Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Finding a Yoga Mat is not difficult anymore. The challenge lies in finding a great Yoga Mat that supports you during the practice, lasts a long time and does not pollute the planet in the end of its life span. With the worldwide continuing trend of Yoga, the market is flooded with unfortunate products. (See here our post about Yoga clothing).
We won’t lie to you; the majority of Yoga Mats are made of PVC. It is mainly because PVC is widely available, cheap and efficient in production. PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride (which you also spot with the recycling number ♲3). Other materials used for Yoga Mats include Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU or TPE), Cotton, Cork, Jute, Natural tree rubber and more.
After that has been said lets jump into the material details so you can build your own opinion and benefit.
Let us start with the worst and slowly work our way to the best.
While it is the most used material for Yoga Mats it is also the most concerning. Like other plastics it depends heavily on petroleum and therefore leads to big environmental issues. There are some great developments ongoing to source the material from plants (sugarcane, soy and corn) but with PVC, however, procurement is not the main problem. The real drawback in production are the plasticizer (more on Wikipedia) and the chlorine (facts here). While plasticizer is used to make PVC more flexible and bendy (like your Yoga Mat) chlorine is one of the main building blocks of PVC. These are the two main concerns with PVC. In the production there are several toxic by-products which form mainly because of chlorine’s highly reactive and oxidative nature. The greatest exposure risks are to workers in the facilities, to nearby communities which are exposed to toxics in the air and through accidents during transport. But it doesn’t stop there, while using your Yoga Mat you are also exposed to a certain amount and time. The higher the temperature and abrasion the higher the risk. Because of environmental laws, restrictions and the study of plasticizer and chlorine the PVC industry has made some good progress. We advise to see that your Yoga Mat follows the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard to ensure a minimal exposure of concerning materials.
The PVC Yoga Mats also have some benefits they are suitable for Latex allergic people, lightwight (about 50% of Natural Rubber) and sometimes machine washable for cleaning. Further they are more affordable and therefore available for a greater range of people. Most important, make sure you recycle your PVC Yoga Mat properly when it comes to end of life.
TPU / TPE
It is widely used in all different kind of applications from car parts and tires to construction over shoes and textiles until your beloved Yoga Mat. Like PVC it also derives from Petrochemicals. Today we already have some TPU’s which are biodegradable (check with your manufacturer) but all of them are good for recycling and can be repurposed. However, there are also falsely advertised TPU materials they are usually a mixture of TPU and PVC and do not benefit from the recycling and reusability advantages. There are certain TPU rubbers which are non-toxic to humans (depending on manufacturing process and material) and are even certified for medical and food uses. You should always double check with your manufacturer and see for a safety standard (Oeko-Tex 100). There are three different Polyurethanes; 1. Toluene Diisocyante (TDI), 2. Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate (MDI) 3. Paraphenylene Diisocyanate (PPDI). Depending on the process they fall into eight major groups. This is why we decided to stop our research there because it goes beyond our knowledge and we cannot give you a precise answer as to whether it is toxic or not.
Natural Tree Rubber
As you already read in the name it is a natural occurring material farmed from few different trees. It is harvested mainly from Hevea Brasiliensis but as well from Landolphia Owariensis (Congo rubber) and even Dandelion by collecting the sticky milky liquid. It contains no toxic chemicals nor petroleum components and it’s the safest material if you do not have a latex allergy. Like TPU Natural Tree Rubber can easily be recycled and repurposed, the trees also bind carbon making its sustainability even better because of continuing plantation. It is also easy to clean and very resistant which brings another advantage of a long lasting product. Still, nothing is perfect, Natural Tree Rubber is a labour intensive product and needs manual harvesting (by hand) and therefore it sometimes leads to violation of workers rights and few countries have land cleared for production which is certainly not good.
Is a natural resource farmed from the bark of the Cork Oak (Quercus Suber) which is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. Cork has an impermeable, buoyant, elastic and fire retardant property, it is used in a wide range of products but famously known for the wine stopper. About half of the global production comes from the “montado” Landscape of Portugal. To harvest Cork there is no need to cut trees making it very sustainable, in fact one of the oldest cork trees in Portugal are growing since 1783 and still giving good harvests making it 237 years old while writing this post. Cork on your Yoga Mat brings you the benefit of: Non-slip, moisture resistance, hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and chemical-free properties. In summary a “everything you want” option while being sustainable. As natural resource it can biodegrade naturally or even be recycled and used again! The last benefit I would like to mention is that Cork can have a Co2 negative footprint because of the treebark binding Co2 from the air making it the ultimate ready to buy.
Has great sustainability properties as it grows fast (4-6 months) and this with only natural rainfall, no additional water is needed. Like Cork it absorbs carbon during its growth, and it helps maintain a healthy and fertile soil making it a excellent crop for tricky growing conditions. Jute is often used as a liner for your natural tree rubber Yoga Mat. It is 100% biodegradable or recyclable.
For sure we could not cover every material being used to make Yoga Mats.
There are some traditional Cotton “carpet” Yoga Mats, you can find more information about Cotton here.
After researching all these materials I came to the conclusion that natural resources often have more benefits in practicality like non-slip or antimicrobial and longevity but cannot compete with the “cheap” synthetic fabrication process. On the other hand, the “cheap” Yoga Mats often need to be replaced more often and ultimately making it more expensive when regularly used.
My personal experience
At first I was not regularly practicing Yoga and therefore I bought the first Yoga Mat that came into my hand and wouldn’t make a hole in my wallet. After irregular use and disappointment because of sweaty feet and slipping on the Yoga Mat, I terminated my practice for about one year. After that time, I had the chance to make ONE single class with a Cork Yoga Mat and I was stunned. The feel is completely different, even if you are in a modern gym your practice feels more natural because of the Cork. You can sweat as much as you want and you will not lose your grip. A dream came true. After this class I went straight researched everything about Cork Yoga Mats and where I can get one (LINK HERE) Since then I have used my Cork and Natural Tree Rubber Yoga Mat for over four years on a weekly basis (1-2 practice in average) and except for the light stains because of dirty hands and feet (outside practice) there is no sign of wearing out at all.
Therefore I highly recommend you to buy the “right” Yoga m Mat for your regular practice.
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Natural Tree Rubber