Folks, get into warrior pose, because I have some bad news. It’s slim pickings in the world of eco-friendly, non-toxic yoga mats. Isn’t yoga meant to be a mindfulness practice? Frankly, I can’t think of many things less conducive to a clear mind and a healthy body than breathing in toxic VOCs while you practise your asanas.
So, what to do if you’re looking for a safe, non-toxic yoga mat made by a company that cares? Thankfully, a handful of companies do have their act together, but… they’re mostly based in Europe and don’t yet ship to North America. So, if you’re thinking about a European yoga retreat, this could be the perfect time to pick up a new mat from Prolana or Green Earth. Curious about how we rate products? Click here to view our methodology, which at its core, is about voting with our dollars to fight climate change.
As you’ll see below, Prolana’s mats and Green Earth’s yoga mats carry with them a ton of certifications, including from Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), GOTS, Fair Rubber, QUL, Eco Institut, kbA, and kbT.
For those of us in North America, Gurus Roots Yoga Mat is the best eco-friendly yoga mat around. This high-performance mat is made from natural rubber and cork and appears to be very durable if properly cared for.
Staff tested: This is the yoga mat used by some of our team members. We have used the mat for two years, and have been impressed with durability. Both the rubber and cork sides of the mat are usable, depending on how sweaty your yoga sessions get.
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.
The Roots mat measures 72” by 25” and is versatile thanks to its cork top layer and rubber bottom layer. You can use this mat whichever way up you like, with the cork layer offering excellent grip for sweatier sessions and the rubber ideal for cooler, calmer practice. Cork naturally absorbs moisture, meaning that you won’t need to use a towel on top of this mat, making it even easier to take your practice with you when you travel. That said, the mat does weigh in at about 5 pounds, despite being quite thin. This is still much lighter than most regular rubber mats, though (the Manduka eKO is 7 pounds).
Cork is naturally antimicrobial (making this mat a breeze to care for), and it doesn’t absorb heat, so you can use this mat for outdoor yoga in the sun (cork side up). Just be sure to roll this mat instead of folding it, so you don’t risk cracking the cork.
The Roots mat offers a good balance between comfort and stability as it is firm but forgiving on the joints.
Gurus mats are made with natural, sustainably sourced cork and rubber, some of which is tapped right on the family farms of the company’s creators in Kerala, India. The company is clearly committed to environmentally-friendly practices and has partnered with Trees For The Future, a non-profit that plants trees with rural communities in the developing world, enabling them to restore their environment, grow more food, and build a sustainable future. For every Gurus product purchased, Trees For The Future plant a tree.
The Prolana Yoga Mat is made from virgin wool and cotton and is one of just three yoga mats to earn top marks in German safety tests. The bottom is made from 100 percent durable, certified organic half-Panama cotton, and the upper is a layer of soft lamb’s wool. This makes the mat ideal for those who like a little more cushioning and warmth, and the wool has natural antimicrobial, dirt-repellent, and flame-retardant properties.
The Prolana Yoga Mat is 27.5” wide and just shy of 75” long and is available in a natural color, terracotta (brick red), and anthracite (black). As it has no grippy base layer, this mat is best suited for use on carpet or outside, or on a grip mat or other yoga mat.
The Green Earth Wool Yoga Mat is made from wool, cotton, flax fiber and natural rubber. The top layer comprises 100 percent kbT wool from New Zealand and the underside comprises an anti-slip coating made of flax and natural latex. As such, this mat offers both grip and a natural feel, with a little more absorption and a little more texture to the top compared to the cotton surface of Green Earth’s other yoga mat offering.
The Green Earth Wool Yoga Mat with Lavender has the added bonus (depending on your tastes) of relaxing lavender flowers interspersed in the edging. The lavender scent might be a real boon for anyone using the mat at home to do a more relaxing type of yoga or meditation. However, if you plan on using the mat in a class setting, consider the unscented Green Earth Yoga Mat (which is almost exactly the same).
In third-party testing, Green Earth’s similar mat passed with flying colors. Testers found no problematic or controversial chemicals in the outer fabric, filling or latex bottom, unlike many other natural rubber mats tested. As these mats are essentially the same as the mat tested, just without the cotton top layer, chances are that they would also test well for possible toxins.
The unscented mat measures 33.5” wide and just shy of 75” long, making it an excellent choice for those who like a bit more space on the mat. The Lavender mat measures 27.5” wide and just shy of 73” long, making it a little longer than standard yoga mats, but shorter than the unscented version.
The Lavender mat folds up and has its own cotton belt and button system. The unscented version rolls up easily and has its own cotton bias tape for quick tie-up. You’ll probably need a carrier, though, if you’re taking your unscented mat across town.
The Hugger Mugger Para Rubber Yoga Mat gets good marks for sustainability and performance as it is made of 100 percent natural rubber from a non-Amazon source, is comfortable and grippy, and is very durable. It is a little on the small size, though, which would be a problem for taller people and those with a wider practice. It is also heavier than most mats, and the rubber smell can take a while to dissipate.
