurus Roots and Prolana. Hugger Mugger and Manduka are also good choices for an eco-friendly yoga mat.

Without further ado, I’ll quickly run through some of the worst offenders to watch out for in yoga mats.

VOCs and PAHs

Chemicals such as volatile oil compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are emitted as a breathable gas from PVC yoga mats, as well as from carpets, furnishings, paint, cleaning supplies, printer ink, and other household products. As I mention time and again at Leaf Score, concentrations of VOCs inside the house (and the yoga studio) can be ten-fold higher than outdoors (R). 

VOCs include a variety of chemicals used as antimicrobial treatments (which are increasingly common in yoga mats), stain and soil repellents, anti-static treatments, adhesives, artificial dyes, and flame retardants like organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs). While picking up an older, second hand yoga mat in a thrift store helps keep it out of landfill, these older mats are likely to be especially bad for off-gassing.

The ‘yoga mat chemical’, AKA azodicarbonamide

Now known colloquially as the ‘yoga mat chemical’, azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a synthetic chemical with a crystalline structure at room temperature and a yellow-orange color. It is predominantly used in the rubber and plastic industries as a chemical foaming agent. When it is mixed into polymer plastic gel it creates tiny gas bubbles, resulting in PVC, polyolefins, and natural and synthetic rubbers that are strong, light, spongy and malleable. 

ADA is also used in beer-making processes and is added to cereal flour for its whitening effect and to bread flour to remove the need for traditional proofing where natural yeast is used to make bread rise. As such, many fast food restaurants and bakeries make bread and other baked goods with ADA.

In the U.S., ADA is still used in a wide variety of products, including food. Despite campaigns in recent years calling for Subway, Wendy’s, McDonalds, and other companies to stop using the chemical, according to Environmental Working Group, ADA is still present in hundreds of supermarket items, as well as in rubber and leather goods, and PVC products including yoga mats. 

Production of the chemical and its use in foods is banned in the European Union and Australia, although it may still be imported for use in non-edible products. In Singapore, companies who use ADA are subject to massive fines and even jail time. (This might be a good time to read my take on Why Consumer Safety Regulations Matter!)

Phthalates, PVC, and synthetic latex

Phthalates are another chemical often found in yoga mats. This chemical is used to make PVC flexible, but it has been shown to leach out of materials when they become warm, making it a particular problem for anyone doing Bikram yoga. Phthalates can attach to dust and are then breathed in. Phthalates have been linked to a range of troublesome health issues (R).

Even if your yoga mat has a ‘natural’ surface, the backing, padding, or bulk of the mat might be made of synthetic latex (a suspected carcinogen) or vinyl, urethane, 4-phenylcylclohexene, or PVC. And, even if a mat itself isn’t riddled with toxins, it may have been manufactured using harmful chemicals like chlorine gas, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, mercury, and dioxins, which are then released into the environment.


Some companies have started using polyester in yoga mat construction, claiming that this is healthier than PVC. While they’re right in some senses, what they fail to acknowledge is that polyester production is energy intensive, leading to significant greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, as well as nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane (another potential carcinogen). 

Polyester production also generates water-borne emissions, including dissolved solids, acids, iron, and ammonia. So, even though a polyester product may be labeled as ‘green’, this is likely less to do with the environmental impact and more to do with the end product not off-gassing toxic chemicals. 

The environmental impact of yoga mats

Sadly, more common certifications such as Oeko-Tex 100 do not factor in the impact of manufacturing processes and only assess the end product. Oeko-Tex 1000 is better, but few fabric manufacturers carry this certification.

Some of the nasties found in yoga mats or involved in their production include:

  • Azodicarbonamide (ADA)
  • Phthalates
  • Parabens
  • PFRs
  • Polypropylene
  • Formaldehyde 
  • Benzene
  • Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers (in ‘natural’ fiber mats)

Minimizing toxicity from yoga mats means choosing a mat made with natural materials free from potentially harmful chemical residues. There are other reasons, aside from possible toxins, to avoid synthetic materials and choose natural, organic yoga mats. Supporting this kind of organic agriculture is one of the best ways to fight climate change and encourage biodiversity. 

