One of the fundamental tools of any yoga practice is your yoga mat. But, if your yoga mat is as old as your practice is, it might be time to replace it.
Maybe you already suspect that it's time for a new mat, but you still want to squeeze a few more yoga classes out of it. That's completely understandable; after all, quality yoga mats don't always come cheap. However, it's essential to remember that a yoga mat that's too old and worn out can be more than just an eyesore; it can affect how you practice and even your health. With that said, below are seven clear signs it's time to invest in a new yoga mat.
The Yoga Mat Begins to Shed or Pill
The clearest, most obvious sign that your yoga mat needs to be replaced is if it's beginning to pill or shed. When you roll your yoga mat up after class, the floor underneath it should be clean. If there are little pieces of the mat present, it's time to get a new one.
A mat that's so old it starts to shed is not only going to affect your practice; it's going to leave a messy floor for the yoga studio staff to clean up, which is just not very considerate. Even if you are at home, the space where you practice yoga should be respected and kept clean.
Take a closer look at your yoga mat so and then and make sure the surface is intact, and there aren't little "pills" forming. Start looking for a new one as soon as it shows signs of falling apart.
There's Uneven Padding
The padding on a yoga mat should have a uniform thickness to provide even support regardless of what pose you're in. As a mat is used over time, the padding will begin to thin out in certain spots. These spots can vary depending on your body and what poses you do the most.
It's common for the corners of the mat, where your hands and feet would typically be for downward dog, to wear out the quickest because they tend to get the most use. If the padding is really worn away, you might even notice hand and toe prints in these spots—a sure sign that you're ready for a new yoga mat.
Picture trying to do yoga on a sandy beach, and how much more difficult it would be to find stability than on a smooth, hard surface. Practicing on a mat with an uneven surface is the same thing, and poses, especially balance poses, will be more difficult than they need to be.
Look at your mat from a few different angles, especially from the side. If the surface is pretty smooth and even, great. If not, it might be time to start looking for a replacement.
It Has Poor Traction
Yoga mats come with a variety of "stickiness," and not all yoga styles need the same amount of traction.
Mats designed for hot yoga, for example, provide more traction to counter the sweat that will accumulate during the practice, but other yoga styles don't necessarily need as much.
That being said, it's good to have a little bit of traction regardless of what style you practice, so you're not working harder than you need to in order to stay upright in certain poses.
Once a mat is so old that it loses traction and you start slipping during poses, it's time to replace it. Not only can a slippery mat make your practice unnecessarily challenging, but it can also cause a falling hazard.
If you've noticed that you've recently had to start gripping the mat a lot more in poses like downward dog or triangle pose to maintain your shape, your mat might be to blame.
Bald Spots Are Forming
In addition to losing cushioning in certain parts, old mats can contain visible "bald spots" where the surface's texture has rubbed away over time.
This can cause the same problems mentioned in the previous two sections, of slippage and balance issues, but because the bald spots are visible, they're easier to spot than the other two signs. Make sure to look over your mat from time to time to ensure the surface texture isn't wearing away.
Once bald spots start wearing away and turning into holes, the problem is obvious. But that doesn't happen overnight, and it's ideal to catch balding way before it gets to that point if you want to make sure you're getting the most out of your mat.
The mat Doesn't Offer Cushioning
The primary purpose of a yoga mat is to provide cushioning for your joints while you practice. If you're experiencing joint pain after practicing, you may need a more supportive yoga mat.
Of course, this can be due to a mat losing cushioning over time, which usually happens so slowly that you don't even realize that it's happening. But it can also be that you're just someone who needs a thicker mat.
People going into yoga practice with pre-existing joint conditions sometimes find that typical yoga mats don't provide the cushioning they need, in which case thicker mats can help. It's okay to feel muscle soreness after an intense yoga session, but yoga should never cause or worsen the pain.
You should definitely check your alignment in poses and talk to your yoga teacher and doctor if you're experiencing pain after practicing, but it's worth looking into buying a new mat as well to see if it helps.
