If you’re dedicated to your yoga practice, you probably love your yoga mat and would like to know how to treat it right, which means cleaning it from time to time. Why? Downward dog, for one—not to mention Child’s Pose—puts you nose-to-surface with your yoga mat. Nothing ruins the bliss of a pranayama breathing exercise like the smell of last week’s hot yoga session rising up from your lululemon or Stella McCartney. But many of us hesitate over our yoga mats with our Lysol wipes in hand, wondering if we should risk making contact. Will this cleanser ruin the yoga mat’s finish? Will it make our Manduka smell like chemicals forever? Dozens of yoga mat cleaning products are available, but that doesn’t exactly address our indecision. Search for “yoga mat cleaner” on Amazon and you’ll get nearly 300 results. Not all of them are relevant, but the thought of wading through them makes us want to pop into lotus pose for sanity’s sake. If you can relate, take a deep breath and read on. We talked to experienced yogis to find out what they use to clean a yoga mat, how they do it, and when. Here’s your all-in-one guide to keeping your yoga mat clean.
Why It’s Important to Clean Your Yoga Mat Regularly
The choice of a yoga mat is personal, but one thing is for sure: You get what you pay for. Higher-end mats like the Manduka Mat PRO are built to repel moisture, channeling sweat away to prevent the growth of microbes. Other luxury choices like lululemon yoga mats prevent germs from taking over thanks to a built-in antibacterial additive. If you opt for a more affordable yoga mat, you’re probably looking at PVC, and you might have to clean it more often to blast away bacteria. While all-natural yoga mats are terrific, they often need more intense cleaning than their high-tech counterparts according to Maxine Chapman, yoga teacher and founder of wellness subscription service Buddhibox. “Some yoga mats are made with natural fibers like cork or jute that are more porous,” Chapman says. “For these type of mats, I definitely recommend rinsing the whole mat with a hose or in the shower, then hanging to dry.” No matter what yoga accessories you choose, keeping a clean mat is the right move for your health. Back in 2006, when public, shared yoga mats were a big thing at gyms, podiatrist Greg Cohen warned the New York Times of a 50-percent increase in athlete’s foot and plantar warts over two years. “The first thing I ask is, ‘Do you do yoga?'” Cohen told the Times. This was Brooklyn Heights in the ‘00s, so who didn’t do yoga? Ultimately, Cohen attributed the increase in athlete’s foot and plantar warts to his patients’ use of shared athletic mats. Even if you wisely decline to share yoga mats, it’s always a good idea to keep your own gym gear clean. Microbiologist Robert Lahita told Elle in 2016 that yoga mats are “a very fertile source for infection, mainly because people sweat on them and they are rarely cleaned.” Let’s prove that last part wrong.
How often should you clean your yoga mat?
Given the wide variety of brands, materials, and designs in today’s yoga-mat marketplace, it’s tough to nail down a one-size-fits-all schedule for cleaning yoga mats. In fact, the experts tend to vary a bit on their recommendations. “I practice every day, but only clean my mat about one or two times per month,” says Jenay Rose, otherwise known as Instagram wellness star @namastejenay. “I always do a dry wipe-down before and after practicing, but keep in mind I don’t really practice hot yoga. If you do, or if you sweat a lot, you’ll definitely want to clean your mat more often.” Chapman agrees with Rose’s point about hot yoga. “I would say if you are practicing hot yoga, [you should clean the yoga mat] every single time,” she tells HealthyWay. “For other styles, once or twice a week. If the mat starts to smell or feels dirty, you definitely need to clean.” Rose mentions a few other telltale signs that it’s time to clean your yoga mat thoroughly. “If your mat feels dirty, or has little bits and pieces, particles of dirt, on it, it’s probably time for a cleaning,” she says. Which brings us to our next point.
Yogis Explain Their Favorite Ways to Clean a Yoga Mat
Once you decide to clean your yoga mat regularly, you’ve got a dizzying array of options for how to execute the task at hand. You could invest in some yoga mat wipes. You could try a do-it-yourself yoga mat cleaner. You could even try cleaning your yoga mat with vinegar. If you’re really lucky—and you pick the right yoga mat—you might even be able to toss it into the washing machine. But what do the experts do with their own heavily used yoga mats? Annie Appleby, who teaches yoga at Stanford University and runs yoga provider YogaForce, prefers to go the all-natural route. “I love tea tree oil,” Appleby tells HealthyWay. She uses 100 percent pure essential oil, which she suggests you “buy from any health food store or online from Amazon. Put a few drops on a damp cloth lightly soaked in hot water.” In a YouTube clip demonstrating her all-natural way to clean a yoga mat, Appleby takes her damp, tea-tree-oil-infused cloth and vigorously wipes down the surface of her mat. She’s done in just a few seconds. But what if you want something more tailored to the yoga-mat-cleaning task than tea tree oil? Chapman prefers a ready-made yoga mat cleaner—provided it’s all-natural, of course. “I like to rinse [my yoga mat] then spray with an all-natural cleaner,” Chapman says. “My favorite cleaner is Om Spray from Oiliving Life. [The maker] is in Florida and has a very clean line of sprays and cleaners.” Depending on your mat, though, you might want to avoid even the natural cleansers, warns Rose. “To clean my yoga mat, which is a Liforme, I dampen a towel with water and wipe down,” she says. “Because of the material of this mat, which is on the stickier side, I don’t use any cleaner, as it can damage the sticky aspect.” For the record, the Liforme website recommends dish soap, heavily diluted with water, and cleaning their products once every five to 10 uses. The site also warns that “over-cleaning or using abrasive products will wear out the materials faster.” So would Rose ever consider going with another yoga mat, maybe one that’s more receptive to serious cleansing products? No way, she says. “I love this mat because it is totally non-toxic, thick, non-slip, and lasts me about one to two years of daily use.” She goes on to say, “Mats…that have toxic chemicals are going to need cleaning more often, in my opinion, because they begin to smell as the chemicals are stripped away…this is why I practice on a mat that is non-porous and made of non-toxic chemicals. And since it is already a ‘clean’ mat, it lasts longer and can withstand a lot more.” Meanwhile, perhaps unsurprisingly, microbiologist Lahita counsels more extreme measures. As he told Elle, “I advise people to clean their mats with a Lysol spray or bleach diluted in water.” He points out that DIY approaches like cleaning a yoga mat with vinegar won’t kill off every type of bacteria. On the other hand, bleach can damage the surfaces of some yoga mats, according to a report by Rodale’s Organic Life. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions and, when in doubt, reach out to the supplier of your yoga mat for details.
Drying a Yoga Mat: Taking It Slow
What is washed must be dried, and there is a right way to dry a yoga mat. Expert consensus seems to be that hanging your yoga mat until it air-dries is the gentlest way to get ready for tomorrow’s yoga class, if not the quickest. “Open it and let [it] hang, or just dry [it] on the floor overnight,” says Appleby. Rose agrees. “Lay flat to dry!” she says. “Don’t ever roll [your yoga mat] up while it’s still wet, because it won’t dry and may take on a mildew smell, depending on the quality of your mat.” Besides, we’d add, bacteria love moisture. That is where they live. If your yoga mat is still damp when you’re getting ready for your next session, resist the urge to toss it into the dryer. Most manufacturers, including lululemon, advise against tumble-drying—presumably because the heat and rough treatment can damage your yoga mat. The safest route is to air-dry. Most importantly, enjoy your next session secure in the knowledge that your yoga mat is as fresh as you feel when you make it to savasana!