One major difference between practicing yoga at home vs. at a studio (other than an IRL instructor, obvs) is that your yoga mat isn’t getting cleaned on the reg unless you’re doing it yourself. Not sure how to clean yoga mats so they’ll actually be germs and stank free? No worries. Here’s everything you need to know about disinfecting and deep cleaning yours, according to pros.
First things first, your yoga mat is dirty. Sorry to break it to you, but it is. Just how dirty are yoga mats? Well, scientists aren’t exactly researching this, but your personal yoga mat, if you’re not cleaning it often, could contain up to four times more bacteria than a loaner at a studio, according to a report from ABC13 News in Houston, Texas, which tasked an environmental testing agency to investigate.
Now, more than ever, it’s super important to clean the surfaces you come in contact with regularly, and that includes your home gym equipment like workout and yoga mats. “The rule is, the sweatier or dirtier your mat gets, the more important it is to clean it after every practice,” says Lauren Porat, yoga instructor and founder of YogaSpark.
How To Clean Yoga Mats
It’s a two-step process to clean yoga mats properly. Each step serves its own purpose, so it’s important to not skip either of 'em.
To disinfect yoga mats
Killing germs, bacteria, and fungus—including the kind that causes athlete’s foot, plantar warts, and ringworm, which, FYI, could all be living on your yoga mat—is key to sanitizing its surface. At a studio, this is what the spray bottles and towels or antibacterial wipes are for.
At home, you can disinfect yoga mats with the same solution most studios use: Combine water with white vinegar and tea tree oil, both of which have antibacterial properties. You should use equal parts H2O and vinegar, plus a healthy dash of tea tree oil.
If you don’t feel comfortable DIY-ing your own cleaning concoction, you can buy a pre-made yoga mat cleaning spray online instead.
Make sure to clean both sides of your yoga mat, and let the solution set on it long enough for the mat to air dry (or for however long the maker of your spray suggests) before cleaning it.
How often you need to disinfect your yoga mat depends on how often you practice at home, but Craig Stiff, head of hardgoods for the yoga mat company Manduka, recommends disinfecting at least once a week if no one around you is sick. If you are going back to a studio, then you should disinfect your mat before and after each use.
To clean yoga mats
To really take care of sweat, dirt, and grime buildup, which happens over time, you'll want to wash your mat regularly. How often should you clean your yoga mat? That’s up to you, but Stiff suggests thinking about your mat the same way you do your sheets: "Some people wash their sheets multiple times a week and some wait, well, way too long," he says.
A good general rule of thumb is that you should clean your yoga mat after every other practice (or every practice if it gets super sweaty).
You can clean your yoga mat the same way you wash your hands—with water and dish soap. Porat recommends putting your mat in the bathtub or shower and giving it a good scrub and rinse. "Let it air dry and then roll it up," she says—she also suggests investing in a yoga towel to help keep your mat from getting so dirty/sweaty in the first place.
"I recommend finding a chair or other bar outside that you can throw it over to get maximum air flow, but if the weather is too cold, indoors will do—you just want to create maximum surface area," she adds. Also, avoid hanging your mat in the shower or over the bathtub (unless you won't be showering soon) since the humidity will hinder the drying process. Follow these simple tips and your mat will nama-stay (had to) ick free and ready for your asana practice.
Can I clean a yoga mat in a washing machine?
Good question! Technically, some brands, like Yellow Willow, for example, make yoga mats that are actually machine washable. Just know that while the thought of tossing your mat in the wash along with your yoga pants sounds tempting, you should be sure to read the instructions first and do exactly as described by the manufacturer (or else, your mat may come out in less-than-usable shape).
Common no-nos include turning on the spin or tumble cycle and adding harsh detergents—and definitely don't put it in the dryer.
Can I use Clorox wipes on my yoga mat?
If you can even find Clorox wipes for sale right now, consider yourself lucky! But you should save them for surfaces other than your yoga mat as they contain harsh chemicals and you can do the same type of disinfecting with less-abrasive options.
If you do opt to disinfect your yoga mat with Clorox wipes, Stiff says you should plan to clean it after you’ve waited long enough for their chemicals to kill germs. "In order for a disinfectant to be effective, the entire surface needs to be visibly wet for a certain period of time,” he says. (You should be able to find this info on the label of the disinfectant wipes you're using.) “After waiting the appropriate time, you absolutely must rinse your mat off and wipe it clean to remove as much of the product as possible.”
This way, you can get rid of the germs, but you leave less time for chemicals to sit and potentially break down or affect your mat—you also reduce the chance of them causing skin irritation next time you use it.
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