The Mat is Starting to Smell
If you have trouble breathing in a child's pose because of the distracting smell coming off your mat, it might be time to replace it. This is especially the case if you're recently cleaned it, and the odor remains.
The material of some yoga mats provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, especially if you add some sweat into the mix. It's essential to clean your mat regularly, but it will be impossible to keep it completely clean and odor-free over time. This is especially true if you sweat a lot, practice Bikram or Modo yoga, or live in a hot and humid climate.
As soon as your mat is noticeably discolored or smelly, regardless of how often you clean it, it's time to get a new one.
You Have a Change in Practice or Lifestyle
As mentioned earlier, different mats are designed for specific yoga practices, as well as the more common all-purpose mats. However, sometimes a change in yoga practice will warrant a change in mat style.
If you go from Bikram to Yin yoga, for example, there's a good chance that you'll end up wanting a mat with more traction and is washing machine friendly. In these yoga styles combination, some yogis have two yoga mats, which is understandable.
A change in practice isn't the only reason for changing the yoga mat, though. A lifestyle change might lead to different yoga mat needs as well.
If, for example, you suddenly start traveling regularly but want to make sure to keep up your practice, it might be a good idea to invest in a travel yoga mat that more easily fits in your luggage.
It's time to replace your yoga mat when it's no longer serving your practice, whether that's from wear and tear or because your needs have changed.
The Dangers of Using a Mat That's Too Old
Although it's not the best idea to replace your mat if you don't need to, using an old one once it's past its prime can lead to a few issues.
Practicing on a mat that's lost its cushioning ability can lead to joint issues, especially if you do many kneeling postures or poses that put a lot of weight on your wrists, like plank pose. The primary purpose of a yoga mat is to protect practitioners from the hard ground, so once that ability is lost, it becomes useless.
There are a few skin conditions that using a dirty mat can cause, from something as simple as acne to more serious bacterial or fungal skin infections.
The older the yoga mat is, the more the material starts to develop tiny cracks where germs, bacteria, and fungus can hide. The more deeply hidden they are, the more difficult it is to get rid of them so you can practice safely.
Old yoga mats start to lose traction over time as the textured surface rubs away with use. You'll know that it's reached this point when you start slipping on the mat in certain poses. This increases the chances of falling, especially for those who already have balance or mobility issues, so it's imperative to take it seriously.
You don't want to go into a yoga practice to do something good for your body, only to leave class limping.
How Often Should You Replace Your Yoga Mat?
Most yoga practitioners say that you should replace your yoga mat every 12 to 24 months. However, it really depends on a variety of factors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How Often Do You Practice? If you don't practice regularly or often, your mat will last a lot longer than someone who practices daily. The number of times a mat gets used is more important here than how long you've had it. If you don't use your yoga mat that often or are meticulous with using a towel and cleaning it after every class, a good one could last you many years.
- Is the Mat Showing Any Signs of Aging? If your yoga mat isn't showing any signs that we talked about above, it might not need to be replaced, regardless of its age. Just like anything else, using common sense and checking the mat for signs of wear is much more helpful than just going by an arbitrary amount of time that someone came up with.
- Is the yoga mat of good quality? Higher quality yoga mats are often made of materials that last longer than cheaply-constructed mats.
Although it's essential to replace your mat if it's worn out, don't replace it if it's not necessary. After all, there's no sense in throwing a perfectly good mat in a landfill if it's still usable. It's not only bad for the environment, but it's a waste of money to replace a mat that's still in good condition.
What to Do with an Old Yoga Mat?
The sad truth is that most yoga mats in the market are made from PVC, which is nearly impossible to recycle and is not biodegradable.
However, it is not the case with all yoga mats, so be sure to check your local recycling resources to see if your particular mat can be recycled near you.
