When you are doing a downward dog after recommitting your life to fitness, the last thing you want to smell is chemicals off-gassing from your yoga mat, right? What’s the point of exercising and detoxing when you just inhale hormone-disrupting chemicals back into your body? Don’t worry, Mamavation can help sift through yoga mats! You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst non-toxic small kitchen appliances, best & worst makeup, & best & worst probiotics, now join us as we bring you the best non-toxic yoga mats on the market that are good for you and the environment.
Conventional Yoga Mats Contain Toxic Chemicals That Can Be Problematic of to the Environment & Us
When you pick up a yoga mat, I betcha you didn’t think that it would come with s side of endocrine disruption, but that’s exactly what is happening. Most of the yoga mats produced are created with materials that have the ability to off-gas, disrupt hormones, or are problematic to the environment.
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
- PER (Polymer Environmental Resin)
- PU (Polyurethane)
- NBR Foam (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Rubber)
- TPE (thermoplastic elastomer)
PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) Yoga Mats
Most yoga mats you will find are made of polyvinyl chloride or “vinyl” which are #3 plastic resin code. It’s incredibly toxic to humans and the environment. But when it comes to practicing yoga, exposure comes through inhalation and skin contact.
Vinyl is carcinogenic when inhaled, but it’s also incredibly toxic to the environment when it’s manufactured because it produces dioxins as a byproduct. Dioxins are classified as a human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed as priority pollutants. They are also persistent in the environment and do not break down easily and they bioaccumulate in our bodies inside fat deposits.
Plasticizers are also added to PVC to make it soft and flexible for a yoga mat. Phthalates are an endocrine-disrupting chemical with the ability to disrupt hormones. One of the effects phthalates are linked to is weight gain, which is the opposite of what most people want when they are practicing yoga. Phthalates are also linked to birth defects, infertility, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in infants and cancer.
PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) Yoga Mats
PER is produced from PVC and other materials, however, the extra processing steps make it cleaner than PVC and less toxic to humans.
To create PER, you first make PVC powder, then add a potentially toxic filling agent, light stabilizer and fireproof agent. Once combined, it turns into a cream-like finished product, put into a mold with a hydraulic press and then it’s baked at 170°C to become a usable polymer.
PER has less harmful emissions than PVC and is recyclable. The carcinogenic effects of PER are also minimized because it doesn’t require phthalates to give it a soft and rubbery texture.
This is not a best solution, but a better one from an environmental perspective.
PU (Polyurethane) Foam Yoga Mats
The last ‘chemical’ used for yoga mats is PU or polyurethane. It is considered “non-toxic” by the Feds, but that doesn’t mean the science demonstrates that. In fact, the science behind polyurethane says it offgasses over time, but can’t be recycled and is not biodegradable.
Polyurethane is created when methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI) react with polyols. TDI is suspected to be carcinogenic, is classified as very toxic, and is a known respiratory and skin irritant.
But the biggest problem with polyurethane foam is its high flammability, and because of this fire retardants are typically added. Fire retardants are horribly toxic, so if they used in your yoga mat, you will be exposed to them over time.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer)
Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) is popular because it’s anti-microbial and easy to clean. But it’s controversial because it’s a mixture of rubber and plastic. However, TPE is free of bisphenols like BPA or BPS, phthalates, lead, PVC (vinyl), etc.
Thermoplastic elastomers generally soften and melt at elevated temperatures and lose their rubbery behavior over time meaning they have “poor chemical and heat resistance.” Although this material is better than vinyl, it’s not the best material you can use because over time it will break down. Therefore, it wouldn’t be advisable to ever leave out in the sun or bring to a yoga class that has high temperatures.
They are also not easily biodegradable. We don’t recommend this material as best, but because it doesn’t off-gas, it’s better.
NBR Foam or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Rubber & Recycled Tree Rubber
NBR foam is a synthetic rubber copolymer of acrylonitrile (ACN) and butadiene. They are also referred to as Perbunan, Nipol, Krynac, Neoprene and Europrene.
Concerns with synthetic rubber are that it may contain PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and heavy metals, which are incredibly toxic.
When it’s natural recycled rubber, it’s held together with an unknown synthetic chemical that is a low-VOC binder.
This selection is a better option, but not best, however, we love natural rubber without synthetics.
