Each year consumers spend a whopping $5.7 billion on yoga classes and gear, according to a 2008 Yoga Journal survey. This popularity—and the big money—has sparked an array of so-called eco-friendly yoga mats. But are the claims they're rolled up with really true? Here are three examples of truly eco-friendly mats, plus how to choose one and keep it clean.
WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?
Eco-claims are often made on the basis of what mats don't contain—particularly PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, which can contain the heavy metals lead and cadmium, and phthalates, which have been linked to hormone disruption. While we haven't tested yoga mat for those substances, we would expect exposure to be limited. Concerns about PVC manufacturing, use, and disposal have led to bans and restrictions of the plastic in the U.S. and other countries.
Here are three common PVC alternatives you'll come across in searching for a yoga mat:
- Natural rubber mats. Natural rubber is touted as eco-friendly because it's derived from a renewable resource—the rubber tree—and because it's biodegradable. Natural rubber, which is also called natural rubber latex, may cause allergic reactions in susceptible people (your doctor may determine if you have a latex allergy or are at risk of developing one). There are also synthetic, latex-free rubber mats available. Prices start at about $30 for rubber mats and $50 for mats made with both rubber and other natural or synthetic materials.
- Plant fiber mats. These include jute, hemp, and cotton. Because they're made from plants, these materials are promoted as renewable and biodegradable. Look for those that are certified organic if maximum eco-friendliness is important to you. Otherwise, it's difficult to say how they were produced. Cotton, for example, is typically a pesticide-intensive crop. Prices start at about $40 for plant-fiber mats.
- Alternative plastic mats.Two increasingly popular mats marketed as eco-friendly are the synthetic plastics "PER," or polymer environmental resin, and "TPE," thermoplastic elastomers. Both claim to be made without toxic substances. While TPE claims to be biodegradable, PER, which is reportedly made with PVC, does not. Without further information, these claims cannot be fairly assessed. Prices start at about $24 for PER and go up to about $50 for combinations or TPE alone.
John Tunnicliffe of the nonprofit Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the largest yoga and holistic health center in the U.S., suggests considering these factors before choosing a mat:
- Portability. Get a mat that suits your needs. Will you carry it or take it in the car? Some 100 percent rubber mats can be heavy and difficult to carry, while travel mats are lighter and shorter.
- Length. Choose a size based on your height; mats are typically either 68 inches or 72 inches.
- Thickness. Mats vary in thickness, so choose a mat that will be comfortable for you.
- Stickiness. Mats also vary in stickiness, which can help control slipping.
KEEP IT CLEAN
With all their cracks and crevices, yoga mats have a way of collecting dirt and sweat. To keep it clean, follow the manufacturer's instructions and keep these tips in mind:
- Use a sponge with mild soap to wipe down your mat, Tunnicliffe suggests. Allow it to dry fully before rolling it back up. There are also various yoga-mat spray cleansers, some of which claim to be made with natural and organic ingredients.
- Air it out. If you have the space, airing out your mat will help keep lingering odors away.
- BYO yoga mat. If you practice yoga in public classes, bring your own mat. Bare feet are susceptible to foot ailments, including athlete's foot and plantar warts.
—Kristi Wiedemann, science and policy analyst, CR Greener Choices