Organic agriculture promotes healthier, stable, microbe-rich soil that is less prone to wildfires and which itself acts as a carbon sink. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon data (which covers 30 years) clearly shows that regenerative organic agricultural practices are the most effective strategy we have to combat climate change (R). In addition, organic agriculture reduces the amount of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the environment and conserves water. 

Materials – what are yoga mats made of?

Yoga mats continue to be made predominantly with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This synthetic material is cheap, usually fairly durable, has good ‘stickiness’ to reduce slippage, and also provides good ‘give’ or ‘sponginess’, for added comfort. Unfortunately, PVC is not eco-friendly and is often riddled with toxins, as mentioned above. If you plan to do yoga with your toddler or child using a mat, it’s best to avoid PVC as this material can cause adverse health effects (see more about PVC in crib mattresses).

According to, every kilogram of PVC requires roughly 17 kg of abiotic materials, mostly petrochemicals, to produce, and uses around 680 liters of water in its manufacture. A kg of PVC also requires 11.6 kg of air, which becomes greenhouse gases and other gases. 

So, a PVC yoga mat weighing in at 3 pounds (1.36 kg) has an environmental imprint (for manufacture only) of 23 kg of petrochemicals and minerals, 925 liters of water, and 15.8 kg of air. Add to that the energy involved in shipping the raw materials (petroleum) around the world and shipping the mat to you, and an organic cotton mat made and shipped from India, or a natural rubber mat from Taiwan, starts to look even better.

Natural yoga mat materials

Given the risk of exposure to toxins such as ADA, PFRs, parabens, and phthalates in PVC, and the high energy consumption required in PVC production, it’s smart to choose a yoga mat made with natural materials. 

Eco-friendly materials tend to be a little more costly than cheap PVC and can degrade quickly without proper care. But it’ll be easier to get in the zone if you’re not inhaling toxic gases or worrying about your impact on the planet. 

Some good options include yoga mats made with:

  • Organic cotton – excellent for sweat absorption (improving grip in Bikram), but not so good for ‘give’ or ‘sponginess’
  • Wool – yes, it may seem an odd choice for a yoga mat, but a layer of wool over a natural rubber backing offers excellent grip, comfort, and natural antimicrobial and flame-retardant properties. Wool felt may also be used inside two layers of rubber or other material, for extra cushioning
  • Recycled rubber – good, but not great, grip potential. Not always suitable for anyone with a latex allergy and possibly riddled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals (natural rubber may be a great option though!)
  • Cork – provides naturally good grip that improves as it absorbs moisture. Naturally antimicrobial and easy to keep clean, but can crack if not properly cared for
  • Jute – naturally antimicrobial, but often blended with Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) to provide extra grippiness (but not much ‘give’)

Even when doing Bikram, a good quality yoga mat made with the right materials should provide sufficient stickiness to stop you slipping. If you find you need to use a towel to wipe down your mat and prevent slippage, you might want to consider a cork, cotton, or wool mat next time. Some rubber mats have a closed-cell surface on one side of the mat and an open cell surface on the other. Picking the right surface can make a big difference to moisture absorption and slippiness.

Cotton yoga mat pros and cons

Cotton yoga mats are an excellent option for use on carpet or on top of a grip mat or other yoga mat. They offer no real grip by themselves, but are absorbent, easy to clean, and are non-toxic. Be sure to choose organic cotton as conventional cotton is grown using vast amounts of pesticides and water, which makes it rather less eco-friendly than it might at first seem. Unlike rubber mats, cotton mats don’t deteriorate in direct sunlight or with heat and are likely to last a good 15 years or more, after which they can easily be repurposed as a rug, runner, or for other purpose at home.

Wool yoga mat pros and cons

Some companies are starting to offer yoga mats made with a layer of wool or cotton over natural rubber backing, or a wool/cotton blend. These mats are excellent options for anyone who wants a little more thickness and comfort to their mat, especially if you like to practice in a cooler room and enjoy some insulation from the ground up. Wool is naturally flame retardant and antimicrobial, as well as being absorbent, so it can be a great option for sweatier yoga practitioners.

TPE and PER for yoga mats

Watch out for yoga mats promoted as eco-friendly and non-toxic but made with petroleum materials such as PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) or TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer). These materials may be better than PVC in terms of energy requirements and some toxicity, but they are far from natural and may still contain toxins other than phthalates.

