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How To Clean Your Yoga Mat
The why and how behind keeping your mat clean.
Like flossing your teeth or doing your taxes, there are certain things in life you know you should do but often don’t - like cleaning your yoga mat.
After a long, sweaty yoga practice, are you someone who rolls up their mat, throws it in the back of their car and forgets about it until the next time they take class? We’ve all been there but looking at just a little bit of research on how those sweat stains can harbor bacteria is enough to make anyone change up their habits.
When several editors at Elle went to swab yoga mats at gyms and studios throughout New York City, they found two types of bacteria dangerous to those who are immunosuppressive (note: they’re probably fine for the rest of us). But there have also been reports of ringworm and even herpes lurking on public yoga mats. Dr. Greg E. Cohen, a Long Island podiatrist, says he’s seen a 50% spike in patients with plantar warts and athlete’s foot, likely from communal yoga mats.
If you bring your own yoga mat to class (or practice at home), are you in the clear? Not quite. On any given day, you’re shedding between 30,000 and 40,000 skin cells, which along with body oils and sweat, can build up on your yoga mat over time. Convinced you probably need to clean your mat more often? Read on for how to best clean your yoga mat.
A Little More of the Why
If there’s any year in history that’s taught us the importance of cleaning to eliminate germs, it has to be 2020. Once we’re able to begin practicing yoga in studios again, the need to keep yoga mats clean will be greater than ever. “Keeping your mat clean and disinfected for you is essential, but keeping it clean for the person practicing next to you is honorable,” says yoga instructor and mindful living blogger Andrea Bogart. “Cleaning our mats should be considered a ritual as sacred as our self-care routines.”
In this way, cleaning your yoga mat isn’t just about bacteria and germs. There’s an energetic shift that happens when you clean any exercise mat after use. “Your yoga mat should be a sacred space for a spiritual practice,” says LA-based yoga teacher Catie Purcell. “Like most things in life, you get what you give. In yoga, there is a common theme of a ripple effect. This pertains to Karma, a Sanskrit word for ‘action.’ In yoga, it is commonly taught that you should align or harmonize all things in your life and lifestyle.”
In a nutshell? When you treat your yoga mat with respect and gratitude, you treat yourself with respect and gratitude.
When and How
It might not be what you want to hear but it’s best to clean your yoga mat after every use. “Though it may seem intuitive to only clean your mat when you sweat, all yoga is done with physical body-to-mat contact, and germs are everywhere,” says Purcell. “Not to mention, yoga is designed to move and release toxic energy. The mat serves as a safe space to absorb it. It would truly complete the cleansing process if your yoga mat was cleaned at the very end.”
To clean your yoga mat, Purcell says you don’t need much more than an absorbent towel (even an old cotton t-shirt will do), a clean sponge and a yoga mat cleaning solution. While there are several pre-made solutions on the market you can save money (and plastic) by easily creating a DIY yoga mat cleaning solution yourself.
One recipe is to mix 5-10 drops of tea tree oil with ¼ cup of organic distilled white vinegar to ¾ cup water. Purcell says she often adds a bit of alcohol-free witch hazel if she has it. Bogart follows a similar recipe, but she likes to add lavender oil and shake vigorously. “Just remember oil and water don’t mix well so shake it up like you mean it,” she says. “For that extra good cleaning scrub after you disinfect, you can use water mixed with a drop of plant-based dish soap and a soft side of a sponge to scrub it down, then rinse with water, towel dry, then hang dry. Don’t forget to do both sides.”
After cleaning, leave your mat somewhere with fresh air circulating. Think laying in the yard (not in direct sunlight) or draping it over a railing. Just make sure it’s completely dry before you roll your yoga mat back up again.
Some Words of Warning
Don’t (we repeat, don’t) put your yoga mat in the washing machine. This is perhaps the worst thing you can do in an attempt to clean your yoga mat. Make sure to also avoid using toxic cleaners or wipes that contain chemicals or alcohol. “Using harsh cleaners, too much dish soap and chemicals like bleach can eventually degrade a yoga mat’s quality and strip it of its surface,” says Bogart.
To lessen your cleaning load, Bogart recommends laying a washable yoga towel down over your mat, as well as wearing long leggings and a tank that covers your torso. “The more skin you have contacting your mat, the more intense the microorganisms and bacteria count can be, possibly causing reactions,” she says.
Finally, it’s important to understand which kind of yoga mat you have before cleaning it. Not all yoga mats are created equal. Whether your yoga mat is made from PVC (vinyl), rubber, cork or something else, there may be special care instructions to keep in mind when cleaning. If you’ve thrown away an instruction manual, you can usually find more information on your yoga mat’s website.