Choosing a yoga mat can be very challenging. There is a whole lot of different materials in the Yoga Mat market. It’s not easy to know which mat is good or not for your practice. Sometimes, you can be led mainly by the price without realising how bad a Yoga Mat can be for your health or the environment.
The right material for your Yoga Mat needs to be comfortable for you to be on, keep you warm from the cold floor and have a good grip. If you are planning to practice in the park you’d want a yoga mat that is more durable and is easy to wash.
For your yoga practice, you will enjoy more a non-slippery mat. However, it’s not all about our yoga practice. Yoga also cares for the environment and encourages living in a more natural way. For this reason, choosing a yoga mat that is less polluting is a duty to ourselves and our children. Some yoga mats have a manufacturing process that is quite polluting. Choosing a yoga mat that is eco- friendly in the long run is better for our planet and us all.
When you buy a yoga mat, check out the material it is made of. The label will give you a clue to know whether the material is biodegradable, recyclable or environmentally friendly. Most of the synthetic yoga mats have a big carbon footprint and will take a long time to degrade. Some yoga mat materials tend to have detrimental effects on our health in the long term.
I will explain the different materials a yoga mat is made of and explain which materials are best for the environment.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Yoga Mat Material
PVC is one of the first plastics ever manufactured and it’s one of the most common in everyday use. You probably use them every day, products made of PVC are shower curtains, sewage pipes, cables, vinyl records, yoga mats among many others. These polymers can take hundreds of years to degrade and in the process, they release toxic chemicals.
PVC manufacturing requires the use of Organochlorides and a lot of electricity. In fact, it uses about 1 per cent of the world’s total electricity output. Organochlorides are reactive compounds in the environment. They create toxic by-products hazardous for animals and plants such as dioxins, furans, phthalates, plasticizers and lead. Organochloride compounds accumulate in fatty tissues reaching all levels of the food chain. These chemicals also have the capacity to concentrate in breast milk and to cross the placental barrier.
PVC is a very toxic plastic for our health and for the environment. PVC has been considered to cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine system, impair the foetus development, and suppress the immune system.
A PVC yoga mat has some pros in comparison to other yoga mats. It is cheap. easy to wash, resists the growth of bacteria, has a good grip and cushioning and has a long life. But, its cons out weight any of the benefits. It has a strong plastic smell that doesn’t go away easily. At the moment PVC mats cannot be recycled. They end in landfills where they react with other chemicals and produce dioxins and chlorine compounds that are very toxic.
- Good grip
- Easy to wash
- Resists the growth of bacteria.
- Have a long life
- Strong plastic smell.
- Non-recyclable at this moment
- Reacts with other compounds to create toxic chemicals that damage the health of animals, plants and humans.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomers) Yoga Mat Material
This means it’s made of polymers, a type of plastic with thermic and elastic properties.
TPE materials can be easily moulded, extruded and reused. However, they are not recyclable.
TPE doesn’t require reinforcing agents, stabilizers or even cure systems making it less reactive and polluting than PVC. So a better alternative to PVC.
- Provides good insulation from the cold floor.
- It’s easy to fold and transport.
- Resist the growth of bacteria.
- Have a long life if looked after
- Recyclable in some areas
- Slow degradation in landfill but it doesn’t cause hazardous byproducts.
- Overall, a bit better than PVC but has a big carbon footprint for being produced with fossil fuels.
NBR(Nitrile Butadiene Rubber) Yoga Mat Material
NBR it’s a synthetic rubber commonly used in the automotive and aeronautical industry. It has become popular among yoga mats as it provides good insulation and cushioning.
NBR manufacturing isn’t environmentally friendly. In fact, it’s manufacturing is limited in Europe, USA and Canada due to the toxic substances used to produce it, such as Butadiene.
NBR can degrade in if it has some additives added to accelerate the process.
- Available in various thickness
- Oil and water resistance
- Provides good insulation
- Easy to fold and transport
- Resist the growth of bacteria
- Have a long life if looked after
- Non-recyclable. Slow degradation in a landfill.
EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) Yoga Mat Material
EVA is made from blended copolymers of ethylene and vinyl acetate. It is commonly found in shoe soles, toys, foam tiles, sports helmets, among many others.
- Very light
- Has thermal properties
- A good insulator
- Considered non-toxic
- Wipe clean
- Non-reactive to fats and oils.
- Has a plastic smell from new that disappears after a while
- The material will compact slightly with use
- EVA material can degrade in the environment if it contains additives to accelerate the process
- The recycling of EVA material is extremely low and very localized
- It usually ends up in landfills
JUTE Yoga Mat Material
Jute is a natural fibre from a plant form the Corchorus genus. It’s second to cotton in the amount produced and variety of uses. Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizer or pesticide, in contrast to cotton’s heavy requirements. Production is concentrated mostly in Bangladesh, as well as India’s states of Assam, Bihar, and West Bengal.