What is TPE?

TPE is a synthetic material with no specific composition, meaning that a TPE mat could be made from rubber, plastic, a mixture of the two, or from something else entirely. The big selling point of TPE seems simply to be that it’s not made from PVC. 

Mat manufacturers often promote TPE as being free of bisphenol-A (BPA), PVC, lead, phthalates, dioxins, and other problematic chemicals, but they may still leach synthetic estrogens, even if they aren’t exposed to high temperatures, humidity, and sunlight (as yoga mats often are, particularly in Bikram). 

One TPE mat, by Kulae, is made from styrene-butadiene-styrene block copolymers (SBS). What does this mean? Well, it sounds very much like a composite of styrene, a possibly carcinogenic material made from ethylbenzene, and butadiene, another potentially carcinogenic material, this time made from carbon and hydrogen in an energy intense steam cracking process requiring temperatures as high as 900 degrees Celsius. So, in reality, TPE could be just as environmentally damaging and just as bad for our health as PVC.

Indeed, results of tests by a researcher at the University of Texas-Austin show that almost all types of commercially available plastics (which includes TPE) leached synthetic estrogens, with some of the BPA-free plastics releasing synthetic estrogens that were more potent endocrine disruptors than BPA itself (Bittner, CertiChem). As mat manufacturers rarely reveal the precise nature of the TPE in their products, we just can’t be certain of their safety.

Case in point, Jade yoga mats, which are advertised as non-toxic and eco-friendly, were found by a German agency to contain nitrosamines, chemicals linked to cancer. The company has said they’ve revised their manufacturing processes, but no additional third-party testing has been conducted.

I decided not to include Jade Harmony yoga mats in my recommended products in part because of these test results and because the company closely guards the exact make-up of its mats, only stating that they contain natural and man-made materials and are free from PVC, heavy metals, and phthalates. This is a real shame, as Jade Harmony Yoga Mats appear to be one of the few yoga mats to meet the performance needs of most practitioners while being PVC-free and (likely) relatively non-toxic. 

All this said, if you have been coveting a Jade Mat, or even a Liforme or Manduka Pro Mat, and not having the mat means you’re practicing yoga less, get the mat. After all, it is almost certainly better for your health to practice yoga, even on a mat that may have some degree of undesirable environmental and health impact than it is to not practice and instead feel stressed and unhealthy through lack of exercise.

The team that tested the Jade mat and others, Ökotest, was looking for: 

  • Nitrosamines – present in rubber vulcanized through the use of some accelerator chemicals
  • Formamide – found in yoga mats made of the foam rubber EVA
  • 2-phenyl-2 – a potential allergen used in plastics manufacturing 
  • Toxic azo dyes – used to dye cotton and other fibers
  • Insecticides – found on the surface of virgin wool
  • Chlorides – used in the production of PVC

Researchers were also looking for endocrine disruptors called nonylphenol ethoxylates which may be involved in the production of cotton and which enter waste water and damage aquatic organisms.

FPC™ – the future of eco-friendly yoga mats?

One exciting innovation in yoga mat material technology comes courtesy of a Taiwanese company called eTouch Innovation Inc. This company developed an eco-friendly material called Fiber Particulate Composite (FPC™) made mainly from agricultural waste. 

FPC™ contains fiber as its main ingredient, mixed with a proprietary Compatibilizer™ made from converted starch derived from rice waste products. FPC™ is made without adding any man-made chemicals and can be mixed with recycled plastics where it serves as a binder. This means FPC™ could be used to make textiles from recycled plastic rescued from the oceans and landfill. And, because the rice used in the product is waste from the food industry, it does not create competition for food sources and actually reduces air pollution (because the agricultural waste would otherwise be burned). 

If a product is 100 percent FPC it is also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, and as the material uses waste products, it creates a closed loop system that requires very little energy input to upcycle materials into new goods. This probably makes the FPC Yoga Mat designed by eTouch the world’s most eco-friendly yoga mat. 

The FPC yoga mat is half natural rubber and half bio-composite material, which uses 100 percent natural ingredients mainly from agricultural by-products such as rice husk, rice straw, bamboo chips, and coffee residues, with no man-made chemical additives. The mat is similar to, if not better than, standard yoga mats for tensile strength, slippiness, durability, and weight. It is 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable, and bio-renewable, completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly, even after end-of-life. The mat also has the lowest carbon-footage for any yoga mat. 

