Is Your Yoga Mat Keeping a Dirty Secret?

dirty yoga mat blog gecko yoga

Your yoga mat might be holding onto some dirty secrets. Around 12 million of them, actually.

If you don’t disinfect your yoga mat after every use, then your mat is probably very well cultured (and not in the good way). Read on to learn more about what germs, bacteria, or fungus might be living on your yoga mat, and how you can keep your mat clean.

What is Living On Your Yoga Mat? 

woman in child's pose on yoga mat

Before you sink into Child’s Pose or go lying belly down after a long plank series, consider this: you might not be the only one resting on your yoga mat. 

Our mats take quite the beating in our practice. Between their contact with the floor, our feet, our sweat, and the 40 thousand-ish skin cells we shed every single day, yoga mats are a ripe breeding ground for bacteria and other living microorganisms. And if you use a communal mat at your yoga studio or gym, then you’re most likely practicing alongside someone else’s uninvited guests. 

In an analysis performed by the ABC news team in Houston, Texas, a series of yoga mats were swabbed and tested in a lab for bacteria. They extracted samples from a yoga practioner’s mat, a yoga teacher’s mat, and mats from yoga studios and gyms. 

Among the mats, they found forms of Staphylococcus (a.k.a. Staph), yeast (which is fungal, not bacterial), and fecal-related bacteria. 

Video Courtesy of ABC 13 Houston, Texas

But Isn’t Bacteria Good For Immunity?

Our bodies are very efficient at fighting off pathogens naturally. As the Houston study showed, mats from the yoga studio had around 3 million counts of “normal environmental bacteria,” meaning the amount and types of bacteria found were considered safe for anyone with healthy immune functioning. 

However, the level of bacterial growth on dirty yoga mats can far exceed this normal range. The same study showed mats clocking in with a bacteria count of 12 million. And these bacteria are not all the “friendly” kind you find in your kombucha. Rather, they’re the kind that can lead to bacterial or fungal infection.

Your Yoga Mat Might be a Fomite.

A Fo-What?

According to Dr. Robert Lahita, microbiologist and professor of medicine at Rutgers School of Medicine, yoga mats are fomites. Fomites are objects that are likely to carry or transfer infection. 

In an interview with Elle Magazine, Dr. Lahita stated that:

"Many yoga mats are pocked with little holes and these organisms like to live in that, especially if you're sweating and you're providing a very nice environment of warm saline, which comes from your skin."

The risk of contracting bacterial infections like Staph, or fungal infections like Athlete’s Foot or Ringworm, is even higher when you step on a shared mat. Dr. Greg E. Cohen, a Long Island based podiatrist, reported to the New York Times seeing a 50% spike in cases of Athlete’s Foot and Plantar’s warts from patients who practice on shared yoga mats.  

So Should You Avoid Renting Yoga Mats At a Yoga Studio?

yoga class at yoga studio

In general, it’s best to invest in your own yoga mat if you practice regularly. Additionally, if you are immunocompromised, you should always use your own mat.

However if you do find yourself heading to a yoga class without a mat, ask the studio what their sanitary practices are. 

Be mindful that not all studios have the same cleanliness standards. While some studios may disinfect mats between every use, others may only clean them once a day, or once a week. Gyms are especially notorious for rarely cleaning their shared equipment, if they even clean the yoga mats at all. If you’re worried that this might be the case, disinfect your rented mat before using it.

But if you only practice on your own mat, that doesn’t automatically make it clean either. As was the case in the Houston study, sometimes our personal mats are even dirtier than those found in a yoga studio. To prevent your mat from becoming a host to a variety of unwanted microorganisms, clean your mat regularly.

How to Clean Your Yoga Mat 

cleaning yoga mat

We recommend cleaning your yoga mat after each use. To clean your mat, spray down the top with a powerful all-natural yoga mat cleaner, wipe clean with a reusable cloth, and lay flat to dry. 

Since cork yoga mats are naturally antimicrobial, we recommend a gentle but effective solution of water and organic tea tree oil. You can find the instructions to make this at home and more in our complete guide to cleaning your cork yoga mat.

However, if you are using a porous, plastic mat that easily traps bacteria, or you’re a yoga studio owner, you may want to use something stronger. To increase the disinfecting power, add distilled white vinegar to your water-essential oil mixture. Make sure that the essential oil you’re using has antibiotic properties (such as tea tree, eucalyptus, or lemon) as this will kill off and inhibit the growth of bacteria. 

If you suspect your mat is really dirty, then give it a scrub with dish soap (preferably all-natural) and water. 

Remember, bacteria loves moisture, so it’s important that the mat dries completely before rolling it back up. 

The Spiritual Importance of Keeping a Clean Yoga Mat 

Maintaining a clean yoga mat is equally important for physical and spiritual side of your practice.

Nearly all spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of cleanliness. In the yogic tradition, we call it Saucha, or the virtue of purity. 

Our yoga mats are a place we go to connect with body, mind, and spirit. It is a sacred space, and it should be regarded as such. Incorporate cleaning your mat into the closing ritual at the end of your practice. 

Stay Clean With A Cork Yoga Mat: Naturally Antibacterial, Antimicrobial, and Hypoallergenic.

gecko cork yoga bundle

No matter how frequently you clean your mat, if it’s made from plastic or rubber, it will always attract bacteria. 

Cork yoga mats are the cleanest yoga mats available because they do not provide an environment for bacteria and other microorganisms to grow. Amongst its many amazing properties, cork is naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial, and hypoallergenic. This means that the surface of a cork yoga mat is an inhibitor to bacteria, germ, or fungal growth.

To shop our cork yoga mats & blocks, click here. 🦎