This yoga mat has one side of Jute and another of PVC or PER. PER stands for Polymer Environmental Friendly Resin.
PER is friendlier than PVC and less damaging to the environment compared to PVC.
PER is essentially PVC which has been plasticized and stabilized with acetyl tributyl citrate, instead of phthalate-based plasticizers (DEHP) whose endocrine-disrupting properties give PVC its bad reputation.
- Half of it is recyclable (the Jute part)
- The natural fibres can be a bit coarse to the skin.
- PER is not recyclable.
- It degrades in a landfill.
Cork/PU/Natural Rubber Yoga Mat Material Material
Cork is a natural material made from the cortex of the oak tree. It is a renewable resource that doesn’t damage the trees during its harvesting. Cork yoga mats tend to have one side made of cork and the other from different material to make them non-slippery on the floor surface.
I would suggest you buy a cork yoga mat combined with natural rubber. This mat is one of the most environmentally friendly as natural rubber is also biodegradable.
- Bacterial growth resistant
- Environmentally friendly
- Fire retardant
- A good insulator
- Has a good grip
- A bit more expensive than synthetic mats.
Natural Rubber Yoga Mat Material
Natural rubber is also known as latex or caucho. Natural rubber is made from the sap of rubber trees found in South America (Brazil) and South Asia (Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Indonesia).
It is harvest from trees by making incisions in the bark and collecting the milky fluid. This rubber can be made into all different items. It’s one of the best options for a yoga mat.
- From sustainable sources
- Can cause allergies
Cotton Yoga Mat Material
The production of cotton has a high environmental impact due to the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and the use of huge amounts of water.
Some cotton crops are genetically modified. These crops require herbicide glyphosate, which poses risks to our health and the environment.
As an alternative, we can choose organic cotton. The production of organic cotton does not use pesticides, chemical fertilizers and relies on rainfall.
- Organically produced
- Brings income to small producers
- Will last a lifetime
- Has great grip
- Absorbance of sweat
- Great for all types of yoga, including Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Power yoga.
- Can be a little bit coarse to the skin and less cushioning.
Wool Yoga Mat Material
Wool is a sustainable resource that does not harm sheep in the process. If the wool is organic it benefits the small producers and has a low impact on the environment.
I would recommend it for calmer types of yoga such as Yin yoga, Kundalini yoga, Mantra yoga, Meditation and Relaxation.
- Will last a lifetime
- Helps local communities
- Can be a little coarse to the skin
Apart from the core material, one thing to be aware of is the manufacturing process. For example, natural latex itself may not be harmful or cause allergies. But the chemicals that turn a blob of latex into a yoga mat may be toxic or allergenic.
If you walk or jog to your yoga class a lightweight yoga mat material like a thin cork mat will be more suitable. Whereas if you are driving or practising at home the weight is not an issue, so yoga mats made of rubber are a good option.
With a wide range of yoga mats materials available, you can take your pick. Here’s a full guide on how to pick the right yoga mat for beginners. The common materials for yoga mats are PVC, TPE, NBR, EVA, Cork and Natural Latex. They tend to be more comfortable for the skin, while fabric yoga mats like Cotton, Jute and Wool can be a bit more coarse.
One thing to keep in mind is that PVC, TPE, NBR, EVA and Natural Latex yoga mats are made of one type of material. Whereas yoga mats made of Jute or Cork sometimes are made of 2 different materials – one for each side. The top part is made of natural material and the bottom part is made of synthetic material. This provides more gripping and insulation. Pure Jute and pure cork tend to be more expensive.
Some yoga mats are recyclable or are made from recycled materials. If you worry about the environment like me, you may want a yoga mat that is made of a natural and non-toxic material.
There is a wide range of yoga mat materials available. You can take your pick to suit your preferences and values. Choosing an eco-friendly mat will also benefit your health.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are yoga mats made of?
There is a handful of materials, overall yoga mats can be made of synthetic polymers, natural materials either fabrics or natural rubber and a combination of both.
What is a yoga block?
A yoga block is a prop that helps us during yoga practice to achieve a position with more ease. A yoga block helps us get into the correct alignment and develop into a posture.
What is the best thickness for a yoga mat?
The thickness of your yoga mat will depend on two things the type of flooring where you will be performing yoga and the type of yoga you are doing.
What makes a good yoga mat?
A good yoga mat will ideally have the right size for your body, be comfortable, cushioned, have a good grip, and be environmentally friendly.