Just like all yoga is not created equal. All yoga mats aren’t created equal. Why not? Beyond stating the obvious, “you get what you pay for” cliche, different mats are made for different yoga styles.
You may need a yoga mat that allows you to travel with ease or for hot and non-heated yoga classes. You might be concerned about your current mat’s environmental impact. On the other hand, you might be a beginner to yoga that doesn’t know where to begin. This guide will teach you all there is to know about yoga mats, what yoga mats are made of, and what you should look for in a mat.
Yoga Mat Materials
The most common type of yoga mat is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC mats have a semi-sticky texture and are dense.
The materials make it easy to clean and resistant to bacterial growth.
Mats made with PVC can be used in any condition. PVC mats are often the first mat most people start with because they’re cheap and everywhere. There are downsides to PVC mats though.
While the mats are decent, there are some issues surrounding PVC.
They’re not eco-friendly. The materials used to make PVC yoga mats aren’t biodegradable or recyclable. They essentially live forever in the landfill.
Another issue with PVC mats is possible health concerns.
Not only are the materials to make PVC yoga mats not eco-friendly, but they may also be hazardous to your health. The main concern is over the ingredient phthalates.
To make the mats soft and flexible, this plasticizer is added. Unfortunately, phthalates are a human carcinogen. It’s linked to birth defects, asthma, fertility issues, and cancer.
In recent years, many companies have moved forward in making products phthalate-free. You may see labels that say EVA or PEVA.
These are considered to be safer alternatives to PVC. But despite being called safer alternatives, many still have concerns over the chemicals used to make them.
Rubber (Natural, Recycled, or Biodegradable)
Natural rubber mats are also known as latex. These mats are made with rubber that comes from the sap of rubber trees. The trees are found in South America and some parts of Asia. Rubber mats are highly regarded.
They’re made using open-cell technology. Open-cell technology retains sweat and oils but makes it great for gripping.
However, you will have to do a more thorough cleaning and more often than with other types of mats. Rubber mats are denser than most of the mats on the market which makes them a little heavier and harder to transport around but better for comfort and durability.
Rubber mats are also environmentally friendly.
They’re biodegradable because of how they’re sourced and made. This is a huge contrast to PVC yoga mats. There are some issues with rubber mats though.
One issue that might pose for some people is latex. Those who are allergic will have to skip out on using a rubber mat.
Another issue that could pose a threat is the rubber itself. Sometimes, it’s farmed and harvested irresponsibly.
This poses problems with deforestation and wildlife. It’s important to note that some companies use unsustainable methods to harvest rubber.
If you can, try to only buy from companies that use ethical and sustainable practices like Jade and Manduka. You can read about jade yoga mats and their practices here. You can read more about Manduka yoga mats here.
Jute yoga mats are made from the fiber of the Corchorus genus species. These fibers are often used to make burlap and are the second most-produced next to cotton.
It’s cultivated in India and Bangladesh and requires less water, fertilizer, and pesticides unlike cotton and other similar materials.
Jute feels like burlap but not as abrasive. Those not used to this type of material may have to get used to the feel. It’s grippy and sweat absorbent. This makes it easy for practicing the harder yoga poses.
Jute mats are also versatile. They can be used in different environments like hot studios, or non-heated classes. Unlike rubber mats, they are free from latex.
Jute mats are a great alternative for those that want an eco-friendly and versatile mat but are allergic to latex. They’re also biodegradable and come from a renewable source.
There are a few downsides to a Jute mat though.
One is the comfort level. Jute mats can be a little stiff and new users will need to adjust to the feel. Often, they’re combined with foam padding or with TPE under the mat for added comfort.
For some, this doesn’t pose an issue, but others may not want to pay extra for padding. Another issue is the thinness. Sure, it makes the mat lightweight, but it also takes away from the comfort.
Many yogis who practice vigorous types of yoga tend to avoid this kind of mat for that reason (unless it’s combined with a foam base to make it thicker and more comfortable).
TPE yoga mats are considered to be a safer alternative to PVC mats but the jury is still out. It’s recyclable and isn’t made with as many harsh chemicals or materials such as phthalates or heavy metals.
TPE also uses closed-cell technology.
This means it’s waterproof, easier to clean, cheaper, lightweight, and more durable than open-cell technology mats. However, there are some downsides to a TPE yoga mat.
One downside is the lack of versatility. TPE yoga mats aren’t useable for heated studios or classes. They become slippery when wet.
Their normal texture (grippy) is great for regular non-heated studios but not for heated ones. If TPE is the only kind of mat you have, you can always put a yoga towel down but that can be inconvenient and take away from the grip.
Another downside is the potential toxicity.
TPE is a mixture of rubber and plastic. Many companies have branded TPE as a safer alternative to PVC. But we don’t know which ingredients are used to make the plastic in TPE or the mats themselves.
One German agency tested a TPE yoga mat brand and found human carcinogens in the ingredients. There may be some mat brands that don’t use any harsh chemicals but unless they are tested, there’s no way to rule it out.
Cork yoga mats are eco-friendly. It’s a renewable source because the trees aren’t damaged during the harvesting process.
Many cork mats will have one side made of cork and the other side made of another material like rubber to make them non-slippery on floors and completely biodegradable.
Cork yoga mats also are grippy, durable, and resistant to bacterial growth making them easy to clean. Cork mats are also great for both heated and non-heated studios and classes.
Cork can absorb some moisture and won’t lose its grip so it’s a great companion if you do a variety of heated and non-heated yoga classes.
