Yoga mats are gross.
Okay fine, they aren’t gross… they’re really gross.
Germs like fungi, viruses, and bacteria have quietly joined you in your savasana. Happily multiplying on what looks to be- your clean mat.
Even if there’s no visible dirt on the surface, yoga mats are breeding grounds for some pretty nasty things.
And don’t think that giving your mat a wipe down at the end of class is suddenly going to make things sanitary either. In fact, it might even be doing more harm than good.
It’s time to learn how to properly clean a yoga mat so you can focus on your practice instead of the cooties and crawlies beneath you.
Yoga mat sprays
Yoga mats are breeding grounds for germs like fungi that cause infections such as athlete’s foot, bacterial infections such as staph, and viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV).
In an effort to control our level of exposure to some of these nasty infections, the infamous mat spray was developed.
The product is often lazily sprayed onto a sweat soaked mat at the end of class and then quickly wiped off. The mat is then rolled up, still damp, and stored until its next use.
Most mat sprays contain some anti-bacterial ingredients. And though these might disinfect some bacteria on the mat, they do not target viruses and fungi.
A rolled yoga mat = the perfect playground for germs
Here’s something to consider…
Why do you use a yoga mat?
Well, likely you want a little cushioning, a little traction, and yes, you want to create a barrier between the floor and your body.
But have you ever thought what happens when you roll your mat up?
Your efforts at keeping your face off the floor that your sweaty neighbour is making a mess of are almost always completely wasted.
Take a scrap piece of paper and draw a huge x on it to represent the floor. Put the x-side facing down and then roll the paper slowly. Notice how the floor side snuggles tightly right up against the top where you rest your face and body?
Unless your yoga studio washes the floor vigorously after each class (which is extremely rare), all the germs and dirt from the floor where you set your mat on are now topside. That’s right, sweat from the dude beside you or the dudes in the previous class are now all over the bottom of your mat. And the bottom of your mat is going to be slathered on the top of your mat.
Think about it, your mat, is just as dirty as the floor – unless you clean it, and clean it well.
Although some yoga mats are antibacterial, they don’t kill off viruses and fungi.
How to properly clean a yoga mat
Washing your mat in a tub or washing machine between each class is likely inefficient. The time, water usage, and wear on your mat can be exhaustive and wasteful on all fronts.
Using a mat spray can be an effective way to stop the spread of potentially harmful germs if it is used correctly and made of the right products.
Despite popular belief, simply spraying your mat with a cleaner and lightly wiping it off does little more than spread the unwanted viruses, bacteria and fungi around your mat. Furthermore, if the mat is rolled up right after, the spray is likely helping to promote the growth of mould while creating the perfect environment for sickness causing agents to reproduce.
How to clean a yoga mat at your studio
If you leave your mat in the studio between classes, here is a simple cleaning routine that will help you maximize your cleaning efficiency and minimize the spread of germs.
1. Wipe down the sweat off your mat and flip it face down. If you have a towel, put your towel down first and then lay the top part of your mat on it.
2. Spray the bottom of your mat down from top to bottom. You don’t need to soak the mat so it is dripping, but be sure to try to cover most of the surface area with a light spray.
3. Let the spray set for a minute or so and then wipe it down with a microfiber towel. (Paper towels are both wasteful and can also leave residue on your mat).
4. Flip the mat and clean the top now repeating steps 2-3. Again, you can rest your mat on your towel again which is likely still way cleaner than the floor even if it has a bit of your sweat on it.
5. Once both sides have been cleaned, try to let the mat air out as long as possible before you pack it up for storage. If you can leave it hanging somewhere for a few minutes while you change, this would be optimal.
How to clean a yoga mat at home after studio practice
If you take your mat home from the studio after each class, you can either clean your mat in the studio following steps 1-5 above, or if you are in a rush, clean your mat at home.
1. To clean your mat at home after a studio class, wipe off the sweat from your mat with a towel and spray your mat with a fine mist of cleaner. Wipe the cleaner off and then pack your mat for home.
2. If you don’t have to roll your mat, you can fold it lengthwise and then in half again so that the floor side and top side don’t come in contact with each other. Otherwise, just roll it up as per usual.
3. Once you get home, unpack your mat and thoroughly spray with your mat spray. Allow the cleaner to soak for a minute before you wipe it down.
4. Flip the mat and repeat on the other side.
5. Allow your mat to fully dry in a well ventilated space. You can hang it on a railing, on a porch, or even stand it up on its side against a wall.
6. Once the mat has fully dried, you can place it back for storage.
How to clean a yoga mat after home practice
When you are practicing at home, you are responsible for the hygiene of your mat and practice space. Be sure to keep the floor clean around you as well as your mat.
1. After your home practice, spray down your mat and leave for a minute. Wipe it down and then ideally, let it dry when you are showering or getting changed.
2. After several minutes have passed, flip the mat and clean the other side as well.
3. Put the mat somewhere to fully dry before it gets put away for storage.
Tips on renting yoga mats
If you rent a mat from your studio, be sure to thoroughly clean it before your practice. Not all studios mandate a rental mat cleaning protocol. Meaning – you could be face down in someone else’s sweat and infectious germs.
If you’re travelling and can’t fit a mat in your bag, bring your own towel. Placing a towel over the mat is a simple way to reduce your contact with unknown illness causing microbes.
When you get home, wash your towel right away and allow to fully dry before folding it back up for the next practice.
Take away notes
Without proper and thorough cleaning, yoga mats can become breeding grounds for dangerous germs.
Resist the urge to roll the mat up right after class while it is still damp. Mats should be allowed to fully air dry before they are rolled back up to prevent mould from growing.
Be sure to thoroughly clean both sides of your yoga mat to inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other germs.
Bring your own towel to wipe down your mat. Studio towels aren’t always clean and could be spreading germs between users. Wash your towel after each class to reduce spreading infections between classes.
Get a broad-spectrum mat cleaner that inhibits bacteria, viruses, and fungi to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful germs.