The FPC yoga mat is manufactured in a reversible purple and gray design that is 4.5 mm thick and 71″ long, with a standard 24” and extra wide 26″ width. Unfortunately, the mat does not yet seem to be available to the public.

While we’re on the topic of yoga mats, here are the companies I recommend that make eco-friendly, non-toxic options.

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  1. I just recently purchased a new Yoga mat from DICK’S Sporting Goods Store a brand name Adidas. So my question is: Is it safe for me to use it ? I’ve been reading all these articles here that some yoga mats are toxic and can cause a cancer? Please your respond is appreciate it.
    Thank you.

  2. I was thinking of buying a cork yoga mat. I noticed that most are made with a TPE lining between the floor and the cork. I assume the lining is needed to hold the cork together as well as provide cushioning? Is the toxicity exposure to TPE considerably minimized by a cork layer? When on the floor, only the edges are exposed to the air. Could you also minimize exposure by avoiding touching the floor side down?

    • Hi Rich,

      It’s not necessary to use TPE to hold cork together or bind it to a backing. Nevertheless, TPE is a common material in ‘natural’ yoga mats. You can definitely minimize exposure by not touching the TPE layer and it’s also a good idea to maintain the mat well, so as to limit any leaching of chemicals.


  3. Are liforme mats free of any of the toxins mentioned in your article? They use eco polyurethane but not sure what’s that. Thanks.

    • Hi Iris,

      Liforme yoga mats present a bit of a puzzle. They may be as eco-friendly as the brand makes them out to be, or they might be just a souped up polyurethane foam mat like those sold by many other brands.

      Liforme mats are made with natural rubber and ‘eco polyurethane’ which is created using water as a blowing agent (eco-friendly) and metal catalysts (according to this report). The problem is, Liforme don’t specify their raw material for the polyurethane. This means that it could still be a petroleum-derived product. It is likely, though, that they use a biobased raw material, possibly vegetable oil, to create the polymer, but they’re just not transparent about it, which raises a red flag for me. They also don’t specify what kind of dyes they use to color the mats. And, interestingly, a report from EcoCenter found that the Liforme mat contained a layer of polyester between the rubber and polyurethane, which the company certainly doesn’t reveal in product listings. Polyester is not eco-friendly, though it is less toxic than PVC.

      The first report I linked to above (which was commissioned by Liforme but seems credible) also notes that the mat is expected to biodegrade within 1-5 years in normal landfill conditions, although this hasn’t been verified.

      So, all in all, I’m hesitant to recommend Liforme mats as there are just much better options out there that seem genuinely eco-friendly and non-toxic, without a hint of greenwashing. You can check out the LeafScore top picks for yoga mats here.

      Thanks for the great question!


  4. Hi, this is great information thank you.

    I was looking at this Holi Jute yoga mat on Amazon. Do you think this is a good option?

    • Hi Emily,

      There’s very little information on the Holi mat and what is there seems rather incomplete and hyperbolic. Without seeing proper materials specifications, I can’t recommend this one, no.

      We have rounded up our top picks for yoga mats here though, so hopefully one of these will work for your needs.



  5. Got a ENERGETICS 6P FREE PVC 5mm MAT for Christmas. Excitedly opened it my wife had a severe Asthma attack. The gassing off even got me BAD. I ran it out to garage and here we are 3 days later still stinks! (Takes ones breath away) It is made in CHINA distributed by INA International Ltd. Calgary, Ab CANADA it was bought at Sportcheck where it will be going back to COST 19.99.

  6. Thanks for sharing this useful information. But, I have two questions.

    1. Which yoga mats are made of toxic and harmful materials? Can you tell me the list of yoga mats that are made of PVC, TPE, Polyester and other materials that may cause cancer and other health problems?
    2. I have seen a video from YouTube that shows the production of slipper from rubber sheet. It was my interest to produce slipper from rubber sheet. But, I couldn’t find rubber sheet at all. So, is it possible to produce a slipper from YOGA MATS? What is the difference between rubber sheet and Yoga mats?

