How to Clean a Yoga Mat
Expert advice on keeping your mat fresh, eliminating odors and grime, and avoiding cleaning products that could cause damage
Whether you’re rolling out your yoga mat once or twice a month for some stretching at home, or taking it to hot yoga class a few times a week, your mat is likely to pick up some dust, sweat, and grime. So what’s the best way to clean it?
To find out, I reached out to a number of different yoga teachers, studios, and organizations; cleaning experts; and yoga mat companies.
“It depends on the person and how particular they are,” says Paula Heitzner, yoga teacher and founder of the Nyack Yoga Center in New York. Yoga, she reminded me, is about flexibility, not only of the body, but also of mindset and habits. So there’s no one correct answer or method for cleaning every yoga mat.
One practical reason for this is the fact that yoga mats are made from so many different types of materials, all of which may have different requirements when it comes to cleaning. Plus, your cleaning needs will vary depending on how often you use a mat, and how sweaty you get when you do.
6 Steps to a Cleaner Yoga Mat
Use a towel. To keep your mat cleaner from the get-go, Emily Schmookler, a CorePower Yoga senior yoga trainer based in the Bay Area, suggests laying a towel down on top of your mat when you practice, especially one that is moisture-wicking and will absorb sweat. The mat will stay cleaner and you can throw the towel in with your laundry. “Preferably get one that has the sticky buttons on the bottom,” she says, “and don’t use fabric softener when washing it.”
When in doubt, use soap and water. Cleaning your yoga mat with a wet cloth and a small amount of soap or detergent is probably your best bet in most cases. That will remove dirt and grime from the surface as well as physically destroy or remove plenty of microorganisms without the need for sanitizing or disinfecting chemicals.
Consider a mat spray. Several yoga mat companies recommend cleaning your yoga mat with a specialized mat spray as an alternative to soap and water. It’s also possible to make your own cleaner by mixing vinegar and water plus two or three drops of an essential oil you enjoy.
The experts and companies we reached out to had different suggestions on the proportions of water to vinegar, and a few companies have specific recommendations for their mats (see below). Schmookler suggests making a spray with water and witch hazel, rather than vinegar, plus a few drops of tea tree oil. However you make your mat spray, she says, remember that diluting with water is very important.
Keep in mind, however: Some brands advise against using vinegar or essential oils because these could damage some mats.
Tread lightly with disinfectants. Several people I spoke with recommended against using a disinfecting wipe on a yoga mat because of potential damage, to avoid coming into contact with harsh chemicals, or even because of the unpleasant chemical odor it might leave on your mat. The American Cleaning Institute told me that while a disinfecting wipe can be a reasonable choice for a nonabsorbent closed-cell mat, it might not be the best for a porous open-cell mat.
If you do decide to use a disinfecting wipe or product, make sure you’ve cleaned the mat first to remove any dirt or grime. Check the label for directions on how long the disinfectant should sit on the surface to be effective.
Deep clean using a washing machine or your shower. If, and only if, your mat is machine-washable (check with the manufacturer), that can be a simple way to do a deep clean, which you might need if your mat is getting odorous or particularly grimy. The American Cleaning Institute says you should use a gentle cycle with a mild detergent. But many mats can’t be cleaned in a washing machine. So it’s important to make sure before you try it.
Other methods of deep cleaning are available if you can’t use your washer. Bingham recommends soaking the mat in a tub of warm water with a small amount of detergent, though at least one yoga mat company—Manduka—says its mats should not be submerged. You could also use a slightly soapy sponge to clean both sides of your mat, then use your shower to rinse it thoroughly.
Always dry completely. Whichever cleaning method you choose—rubbing with soap and water, wiping with a mat spray, or deep cleaning in the tub or washing machine—it’s important to allow your mat to dry thoroughly. “If it’s stored away when it’s moist, it can start to breed microorganisms again,” Pettis says.
So once you’ve cleaned your mat, drape it over something like your shower curtain bar to ensure that it can dry completely. Or employ the sun. Several people I spoke with recommended letting your mat air dry out in the sunlight, for no more than 30 minutes. Be careful not to leave it outside and then forget about it—several yoga mat companies say too much sunlight could damage the mat.
Instructions From Individual Brands
Here are tips for cleaning from several yoga mat brands, based on information from company websites and, in most cases, emails from company representatives. You can look up the company that makes your yoga mat below to see their specific care instructions and warnings on what to avoid. Several brands, such as Manduka, also recommend using their own mat cleaning sprays. If you don’t know what brand you have, our general tips above should help. For more information on the yoga mats from each brand, see our yoga mat review.
- Wipe the top of the mat with a microfiber cloth after each use.
- You can also use a solution of either oil-free soap or vinegar and warm water in a 1-to-20 ratio. Apply the solution to the cloth when wiping rather than directly to the mat.
- Don’t machine wash.
- Avoid wearing lotion or rings on your hands and feet while you practice.
- Roll with the mat’s top side facing out (rolling it the opposite way can damage the mat’s surface).
- Spot clean with soap and water, a mat cleaning spray, or a 50/50 solution of water and either apple cider vinegar or witch hazel.
- Dry flat or hang.
- Don’t machine wash.
- Avoid using disinfecting wipes, which can cause deterioration of the mat’s materials.
- Clean with mild soap and water. Dry completely.
- Don’t machine wash.
- Essential oils could stain the mat but won’t damage it.
- The company told us that because cork has natural antimicrobial properties (I found one laboratory experiment that seems to support this claim), its cork yoga mats can go longer between cleanings.
- Wipe down with a damp cloth weekly, or after every sweaty or hot yoga session.
- Mats can be machine washed, but don’t use detergent. This should only be done infrequently for a deep clean.
- Avoid cleaning with vinegar, alcohol-based cleaners, petroleum-based solvents, or high concentrations of essential oils.
- Wash with a tiny drop of dish soap heavily diluted in water, using a damp, nonabrasive sponge.
- Clean every five to 10 uses, or more often if you practice in sweaty conditions.
- Overcleaning can wear out the mat materials.
- Dry mat fully before rolling it up.
- Don’t machine wash.
- Vinegar solutions can be used, but only once every three to six months or so as a deep cleaning method.
- Avoid using essential oil sprays or strong chemical cleaners.
- Avoid wearing freshly applied oily creams or massage oils.
- Wipe clean with a damp cloth.
- Air dry before rolling up.
- Store out of direct sunlight.
- Mat cleaning sprays are recommended. The company says you can also clean with disinfecting cleaning sprays, such as Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Spray.
- Don’t machine wash, soak, or submerge the mat in water.
- For "Eko" style mats, soap should not be used.
- Disinfecting wipes aren’t recommended.
- Use mat cleaning spray or a natural cleaner after each use.
- Lay flat to dry.
- Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals.
A Note on COVID-19
One concern you may have, if your preferred studio has gone back to having classes in person, is the potential for your mat to become a vector for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
There’s good news on that front, Pettis says. Evidence suggests that touching surfaces isn’t a common way for SARS-CoV-2 to be transmitted. Also, the virus is a type that makes it very easy to destroy with basic cleaning when it does linger on a surface. So you probably don’t need to worry about getting COVID-19 from a yoga mat. You’d be more likely to get it from the coughing or exhalations of someone else in the class.
Still, there are plenty of other bugs out there. “You don’t want to forget about all the other viruses or infectious-type organisms that we might be running into,” Pettis says.