If it’s more than fifteen years since you bought a yoga mat, you probably remember not having a lot of choice. For the most part, your options were limited to blue PVC or purple PVC. Thankfully, you can now choose from a plethora of yoga mats, including several seemingly eco-friendly yoga mats in various designs. The thing is, most of the yoga mats manufacturers market as green and non-toxic are anything but. If you’re looking to jump ahead to our top picks for eco-friendly yoga mats, we’ve put together a list here to rank them. In particular, Gurus leads the pack as one of our top choices, having earned itself a perfect score of 5 out of 5 leaves.
A lot of companies just slap a green label on a mat, embellish it with a leaf, but don’t tell you what’s actually in the mat. Even worse, some mats promoted as safe and eco-friendly turned out to contain seriously harmful, and in some cases carcinogenic, chemicals.
Traditional yoga practice rests on the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence. This makes it particularly problematic to lunge, lie, and limber up on a mat created using toxic chemicals. These chemicals not only harm factory workers and you, they typically leach from mats dumped in landfills and pollute the environment for decades to come.
So, how can you figure out which yoga mats are actually non-toxic and eco-friendly?
In this Leaf Score series on yoga mats I look at what to watch out for when buying a yoga mat, in terms of toxic chemicals and undesirable materials. I also cover yoga mat certifications you want to look for. And, as someone who has repurposed several yoga mats over the years, I offer 12 ways to upcycle your old yoga mat. Finally, I round up the 5 best eco-friendly, non-toxic yoga mats.
If you’re not sure what to look for in a yoga mat in general, though, here are some key things to consider.
Questions to ask when choosing a new yoga mat
When you’re buying a new yoga mat, ask the following five key questions. These will help you get the eco-friendly, ahimsa-friendly mat you need:
- What’s the yoga mat made from?
- How thick is the mat?
- Is it portable?
- How long/wide is the mat?
- How ‘sticky’ is the mat?
The kind of mat that works for you will depend on the style of yoga you practice. Other considerations include where you practice, your budget, and whether you prize comfort over stability. A good mat will be able to cushion your highest-impact lunges but keep you stable in your poses. Your ideal mat will also last for years without degrading and won’t off-gas toxic chemicals that undo all your good work for mind and body.
Most standard yoga mats are 4-5 millimeters thick, while lighter travel yoga mats are around 3 mm or less. Thicker mats are great for beginners, those who love hatha yoga or do a lot of crescent lunges, and anyone who wants a little extra cushioning for their joints. Some mats are a juicy 6-9 mm thick, though, which makes them troublesome for balance.
So, if elaborate balancing poses, or even a simple tree pose, are more your thing, go for a thinner mat. Some travel mats are as thin as 1.5 mm! This makes them highly portable and gives you great connection to the ground, for extra stability.
Everyone’s sweet spot will be a little different for yoga mats, so it’s good to figure out your priorities and try a few out before committing to a specific mat. For most people, though, a standard thickness mat is a good compromise between heaviness, comfort, and stability.
Mat texture and stickiness
PVC mats tend to be smoother and provide good grip, while eco-friendly mats made with natural materials like jute can feel rougher on the skin. Stickiness helps keep you stable in your poses and when you transition between poses.
In general, PVC mats are best for stickiness, if they’re clean and dry. If you want to prioritize eco-friendliness but still want some traction, opt for a jute, rubber, or cotton mat that has been deliberately given a raised, tactile surface profile. These mats can help give you extra grip without the ‘stickiness’ of PVC. If you find textured mats distracting to your practice, consider an organic cotton or rubber mat without the textured surface.
Standard yoga mats are 68 inches long. This means they easily accommodate someone who is around 5’8″. If you’re taller than that, you’re going to need to pay attention to mat length so that you’re not cramped. And, even if a standard mat fits you just fine, a longer mat can help you extend your practice by giving you extra flexibility to really dig into those lengthier poses.
To check if a mat is a good fit for you, make sure your whole body fits on the mat when lying down. Then check with a few of your longer poses.
Have yoga mat, will travel
If you like to do yoga on the go, when traveling, or walk or cycle to classes, you’ll want to consider the portability of your yoga mat. This may require some compromise, losing some thickness and comfort on the mat for added comfort and ease when schlepping the mat around.
Lighter mats, ones that fold into a square instead of the bulky roll, and those with their own stylish carrying case are all good options if you place a high value on portability.
Yoga mats range in price from cheap thin PVC that you’ll likely want to replace pretty regularly (making them more costly for you and for the environment in the long-run), to more costly higher quality yoga mats that can last for years if not decades. To reduce your environmental impact, it’s best to choose a mat that you love and that will last you a long time.
How to clean your yoga mat
How regularly and how thoroughly you clean your yoga mat will depend on how often and how intensely you practice. For most people, it’s enough to clean your yoga mat once a week. This keeps stains at bay and prevents the build-up of bacteria and dirt. Follow manufacturers’ guidelines where given, and choose natural cleansers like lemon juice, dilute vinegar solution, or non-toxic dish soap to clean your mat.
Between practices, be sure to wipe away any excess moisture and let your mat air dry before storing it away. Avoid putting the mat in direct sun or hot temperatures though. UV exposure can speed up degradation, whatever your mat is made of. PVC, rubber, TPE, and PER mats can become flaky, brittle, and extra toxic if exposed to high heat and direct sunlight.
Other yoga mat considerations
There’s a huge environmental impact from the chemicals used to make many PVC yoga mats. Manufacture isn’t the only consideration though. PVC mats have a considerable energy footprint and typically end up in a landfill once they wear out and get replaced.
Recycled materials are increasingly used in so-called eco-friendly yoga mats and accessories. Some companies, for instance, make their mats with recycled (synthetic) car tire rubber. Thankfully, the rubber is typically rinsed multiple times to get rid of the heavy metals. Unfortunately, though, companies rarely make their manufacturing processes public. They’re also unlikely to display test results showing what was in the rubber to begin with and what’s been rinsed out. Indeed, some synthetic rubber mats have a car tire smell that lingers for weeks, or even months in some cases. You’ll definitely want to air out this kind of mat on a porch or deck (out of direct sunlight) to reduce the smell. It also helps to give them a good clean before using them the first time.
All in all, it’s good to be suspicious of ‘greenwashed’ products that incorporate recycled synthetic rubber or other materials. You might, however, make an exception if a manufacturer provides third-party test results and robust certifications for the final product.
Now that you know what to look out for in terms of function and form, check out these eco-friendly, non-toxic yoga mats.