January 10th 2018
What yoga teachers know about deep cleaning your mat without ruining it
May 11th 2020 / 0 comment
With all those home workouts, when did you last sanitize your exercise mat? There's an art to it, so before you go at it with the Dettol, read this
I’m not normally fastidious when it comes to mat cleaning, but if like me, given the recent climate you’ve gone from average human to a hybrid of Marie Kondo and Mrs. Hinch then you may suddenly be slightly less what-the-hell about the hygiene of your exercise mat than usual. I’ve gone from free-spirited yoga teacher, footloose (no shoes), and fancy-free (wrists covered in bangles from around the world and neck weighed down in crystals) to flinching every time I touch my face, which as it happens, is about 500 times a day. And when my hands are touching the mat where my feet have just been, it’s made me reach for my mat cleaning spray more often.
With the boom in online workouts, our yoga, Pilates and workout mats are getting much more use than usual. Teaching my yoga classes via Zoom every day I'm seeing all manner of mats in various fabrics, finishes and states of repair rolled out virtually. Mats that were gathering dust in the closet are getting more air time than Boris Johnson’s 'stay alert' slogan and swiftly collecting dirt like cat hair to Velcro.
It’s no surprise. We walk through our houses barefoot, maybe venture into the garden with no shoes on, take out the rubbish and then come to our mats to sweat it out. Guess what, sweat mixed with bacteria isn’t just a breeding ground for skin breakouts, I’m guessing a yoga mat, or as a man in a white coat in a science lab discussing a certain global pandemic would call it ‘high touch surface’ or a ‘fomite,’ (a surface with contamination) will need that extra bit of love right now.
I’m going to share with you the tricks I’ve learned in my years of practice and teaching that will have you back in down dog quicker than you can say ‘Dettol protects.’ *Disclaimer, only when it’s not ingested.
Yoga teacher and beauty editor Rosie Underwood
Check what your yoga mat is made of before you start to clean it
There are many different types of mat and the materials will affect how you clean it. Check the manufacturer guidelines to make sure you’re cleaning the mat in accordance with the fabric your mat is made from in order to prolong its life. These are the most common types of yoga mat.
PVC yoga mats: synthetic and non-biodegradable, generally these are the cheaper beginner mats. The exception is the Manduka Pro, which is a high-end eco-certified-safe PVC mat used by many studios and teachers because it’s designed never to wear out (so should never end up in landfill) and really is the business. They have a closed-cell structure (i.e. are not porous) and don’t absorb water or sweat so can withstand more robust cleaning.
PU (polyurethane) sticky mats such as Liforme, Lululemon, Yogi Bare, DIYogis and Kin Yoga Mats. The sticky smooth PU surface is fixed on to a black natural rubber base. These mats are generally, heavier, more expensive with an ‘open cell’ structure’ – a porous surface that absorbs sweat (and everything else including dirt) so the surface stays non-slip. It doesn’t respond well to water cleaning – spray only. They lose their grip if they come into contact with oils or strong detergents and water and oil stains them.
All eco mats are designed to biodegrade – meaning they generally aren’t able to withstand heavy detergents. Proceed with care to prolong the life of the mat.
Microfiber-topped yoga mats such as Kin Yoga Mats’ The Skinny and the Phantai Stardust mat. These are generally thinner (foldable, good for travel) made of antibacterial cloth on a natural rubber base.
TPE - Thermoplastic Elastomer yoga mats such as Prana E.C.O, which uses non-toxic materials in its construction and is recyclable. It has a closed-cell structure so it doesn’t absorb, germs and sweat.
Cork yoga mats. Cork is naturally antibacterial i.e. self-cleaning. According to corkyogis.com, it contains compounds called phenolics that kill bacteria and fungus. This keeps your mat clean and free from smelly perspiration and body sweat odours. Cork naturally repels odours and emits a very subtle woody fragrance.
Here are some ways to clean your mat. Remember to clean both sides as whatever has been on your floor will end up on the upper side of your mat once you roll it up.
How to clean your yoga or Pilates mat
1. Make your own everyday spray
Suitable for all mats
I’ve spent ten years as a beauty editor, so I’m one for experimenting with making my own formulas, tinctures and sprays. This way you don’t get ripped off, you know exactly what’s coming into direct contact with not only your skin-which FYI is your largest organ and our biggest communicator when it comes to stress, but your mat too and it takes a lot less time than you think. Just get yourself a small spray bottle (ideally opaque as any UV rays do a great job of degenerating the make-up of this concoction). Fill the bottle half up with distilled water and the other half with white vinegar and sponge down your mat.
You can add a sprinkling of bicarb to your home-made mat spray to remove strong grubby marks
Optionally, drop a couple of drops of tea tree oil as it's anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, but not if you have a PU mat. “PU hates all oils,” explains Laura Pearce, yoga teacher and founder of Kin Yoga Mats, which makes PU mats. “Not only can you not clean them off effectively but oils will stain your mat – so lay off any body oil too oil, or Tiger Balm when you are on your mat.”
