This article was originally published in Martha Stewart Magazine.
From the sweat and oils of your skin to the floors and other surfaces your yoga mat comes into contact with, the rectangular piece of fabric sees a lot of action. That’s exactly why keeping your yoga mat clean an important part of your workout regime. We spoke with two yoga professionals to get the dos (and don’ts) associated with cleaning your yoga mat.
Your yoga mat can be a breeding ground for germs, according to Ingrid Yang, M.D., C-IAYT, physician, and yoga therapist at Saffron and Sage, a holistic healthcare center. “Before we even had a pandemic, I would always hand my students an alcohol wipe to clean off their own mats prior to and after class to ensure they would not transmit or acquire any infectious material (viruses or bacteria) from the communal mats,” she says. “Now, with the arrival of COVID-19, these precautions are more important than ever.”
Why Cleaning Works
According to Yang, it’s important to clean your yoga mat thoroughly. She suggests taking a sponge and body soap to your mat post-workout, ensuring that the soap has plenty of suds. “Soap is an ‘amphiphile.’ One end of the molecule is attracted to water and repelled by fats and proteins, and the other side is attracted to fats and repelled by water,” she explains, adding that it’s this dual-nature chemical construction that makes soap so effective. “Basically, what happens is that the soap is attracted to the grease/oils on your mat, via its fat-loving side and pulls the oils into the water via its water-loving side.”
Because viruses are like “nano-sized grease balls,” soap is especially effective at burrowing into the virus’s fat and protein shell, breaking it apart. “The chemical bonds holding the virus together are not strong, so this intrusion is enough to break the viral coat, rendering it harmless,” she says. “So, when you wash anything with soap and water (be it your mat, your clothes, or your hands), you are pulling the virus apart, dissolving it in water, and disintegrating it.” The shards of the virus, which are now innocuous, are flushed down the drain.
How to Clean a Yoga Mat
Because of how effective soap and water are at dealing with viruses, Yang says the best way to get your yoga mat clean is to bring it in the shower with you. You can use soap or even body wash, as long as you work up a thorough lather on the mat before rinsing it completely. “Then I hang it up [to] dry over the shower curtain rod or outside on a chair or bench.” Sunlight is the best way to dry it though, since UV rays also kill bacteria and viruses, so try and make sure you’re laying it out in a sunny spot. Just make sure your mat dries completely, says Julie Quinn, yoga teacher at Fit Athletic Club and owner of Quinntessentials organic essential oil products. “Closed cell technology mats need to dry thoroughly since they absorb moisture,” she says. Mats made from jade and natural tree rubber are both considered closed cell.
A Quick Fix
If you’re in a pinch, and can’t thoroughly wash your mat after each use, Yang says you can get away with using an alcohol wipe. Just make sure the wipe is bleach free, since it can be caustic to both your mat and your skin. “After you have wiped it down with an alcohol wipe, I recommend cleaning it off again with a wet paper towel to ensure you take off any chemical additives (scents etc.) that may have been included in the alcohol wipe.”