Safe Materials for Yoga Mats
Cork Yoga Mats
Cork is a natural, eco-friendly material that is very popular and easy to find. Its naturally antimicrobial so synthetic chemicals are not needed to treat the surface of the yoga mat. This also means it won’t get moldy or smelly, even if you sweat a great deal. It’s also naturally slip-proof and very durable, so it can be used for hot yoga as well.
Advantages of Cork
- Excellent grip & slip-free
- Naturally repels static
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Can be used in hot yoga
Disadvantages of Cork
- Weighs more than other mats
- Not very much cushion, so not comfortable for some people
- Typically expensive
Natural Rubber or Recycled Virgin Rubber Yoga Mat
This is natural rubber, not synthetic rubber that we were talking about above. This rubber is collected from rubber trees, which are renewable and eco-friendly. This rubber is naturally soft and has lots of other advantages.
Advantages of Natural Rubber
- Eco-friendly & renewable
- Very good cushioning so comfortable
- Easy to clean
- Great grip & slip-free
Disadvantages of Natural Rubber
- Allergy warning: not suitable for people with latex allergy.
- Heavy materials
- Must take extra time to dry when it gets wet
- Typically expensive
Jute Yoga Mats
Jute is a rough fiber that is used in a wide range of textiles including hessian sacks, floor covering & rope. Jute comes from the plants Corchorus olitorius and Corchorus capsularis found in India. It’s very coarse and rough, so sometimes brands combine it with PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) to give it cushioning and grip. This is not always the case though, sometimes it’s just Jute. Jute also has a very hip & rustic look.
Advantages of Jute
- Naturally anti-microbial
- Naturally anti-static
- Free from allergens like Latex
- Strong fibers
- When combined with PER it has a great grip
Disadvantages of Jute
- Can be scratchy and rough if not combined with PER (or similar)
- Not easy to clean
Mamavation’s Investigation of Yoga Mags
Mamavation took a look at the most popular yoga mats and some that were very popular on Amazon. We divided the quality of materials used into three separate categories: bad, better, & best.
These brands of yoga mats are made of PVC, polyurethane, unknown materials, or other materials that are not recyclable or off-gas toxic chemicals.
- BalanceFrom GoYoga Yoga mat
- Bodie Yogi Non-Slip Yoga Mat
- Gaiam Essentials Thick Yoga mat
- IGUA Pro Non-Slip Yoga Mat
- lululemon Reversible Mat
- Plyopic All In One Microsuede Yoga Mat
- Sivan Extra Thick Yoga Mat
- Spoga Extra Thick Yoga Mat
- TOPLUS Yoga Mat
Brands considered better will have low VOC exposure but may contain materials that do not break down in the environment and will need to be recycled, if possible. We allowed TPE, NBR, PER and some combos here.
- Affirmats Yoga Mats
- Anja Natural Jute Yoga Mat
- arteesol Non-Slip TPE Yoga Mat
- DAWAY Eco-Friendly TPE Yoga Mat
- DragonFly TPE Yoga Mat
- Eden Amore TPE Yoga Mat
- Ewedo0s Eco-Friendly TPE Yoga Mat
- Gaiam Performance Jute Yoga Mat with PER
- Healthyoga Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat with PER
- Maty Mats Non-Slip TPE Yoga Mat
- Node Fitness TPE Yoga Mat
- PrAna Eco Yoga Mat
- REHUT Extra Thick NBR Yoga Mat
- ThinkSport Yoga Mat
- Trinity Hemp Yoga Mats with PER
- TXK Non-Slip Yoga Mat
- Yoloha Cork Yoga Mat
These brands have materials that are natural and compostable and do not off-gas hormone-disrupting chemicals. Each yoga mat will eventually degrade and return to the earth, so they will not be a problem when you eventually throw them away.
- ARC Fitness Cork Yoga Mat
- Aurorae Classic Extra Thick Eco Yoga Mat
- Barefoot Yoga Original Eco Yoga Mat
- Earth Goods Eco Cork Mat
- Hugger Mugger Sattva Jute Mat
- Jade Harmony Yoga Mat
- Manduka eKO Light Mat
- Natural Jute Yoga Mat
- Repose Eco-Friendly Cork Yoga Mat
- Scoria Cork Yoga Mats
- Yogasana Cotton/Rubber Yoga Mat