As far as PVC mats are concerned, to keep them out of landfills for as long as possible, many people find creative ways to upcycle them as:
- Jar openers
- Kitchen drawer liners
- Pet bowl placemats (to reduce mess and bowl slipping)
- Anti-slip throw rug backing
- Outdoor cushions
- Beach mat
- Bulletin board
- Anti-slip furniture pads
- Backup mat to keep in the car if you forget your good one at home
Most of these ideas are super simple. Either cut the mat into the size you need or leave it intact to use as-is.
Picking Out a New Yoga Mat
Finding the best yoga mat is a matter of personal preference, but it helps to consider these things when looking to make a purchase:
As mentioned earlier, the cost does not necessarily equal quality in a yoga mat. You can find yoga brands that sell plastic yoga mats for a high price, and you can find eco-friendly, earth-loving yoga brands that sell wonderful yoga mats for a reasonable price. Be sure to shop around, look for brands that have a beautiful mission, and have transparency in the products. It is easy to be seduced by the low price of the yoga mat; therefore, you must read the description and know what the mat is made from so that you don't pay for the plastic carpet, which will have to be replaced in no time.
The thickness of your yoga mat is one of the most personal choices when it comes to deciding on the perfect one. For example:
- If you travel a lot and want something lightweight, a thin mat will be easy to fold and store in a full suitcase;
- Some people also find thicker mats ( from 3.5 mm and thicker) better for balance poses since they can allow for more stability.
- But if you suffer from joint issues, a mat of 4 mm and more may be just the thing to help make your practice more comfortable.
Although most yoga mats come in a standard size, several manufacturers make mats of different sizes to accommodate different body types. If you're very tall, of course, you'll probably want a larger one than a petite person might need.
Mat size affects portability, too. While it's not likely that a mat's going to be so large that you won't be able to carry it, if you travel or commute with it regularly, even a few inches of more or less bulk will make a difference when hauling it around town.
This is especially true if you live in a large city and walk on busy sidewalks or take public transportation a lot.
If you perspire a lot or plan to take a lot of Bikram or Hot yoga classes, it might be a good idea to invest in a non-slip yoga mat with more grip than standard yoga mats. Microfiber top yoga mats proved to be the best for hot yoga practice as they are also washing machine friendly.
As mentioned earlier, the market is filled with plastic (PVC) yoga mats, but more and more eco-friendly materials are being used, especially as yoga becomes more popular. Each material has its own benefits, so it's up to you to decide which one will work the best for your yoga practice.
- PVC - PVC is plastic. It isn't good for the environment and for the yogi who is practicing on it. PVC is harmful both due to the destructive manufacturing process, which releases all kinds of toxic chemicals, and because it never degrades. However, it's the most inexpensive and widely available yoga mat, so it'd be remiss not to mention it.
- Natural Rubber - Natural rubber is made from rubber trees. Yoga mats made from this material naturally have a strong grip which makes them perfect for any yoga practice.
- Cork - Sustainable cork is made from the bark of cork oak trees, which does not involve killing the tree to harvest the cork. Cork yoga mats are easy to clean and are naturally resistant to bacteria and fungus, making them an excellent choice for those concerned about germs.
- Cotton - Organic cotton yoga mats are easy to clean, and their foldability makes them a perfect choice for someone who travels a lot. However, they tend to be relatively thin and don't provide as much cushioning as some other mat materials do. For this reason, they might not be the best choice for people with joint issues.
- TPE - TPE is a synthetic rubber that is better for the environment than PVC. It takes less energy to make and is recyclable TPE.
- PU - in yoga, PU is known as vegan leather. You can find either PVC or natural rubber yoga mats (base) with PU top available in the market. These mats are usually grippy, have a long life span, and easy to maintain.
- Microfiber - microfiber top yoga mats are extremely popular among yogis who tend to sweat and care about the environment. Microfiber is made from recycled plastic, and just like PU, this layer has to be pressed on the natural rubber base to create an eco-duo. Microfiber yoga mats love moisture. The grip only gets better and stronger with every drop of water.
