A quick search online reveals a ton of tips on how best to care for your yoga mat. 8/10 of the sites I searched recommended soap or dish detergent. Right- I'm not really going to put some soapy chemicals on my mat when just Wednesday night I was massaging my third eye on it during Pigeon pose: I'm sure my third eye would love an extra boost of chemicals. Even the proposed "eco" options need a bit of critical thinking. So here are some recommendations that are out there and a few thoughts to keep in mind:
1. Wipe with Water: Yup- Jade yoga mats recommend that you clean your natural rubber mat with just plain old water. They caution that natural rubber mats are especially porous and will absorb and hold water (and soap!). It's an important point: first step determine what kind of mat you have- if it's natural rubber then keep in mind that it will soak up any chemical, essential oil or soap you might use to clean it (more on this point later- I should have read this on Tuesday). Manduka's site doesn't give any insight on how to clean your mat other than to buy their cleaning products... uck. See next:
2. Pre-made, "natural" cleaning products: This includes Jo-sha wipes. Treehugger has an article that recommends these as an "eco" option. They are tiny, individually wrapped, supposedly biodegradable wipes (assuming the Yogini/Yogi has access to a compost system that will accept them) that have a ton of essential oils. According to their ingredient list they also contain parabens and other sketchy chemicals. Ok- disposable wipes are not environmentally friendly and my mat doesn't need to be blasted with essential oils before every practice. Also- I am too cheap to be buying cutesy little wipes when a spray of water and a towel would do the same.
A LOT of studios sell pre-packaged cleaning solutions. Honestly I think it's an easy way to make some money. My mat does not need to be cleaned with certified organic ingredients manufactured and processed in a plant, shipped thousands of miles to the studio in a plastic bottle. I can make my own.
3. Tea Tree Oil: THIS is where my dermically-challenged hands come into play. A plethora of sites recommend using two or three drops of tea tree oil in an old water filled spray bottle to clean and de-bacteria-ize (lol must be the allergic reaction) your mat. I guess all that sweating and yoga can create bacterial and fungi growth. EWWWW. So- on Tuesday I did exactly that and even rinsed and toweled my mat afterwards. On Wednesday my fiancé and I went to an AWESOME power vinyasa flow class with Sarah Jane at Breathing Space and I sweat a LOT. It was fantastic (really the sweating is relevant).
Thursday I noticed that my eyelid was swollen and by that night I had itchy hives all around the back of my neck and wherever I would have wiped my hands during practice (my cheeks, forehead etc). ACK!! My fingers were itchy too. And VOILA! Magically producing my beautiful chubby fingers this morning, clinching the deal: I am allergic to tea tree oil.
Is this common you might ask?? Well after some searching on the internet, there are several reported incidents of people having derma irritation from topical contact with tea tree oil, although not the norm. So- in other words: I am in the small percentage of people who are sensitive. Great. Also- my mat is made from natural rubber and obviously if I would have read the jade yoga blurb prior to the cleaning I may have thought twice before putting something like tea tree oil on it. Sigh.
4. Lemon Juice and water:
I have not been able to find this on the internet, BUT it was suggested to me by a Lulu worker when I bought my first mat. For the past four years or so (until this silly allergic journey) I've been cleaning my mats (see here for the mat adventure) with lemon juice and water and it has worked out great. I will be returning to this procedure today. If you'd really like some anti-bacterial action without the soap, a few drops of tea tree oil WOULD help with that, just take my story into consideration.
-freshly squeezed half lemon into a bowl with water.
- place mat in the bathtub (or on the floor if you're feeling lazy).
- take a wash cloth and periodically dip into the lemon bowl
- rinse and towel dry.
I hang my mat to dry on my clothes rack (out of the sun).
I really hope my hands shrink by tonight- it's going to be awkward trying to do downward dog with my new monster hands!