Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cleansing your mat- sans bathtub baptism!

I seem to be yoga mat cursed. I have gone through two (both eco-lulu; you can read why they punked out here) and am still trying to figure out the best eco-way to clean my yoga mat. I reviewed a few options "here", deciding that instead of buying something like "Josha" wipes that are obviously not sustainable or good for the environment (re: parabens, lots of packaging, our composting system won't really allow them to biodegrade- if they even really do- read the ingredients!) I'd just make my own.

Traditionally I used lemon juice and water- but as I soon discovered as I read up on natural rubber mats (which mine is), they are mostly what is known as "open celled" mats. This means that their cells are open and absorb stuff... like lemon juice and... well ... sweat. My mat acting as a sweat sponge really made me want to clean with something that might help with bacteria growth. Which led me to the "Abominable Fingers" episode which was very traumatic. I guess I'm allergic to tea tree oil.

The result of swollen fingers and rash-face (where I wiped the sweat during practice) was that I had to dump my mat in the bathtub and make sure ALL the tea tree oil was completely eradicated. I thought I would just revert back to my lemon juice attempts.... but no- my mat hates me.

I never truly considered why open-celled rubber mats would be more sticky than closed cell PVC or TPE (thermoplastic Elastomers- not really a fantastic eco-solution) until the bathtub cleansing dunk. Ever notice how your rubber mat needs to be "broken in" for a bit before it will really start to get sticky? My theory is it's the mat slowly adjusting to your sweat (of course, I am no rubber-mat sweat scientist). With open-celled mats, sweat that would normally be between your hands and feet causing slippery-ness is absorbed into the mat. Instant stick.

Unfortunately for me, this meant that when I dunked my mat to clean off the tea tree oil AND to wash off the oodles of sweat from my hot yoga experience my mat had no more sweat absorption ratio. It was filled with water (even though I squeezed, patted and twisted all I could out of it). This meant that for on average about a week after I washed my mat (and witnessed the stink of the water that was transformed into a muddy brown... my sweat is so pretty!) I could barely perform downward dog without falling on my face. On average- three yoga practices before I even started to feel like my mat was normal again.

So now I'm afraid to wash my mat. I will probably just continue to wipe it down with a cloth, some lemon juice and a TINY bit of water... but no more tub baptisms for my green Lotus Wear Mat. I know some people who put their mats in the washing machine, but I have to pay for my wash and besides, one load for one wash is wasteful. 

For another viewpoint on eco-mats check out Om Shanti's blog here. :)



  1. Add a few drops of natural vanilla extract to a spray bottle filled with vodka and shake well. After washing your mat with warm soapy water and waiting for it to dry, this will disinfect your mat and smells good. If you can, leave your mat out in the sunshine - another great way to kill bacteria and fungi...

  2. Hi! Hm, as I read your post I thought of using thyme - thyme is antibacterial and maybe if you wipe your mat with something like thin thyme tea this will work? By the way it smells good :o)
    Best wishes, Sandra

  3. Hi Anonymous; that sounds interesting! Unfortunately I can't leave my mat in sunshine (most natural eco-mats can't be left or they start to biodegrade...) :(

    @ Sandra: thyme eh? I am so going to look into that! thanks :)

  4. Have you looked into something like Yogitoes Mat Towel? I have one - I bought it off of Amazon. A thin cotton towel with "nubblies" on the back to prevent it from sliding around, that you place over your mat - you protect your mat, the towel absorbs the sweat, and the towel is very washable. Another advantage is it is more portable than a mat so if you travel you can bring it with and use it over a borrowed mat.

  5. I have a conventional sticky mat, so this may not apply to your eco one, but I have a little spray bottle that I fill with water, vinegar and some essential oils to cover the vinegar smell. I mist it over the mat, so there's not too much water, and then wipe it up with a towel.

    Not sure how vinegar would affect your natural mat, but it is good for killing bacteria.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi Kristin,
    I HAVE been looking into something similar- but more for when I do yoga outside this summer... as my rubber mat will begin to break down if exposed to the sun. I was thinking of a halfmoon "hot yoga" mat- made from jute i believe. But I have seen the sticky nubbies mat/towels and was interested as to how they feel. :)

    Hi Amber: I think water and vinegar may be fine- although I will look into how vinegar (and thyme) react with rubber to make sure :)

    Thanks so much for your suggestions! I will continue the journey!

  7. I just immerse mine in very shallow lukewarm water in the tub with some Dr. Bronner's soap, which is totally natural, and rinse it off, then let it dry overnight on my railing. Makes it sticky but not too sticky, and definitely smells clean!


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