- Recycled Mats - Although "recycled" isn't technically a material, buying mats made from recycled materials is generally better for the environment since it's keeping those materials out of landfills. Recycled yoga mats can be made from materials ranging from wetsuits to water bottles.
How to Make Your Yoga Mat Last Longer
Although every yoga mat will have to be replaced eventually, there are a few things that you can do to make it last as long as possible.
Invest in a Good Mat
One of the most important things that will determine how long your mat lasts is its quality. Do your research before buying one, and make sure to choose a brand that's known for producing quality mats.
More and more companies are making sustainable mats from materials that are not only better for the environment but more durable and better for your practice, too. Some of the eco-friendly versions are made of:
- Natural rubber (made from rubber trees)
- Cork (which naturally resists bacteria)
Keep in mind, too, that high quality doesn't necessarily mean expensive. Shop around and watch for sales; you'd be surprised at the great deals you can find for almost any budget.
Use Both Sides of the Mat
One of the easiest ways to reduce uneven wear on a yoga mat is to make sure you're not always using the same side. If the material your yoga mat is made from allows, flip your mat over each time you practice, and pay attention to spots, you tend to gravitate to the most. When possible, try to use less trafficked areas on the mat to make sure it wears out evenly.
Use a Towel
Using a towel, especially for yogis who sweat a lot or who practice hot yoga styles, can help to prolong the lifetime of their yoga mats. Towel forms a barrier between you and the mat, which at the end protects the mat from receiving the sweat.
Although there is an understanding that you can use any towel, yoga towels are specially designed for yoga: they are thinner, lighter, and stick on a yoga mat better than a towel from your bathroom.
If you feel that a yoga towel is not for you because you are tired of sliding and want stability during the practice, then a towel top yoga mat (Microfiber top yoga mat) should make you happy. Microfiber top yoga mats love sweat - more sweat, better grip. Besides providing an excellent grip with wet hands, these mats are easy to maintain as they are washing machine friendly.
Clean Your Yoga Mat
Most experts agree that it's a good idea to wipe down your mat after every practice and deep clean it about once a month to keep it in pristine condition.
A yoga mat that's not regularly cleaned will not only start to smell but can cause health problems as well. The bacteria and fungus buildup on your mat can lead to:
- Athlete's foot
- Skin infections
Fortunately, cleaning your mat is super easy using the suggestions below. Always make sure to check the manufacturer's cleaning instructions before trying a cleaning solution, though, since different mat materials may have different cleaning needs.
Use Specialized Store-Bought Cleaners
Most places that sell yoga supplies also sell ready-made yoga mat cleaners in wipe or spray form, many of which are eco-friendly. Some cleaners can be overpriced, though, so you might want to look into making your own using one of the recipes below.
Use a Vinegar Solution
Make a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water, pour it into a spray bottle, and use it to spray down your mat after every session. You can wipe it with a damp cloth to make sure it coats the surface evenly, then just let it air dry. The vinegar smell will disappear once it dries.
Vinegar is a natural deodorizer, too, so you get a bonus freshening along with killing germs and bacteria.
If you want additional anti-bacterial, anti-fungal power, as well as a fantastic scent, try adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil to the solution.
Mix a few drops of soap in a cup of water. Pour the solution into a spray bottle. Spray on the mat, wipe down with a damp cloth, and allow to air dry.
Spray It Down
An easy way to deep clean your mat once a month is by spraying it down with a garden hose or showerhead. Give it a good spray with one of the solutions mentioned above, rinse well, and hang it to dry away from direct sunlight.
Give it a Good Soak
Another monthly deep clean option is soaking the mat in the tub. Simply fill the tub with a few inches of water (just enough to cover it), add a few drops of gentle dish soap, and allow it to sit for an hour or so. Rinse well and hang to dry.
Now you have all the tools you need to decide whether you need to replace your yoga mat, how to choose a replacement, and how to keep the new one in excellent condition for many years to come.