    • Hi Molla,

      Unfortunately, there are just so many yoga mats on the market these days that it’s pretty much impossible to list every single one that’s made of PVC etc.! The better option is to look at those that are made with natural materials and are non-toxic. A much faster search! Or, check out our recommended yoga mats that are PVC-free: Say Namaste to the 5 Best Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats

      I haven’t come across slippers made with rubber sheeting, but I would imagine that you could definitely repurpose an old natural rubber yoga mat as material for the soles of slippers. It’s a great idea! Someone with more sewing skills than me would need to figure out how to stitch the soles to an upper though. Let us know if you find anything like that – we’d love to feature such things!



      • Hi there I saw that you said that TPE was bad but the yoga mat with the most leafs has TPE is is it safe to use or should I be avoided?

        • Hi Alex,

          Thanks for the comment and question. I’m not sure which mat you’re referring to as our top pick doesn’t have TPE. Maybe there’s a bit of confusion – as I mention in the review: “Gurus offer two Natural Cork Mat options, the Roots Yoga Mat which has a natural rubber base layer, and the Sprout mat that is made with TPE. As such, the Roots Mat makes the Leaf Score cut, but the Sprout does not.”

          I’d avoid TPE if possible, and choose a mat where any TPE is on the base layer only, not in contact with skin otherwise. If you do hot yoga, I’d definitely avoid any plastics as hot, humid conditions are more likely to lead to leaching of chemicals from plastics.

          Hope this helps clarify things!


  7. There are hundreds of products that we use on the daily that are made out of PVC and Vinyl. Are there no manufacturing regulations when it comes to yoga mats or why are they more toxic than say the PVC (PEX) piping we use in modern day plumbing? Or the equipment that is used in hospitals on the regular?

    • Excellent question!

      Yoga mats aren’t necessarily more toxic than PEX piping or similar items, per se. The difference is that folks who use yoga mats tend to have far greater physical contact with the PVC, often under sweaty conditions, and can spend hours every week with their faces close to the mats. This means there’s significantly greater exposure to whatever toxic chemicals are in or off-gas from the mats.

      As for regulation, there’s very little governing what can and can’t be in a mat. That’s why it’s so important to scrutinize labels and contact manufacturers to ask for material safety data sheets and so on if in doubt.

      And re medical equipment, yes, much of this contains phthalates and other chemicals we should aim to minimize our exposure to. It’s especially sad that premature babies and infants are routinely exposed to high levels of phthalates in various tubes and medical equipment right from birth, even if it is lifesaving at the time.


  8. We seem to have a little choice on the yoga mat market in my country, and most of the mats are nonames. One manufacturer stands out with some claims of safety and certification called Bodhi. Do you perhaps know anything about it? I’m afraid I don’t have enough expertise to validate their claims.

  9. Hello I recently bought a yoga mat from BALLY Total Fitness (brand) and its Phthalate, PAH, and Latex free. There is a warning label that says it can expose you to chemicals including Acrylonitrile. I wanted your perspective on this as I have not seen much reviews on them.

    • Hi Aman,

      I had a quick look and can’t find any info on the materials used to make the mat you mentioned, so you have more information than me (thanks to the warning label!). The presence of acrylonitrile suggests this mat is made with ABS plastic, which is not something I’d recommend as it is toxic and can be harmful both to workers making these products and to the end users.

      Hope that helps!


  10. I need a mat and I am totally confused! I need a mat to carry to class. i am very thin. Need gripping & comfort but I dont want too heavy or off gassing. I would like latex not foam. It appears not cork. Others either dont grip or off gas or are too wide. I am petite. What to do, plz?

  11. I don’t know how to thank you enough for this post!
    My gf and I are both Yogi (Asthangis) and we love practicing hot-yoga.
    A few weeks ago we had this idea of starting something good for yoga and for other people and to make a yoga mat that’s simple, clean and good for the people and the earth.
    I am more of a designer and engineer and knew very little about chemical compounds and I came across your post during one of my deep dives in research papers, standards and certifications that would help us make something we consciously think is “good”.
    Once again thanks for all of this amazing work.
    My name is Diego 🙂

    • Hi Diego,

      Glad this helped!

      If you do launch a product, let us know! With the right green credentials, we may even want to add it to our store!

      Best of luck,


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