Spritz your yoga mat and wipe down with a cloth every time you use it. For our edit of the best ready-made yoga mat sprays scroll down.
2. Hose the thing down like it’s on fire
Good for all mats except PU and cork.
Every few weeks or months, depending on how often you practice, give your mat a thorough wash in the bath or shower, although not if it’s is a PU mat, which has a porous surface designed to absorb your sweat. “They don’t like being drenched,” says Laura. “They ‘stain’ a bit like leather (PU is, in fact, artificial leather). Cork yoga mats are naturally antibacterial, easy to clean with a mat spray and rarely need a really good wash."
For other mats, a good old soaking will really dredge the dirt out, dislodging any oils and odours while using a mild detergent (Laura recommends very diluted Fairy Liquid) or a shampoo and a soft sponge or flannel.
“Only super cheap plastic mats will weather a good scrubbing/scouring. I use a soft cotton cloth on mine,” adds Laura
Remember that any residue of soap left on the mat will make the surface slippery and we all know a slippery yoga mat is enough to make any zen master fly off the handle.
Remember too that the more you soak them the longer they take to dry.
(White coat alert: A mild soap detergent is made up of two-sided molecules, one side is attracted to water, the other attracted to fat. Anything really nasty on your mat, like a certain virus whose name I won’t mention, is surrounded by a coating of fat, so the soap quite literally abolishes it, like washing your hands.)
3. For a really deep clean bubble bath… with baking soda
Suitable for: very grubby or sweaty, smelly mats (not PU mats, you know by now they hate water).
If you practice hot yoga and your mat gets very sweaty, or if your mat has had an 'accident' (muddy footprint, cat vomit, we've been there) it’s time to roll up the sleeves for a deep clean. I use cool water, just enough to submerge the mat for 15 to 20 minutes with a sprinkling of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) it works wonders on stubborn stains and odours.
Laura adds this is especially useful for 100 per cent natural rubber and microfibre-topped mats (she makes a gorgeous animal print mat called Sumatris) above. “They’re porous through and through from surface to base, so the sweat pervades all the way through the mat.”
Before you get the big guns out check: is your mat dirty or is it just smelly? “Smell can often be a sign of bacteria, but before you go for the deep clean remember that sometimes properly airing your mat is all that’s needed to stop it smelling,” says Laura
4. Sanitize your yoga mat with disinfectant
Good for all mats right now – just don’t get the PU ones too damp.
Should we be using diluted bleach and 60 per cent alcohol sprays as we are doing for our hands and hard surfaces in the age of Covid-19?
“Before lockdown, I switched from natural vinegar cleaning to hardcore diluted Dettol mat cleaning," says Laura. "I use one-third of a cap of Dettol Liquid Antiseptic Disinfectant in one litre of water. You can use a ratio up to 50/50 but bear in mind it’s really strong smelling and not suitable if you have sensitive skin."
If and when studios reopen, you might want to sanitize your personal mat after its been on the studio floor, where others have walked. A yoga towel is a good call as you can put it down on your mat or a studio mat and machine hot wash it afterwards.
5. Wash your feet first and use a small head towel
Good for everyone.
One of the best ways to keep your mat clean is to go at it with freshly washed feet (it’s a nice grounding ritual to get into). You can even use hand sanitizer on your feet first.
Avoid moisturising hands and feet before use as it makes the mat slippy and can degrade it, advises Laura.
Lastly, bring a small flannel or towel to your practice. “You may have noticed that in child’s pose, all your make up (full of oil) and greasy forehead will be on the mat, so you often get a little head patch where your head goes. That wears the grip down, not to mention the fact that you are putting your forehead where your feet have been! I use a face towel to protect mine. Even after a headstand, I notice the residue. Your face and head are way more oily naturally than hands and feet!”
6. Machine washing your mat - only in extremis
I tend to avoid machine washing any of my mats, even when advised to. Laura agrees. “You can technically machine wash microfiber/rubber mats such as The Skinny. The reason I don't unless absolutely necessary is that they last longer without machine washing. The mid-layer that sticks the microfibre to the rubber base will degrade quicker the more 'wet time' it gets. Also, microfibres are bad for the environment (they release microplastics into the water) so we shouldn't really be washing them that much, just as we should try to wash our polyester leggings less.”
7. Dry your mat really well
It’s important to bear in mind that most yoga mats are porous, so drying will take anything up to and beyond 24 hours. It can take days if fully wet, cautions Laura. Keep your mat out of direct sunlight as it has the delightful ability to fade any beautiful designs (I’ve learned this one the hard way) and the sun can cause the mat to become stiff and brittle.
Our pick of the best yoga and Pilates mat cleaners
You can make your own vinegar and water spray as above but many mat manufacturers encourage you to use their (well they would). The advantage is that they are geared towards preserving the integrity and life of the mat, so you get the best experience. They are also likely to smell a bit better than simple water and vinegar. Check the ingredients to avoid for oils if you have a PU sticky mat.
Here are the ones I like:
Manduka mat wash, £12