At 70 by 24 inches, the Para is shorter and narrower than standard mats. This is probably a good thing for some, though, given that it already weighs 6.6 pounds. If you’re taller than 5’9”, you’ll want to choose the Para XL size (View Price on Amazon), which measures 78 by 28 inches and weighs 10 pounds. You’ll also want a good carrying case or strap to cart this thing around, such as the Hugger Mugger Simple Sling (View Price on Amazon).
And, if you’re not great at keeping up with yoga mat cleaning, this mat is probably not for you. Like most rubber mats, this one has a porous, open-celled surface, meaning that hot yoga aficionados need to give it a good long clean. You can’t get away with a half-hearted PVC mat cleaning routine with the Hugger Mugger Para as the mat will quickly begin to degrade without proper care. That said, one side is more porous than the other, so if you are prone to sweating, make sure to pick the right side for such sessions. Or, better yet, go for the lighter and more eco-friendly Gurus Roots Mat made with rubber and cork, which offers the best grip there is for sweatier yoga sessions.
And, yes, there is the smell consideration. That ‘new tire’ smell does wear off after a while, though, and can be reduced by proper cleaning and airing out, but it may still be too off-putting for anyone sensitive to odors.
Manduka are a big name in yoga mats, thanks to their ever-popular ‘Black Mat’, the Manduka Pro. Unfortunately, the Pro is made with PVC. So, although it carries a lifetime guarantee and claims to be made with an emissions-free process, it doesn’t make the cut for a Leaf Score recommended product.
The Manduka eKO series just makes the cut, though, because these mats are made with natural tree rubber, without the use of ‘harmful plasticizers’, and are manufactured in a zero-waste process (according to Manduka). All of Manduka’s rubber mats are said by the company to be free of toxic chemicals, dyes, and phthalates, made with rubber from sustainable sources, and manufactured using non-toxic foaming agents to make the rubber soft and pliable. These rubber mats are reinforced with a blend of polyester and cotton.
The Manduka eKO mat features tri-layer technology that creates a mix of grip, durability, and slip-resistance. A stretch-resistant center binds the two layers together to improve durability. The standard eKO mat measures 71” long and 26” wide and has a sealed-cell surface, meaning that it doesn’t absorb moisture (and bacteria) like many open-cell rubber mats. As such, it is more durable than open-cell rubber mats.
This rubber mat gets lots of praise for its performance as it has a lot of natural grippiness. The ‘tread’ of the mat helps keep it dry and gives it plenty of traction, but some people find that it’s a good idea to use a Manduka eQua Yoga Towel (View Price on Amazon) on top of the mat during a very sweaty hot yoga session. The towel clings to the mat and makes for even better grip while keeping you dry and comfortable.
The Manduka eKO has similar cushioning to the Manduka Pro. The mat weighs 7 pounds, making it a little lighter than many rubber mats. It also folds up pretty small for better portability and storage.
One downside with this mat is the potential for a lingering rubber smell. Airing the mat out (not in direct sunlight) and cleaning the mat can help, but it may still take weeks or months for the smell to dissipate, and the smell may transfer to your hands and body. Thankfully, the natural rubber smell is not as bad as that of synthetic rubber, but it does seem to be more of an issue with the Manduka eKO than with the Prolana Rubber and Wool Mat and with the Hugger Mugger Para Rubber Mat.
Manduka also make the eKOlite (View Price on Amazon), which is the same as the regular eKO but thinner (4 mm vs. 5 mm) and smaller. It measures 68” by 24” and weighs 4.5 pounds and is a good option for smaller folks and anyone who travels or carries their mat around town. And, if you’re looking for a really thin travel yoga mat, consider the 1.5 mm thick eKO Superlite (View Price on Amazon) which weighs in at just 2 pounds but is the same width and length as the other eKO mats.
You might want to pair your eKO mat with the Manduka Journey On Commuter Yoga Mat Strap for extra eco-cred (View Price on Amazon). This strap system is lightweight and sustainable, and is made using recycled bottles, requiring 66 percent less energy to produce, according to the company. The carrier can fit all mats, has an easy gravity cinch closure, and features a padded shoulder strap for comfort. Manduka also make yogitoes from recycled plastic bottles.
While Manduka mats are ever-popular and the company talks a good talk about eco-friendliness, they are disappointingly thin on certifications and evidence for their claims. The brand asserts that they are all about making a ‘world of difference’, so it’s hard to understand why they are not totally transparent about the materials used to make their mats. There are no third-party test results available for these mats and no company reports demonstrating specific environmental management systems to account for their claims to be zero-waste and non-toxic. They also lack any certifications that would offer reassurance for the company’s highfalutin eco-friendliness claims.
On the plus side, Manduka do give back to the community, with a recent partnership helping to raise money for the Susan G. Komen organization which helps support people with breast cancer. It would be nice to see third-party testing of Manduka products, though, to verify that their mats and accessories are free from carcinogens.