There are some potential issues with cork yoga mats though.
Good cork yoga mats are on the pricey side, so if you’re looking for a cheap mat, this type of mat may not be for you. They can also be heavy.
Cork itself is lightweight. But it’s often paired with a natural rubber base that makes it slightly heavier (but lighter than a 100% rubber yoga mat).
Wool yoga mats come from sheep so they’re natural and environmentally friendly. Wool is also a sustainable resource and it doesn’t harm the sheep when harvested.
Wool mats aren’t as common but you will find them used in Yin yoga, Kundalini yoga, and Mantra Yoga from time to time.
Wool mats absorb moisture. They’re also waterproof and mildew resistant making them a good option for hot yoga classes.
But the major downside to wool is the care they require. They are difficult to wash and take a long time to dry.
Cotton and Hemp
Cotton and hemp mats are biodegradable, recyclable, and come from a sustainable resource. The mat itself is grippy and absorbs sweat, odors, and bacteria.
This does mean you have to thoroughly clean your mat, so bacteria and mold don’t buildup. But, they’re great for hot or heated yoga classes. The mats are also thin and lightweight, so they’re great for traveling or carrying around.
There are a few issues with a cotton and hemp mats though. The mats are not as comfortable because of the thinness and coarseness on the skin. They’re also not as grippy as traditional mats, so they may be more difficult for beginners to get used to.
Another consideration is the source of cotton. Cotton takes a lot from the environment. Large amounts of water, pesticides, and fertilizers are often used in the production of cotton.
However, organic cotton uses no fertilizer or pesticides and relies on rainfall. If you’re going to buy a cotton and hemp mat, be sure it’s made from organic cotton to reduce the environmental impact.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Yoga Mat
Thickness and Cushioning
The thicker the yoga mat, the more padding for your body. Standard mats are 1/8 inch or 3mm thick. Some mats are even thinner at 1/16 inch and others are thicker at 1/2 inch.
Extra thickness doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing.
The thicker it is, the heavier it is and that could affect cleaning and drying time as well. If your mat is too soft or squishy, it will also interfere with your balance.
Thin mats are the perfect choice for travelers and experienced yogis. They give a better ground connection. But, they don’t offer any cushion at all.
If you’re an avid yogi and can afford to buy two mats, thin for travel and thicker for classes or home, then that’s your best bet. If you want one mat or can only afford one, then go with a quality yoga mat. We like 6-8mm thick because it provides the best balance of cushioning and support.
Be wary of thicker, cheap mats. They tend to stretch and are prone to tearing. If you’re someone that’s going to practice often, you’re going to want to spend a little more.
Generally, the stickier and grippier, the better. However, you do want a balance. For example, you don’t want to slide all over the place when going into a pose.
You also don’t want to feel like you’re stuck to your mat like glue. Why not? Because you’ll have a much harder time transitioning into another pose.
PVC and TPE are the best for stickiness and traction but they come with potentially toxic effects. Rubber is a good choice for those doing non-heated yoga.
The Type of Yoga You Prefer
All yoga is not treated the same. Some types of yoga are more vigorous than others. They will need different types of grip, thickness, and absorption. This is also true for the type of class you’re attending. Some studios host hot yoga classes, while others don’t.
If you have a mat intended for non-heated yoga but you want to take it to a heated class, then you can use a yoga towel to cover it.
If you want a more versatile mat that does well in both environments, go with a combination yoga mat. These are the best mats for someone who does both heated and non-heated yoga classes.
For many people, a heavy mat won’t work. Especially if you’re biking to a class or walking a longer distance. Natural rubber yoga mats and the Manduka pro are the heaviest mats. That being said, if weight is a big concern for you, the lightest mats are going to be TPE, jute, and PVC.
Yoga mats come in open and closed-celled forms. Open celled means that it’s porous and can absorb oil, dirt, etc. Natural rubber is open-celled.
As a result, these are a little harder to clean and should be deep cleaned every month or so. Closed-cell technology means your mat won’t retain any moisture or absorb dirt so it’s easier to simply wipe down.
In general, closed-cell is easier to maintain and keep clean. However, you can keep open-cell mats clean and sanitary by wiping them down after class and deep cleaning the yoga mat every so often.
Environment and Body-friendly
Yoga doesn’t stop at the mind and body. Many yogis care about the earth and environment too. For those that do want to reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a mat with eco-friendly materials is easier now than ever.
A good portion of mats like rubber, cork, cotton and hemp, wool, and Jute are all eco-friendly. Some even include TPE on this list since it’s recyclable.
Why would you want to choose a yoga mat that’s made from natural materials? The more obvious answer is your health. PVC and in some cases, TPE mats are made with toxic materials that buildup in the body over time.
They have the potential to cause health issues just by touching the material or breathing it in. Many of these chemicals are triggered by heat too.
For example, PVC is a cheap alternative for a yoga mat and is regarded as being versatile with a good grip. If you take it to hot yoga though, it has the potential to release those chemicals due to the heat reaction.
Other mats like rubber, cork, wool, Jute, cotton, and hemp are made with natural materials that don’t cause these problems. However, if you are allergic to latex, then rubber mats should be avoided.
The environment will also thank you for not contributing to the earth’s pollution. PVC mats aren’t biodegradable or recyclable.
This means they sit in the ground and release toxic chemicals in the process. Typically, eco-friendly mats are both biodegradable and recyclable. They also come from sustainable sources, so the destruction of the earth or deforestation isn’t occurring.