I got the sneaking suspicion that my yoga mat wasn’t as clean as I wanted it to be as I watched my husband walk across it in his work boots. I quickly wiped it down, but I found myself antsy in child’s pose the next time I used it – I couldn’t stop thinking about how many germs were on my mat, and how realistically, I don’t clean it as often I should. I wipe it down before and after class, but I’m sure there’s more I could be doing.
The germaphobe in me was disgusted and suddenly paranoid about how many millions of germs were on my mat and what they could do to my skin and immune system. I did a little research and decided to give my mat some much-needed TLC. I spoke to Dr. Papri Sarkar, a Board Certified Dermatologist and President of the New England Dermatologist Society to get a better picture of what could be lurking on my mat.
“Mats are something that we call fomites, and fomites are essentially a vehicle that can transfer infection or hold something that can transfer infection. Anything really can be a fomite; yoga mats happen to be good ones,” Dr. Sarkar told me.
Humid yoga studios and dirty mats can be the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of nasty things – impetigo, fungus, rashes, warts, and even the herpes virus. If you’re already feeling sick or run-down, have open skin or ailments like diabetes or eczema, you could be at a higher risk.
Thoroughly terrified, I decided to start with a deep clean. I’d read Jolie Kerr’s “Ask a Clean Person” column about how to clean a yoga mat a few years ago, but I’ll be honest, I threw out my old mat and just bought a new one. Oops!
I filled the bathtub with cold water, added a little bit of laundry detergent and let my mat soak for 20 minutes. Kerr promised that the water would get pretty disgusting, but it wasn’t as dramatic as I wanted. Since I had fully committed, I started scrubbing with dish soap and an old dish brush – this was when things started getting good, the water got murkier, and I could tell my mat was visibly brighter. (Am I the only person who finds this very satisfying?)
It turns out, I should have listened to Kerr and used a little less soap. It took me at least 20 minutes of rinsing and wringing out the mat until I was convinced that it wasn’t still soapy. I got out as much excess water as I could, and hung the mat on the shower rod to dry. It probably took about 24 hours, but once it was dry, my mat looked and smelled significantly cleaner. Success! I wouldn’t do this every weekend, but maybe every few months. For a less involved method, Kerr says you could also try washing your mat on the delicate cycle.
In between washes I’m using Species by the Thousands’ Yoga High Mat Spray. (Shout out to my sister for a timely and useful Christmas gift!) You can also make your own with vinegar and essential oils. Certain essential oils are purported to be naturally antibacterial, including cinnamon, thyme, tea tree, oregano, grapefruit, and eucalyptus. Dr. Sarkar suggested finding a combination that you know works for your skin so you can avoid any additional irritation.
Once you know your yoga mat is squeaky clean, here are a few of Dr. Sarkar’s suggestions for keeping it that way and keeping your skin germ-free:
- Use your own mat whenever possible
- Wipe down the mat before and after use, especially if you’re not using your own
- Use a towel as a barrier
- Rinse or wash any exposed body parts as soon as you can (makeup remover wipes can get the job done in a pinch!)
- Bring a change of clothes
If you do notice rashes or other skin irritations, make an appointment with a dermatologist sooner rather than later. While Dr. Sarkar wants people to be aware of the risks associated with dirty mats, she doesn’t want to scare them.
“I think that if there’s an option of you getting to squeeze in a yoga class and not getting to squeeze in a yoga class because you don’t have your own mat, I still think it’s fine for you to go and use their mats—as long as you just clean it.”
So whichever method you choose, give your mat a little TLC – your skin will thank you!