Yoga Mats: Everything You Need to Know
Not even ten years ago, finding a yoga mat was so simple. You went to the store, found a fitness mat and purchased it. Now, with the explosion of yoga in the Western world—it’s a $27 billion industry  there are literally thousands of different mats to choose from.
It can be hard to know where to start. Research has shown that students in the U.S. spend a combined total of $16 billion per year on yoga classes and gear.  This is overwhelming for someone who is just starting out and simply wants to know which yoga mat to buy.
That’s where we come in. Read on to learn all about the different types of mats, yoga mat alternatives, and lastly, cleanliness and care.
Types of Yoga Mats
With so many different types of yoga mats, it’s getting difficult to keep track. But when it comes down to it, choosing the right one all depends on your priorities.
There are non-stick mats for sweaty yogis, travel mats for the nomads, extra thick and extra long mats. There are mats with designs, mats for the earth lovers, extra lightweight mats for our walkers and cyclists. There are yoga rugs and cotton mats for the yin and meditation lovers.
No matter who you are or what you’re preferences are, there’s a mat out there for you.
Yoga mats come in all shapes and sizes. Thickness of yoga mats ranges from 1.5mm to just over 6mm. The average yoga mat is 3mm.
If you’re looking for more support for your knees, you might opt for a thicker mat. These will give you more cushion, but you may find your balance to be off a little bit. Extra cushion means less stability, so if balance is your main goal, a thinner mat might be your best bet.
The 1.5mm mats are typically your travel mats. These mats fold really well making them ideal for suitcases or anyone who tends to walk or bike to work.
Length and width come into play here as well. The average length of a yoga mat is 68 inches long and width is 24 inches across.
However, for those taller yogis out there, you can find mats with a few extra inches, sometimes all the way up to 76 inches long and 30 inches wide!
The majority of standard yoga mats are made from PVC, also known as vinyl—which is highly toxic, both for the environment and us humans. These will typically last a very long time.
There are also a lot of different varieties of PVC-based mats—from highly cushioned to wafer-thin travel mats, PVC makes up the majority of mats out there.
Recycled rubber is the second most popular yoga mat material. This is a great option if you tend to sweat a lot and want a thick, non-stick mat without the big environmental impact.
Alternative, Earth-Friendly Materials
A good alternative for a durable mat is cork. Cork mats are made from cork oak trees. However, it’s a highly sustainable process.
Cork is essentially the outer bark of the tree, which gets stripped and made into cork materials. These trees naturally regenerate more cork bark themselves, and cork oak trees that have had their bark removed absorb more carbon dioxide than trees that haven’t. Typically, no trees are cut down in the process of making cork.
What’s more is cork yoga mats are non-stick, easy to clean and long lasting.
You can also find yoga mats made out of cotton—also called yoga rugs. These mats are great for yin yoga and made from natural cotton. Cotton yoga mats have great grip and tend to be a little wider than traditional yoga mats.
You can use these on top of your regular yoga mat for a little extra grip, or you can place it directly on the floor. However, it should be noted that the cotton might slip and slide on wood floors without something underneath it.
Jute is a type of twine, made from vegetable fiber. It is decomposable, making it a great option for anyone looking for an environmentally friendly yoga mat.
Jute creates a unique feel and look with each mat. It has good grip and enough cushion to protect your sensitive joints.
YoYo Mats are a new type of mat that is self-rolling. That’s right. Remember those snap bracelets you loved to play with as a child? These mats work in a similar way.
They stay flat while you practice and as soon as you’re ready to roll it up, all you have to do is lift the edges and watch it roll perfectly. No more trying to make edges meet or stuff an uneven mat into your bag!
Yoga Mat Care
You have to clean your yoga mat. Regardless of the material it’s made of, it will accumulate dirt over time. Sweat, skin/product oils and other bacteria can make your yoga mat smelly, slippery and shorten its lifespan.
If you practice yoga every day, you should wipe it down after each use and do a full wash at least once a month. If you don’t practice as often, washing your mat every other month, or every few months should suffice.
To fully clean your mat, soak it in warm water in a bathtub or other large tub with a mild soap (Dr. Bronner’s is perfect for this). Aim for one tablespoon of soap per gallon of water.
Leave it to soak for 7–10 minutes.
After it’s soaked for a few minutes, use a soft cloth to hand wash your mat. It’s okay if there’s not a lot of soap left, this will help to remove any leftover bacteria or oils from the mat.
Then, drain the tub and rinse your mat in clean water to remove any extra residue.
Take the mat out of the tub and dry it off with a towel. Do not wring or twist your mat as this can easily damage it. Leave it to dry in a cool place.
For daily cleaning, a lot of yoga companies sell yoga mat cleaner. This will typically be a spray to use directly after your practice.
If you want to try making your own spray, try this recipe from Yogi Approved.
When it comes to yoga mats, you get what you pay for. And it’s usually worth it to pay the few extra bucks. Quality yoga mats run anywhere from $60–200.
It might seem like a cheaper mat will be just as good, but they tend to wear out faster, they’re bad for the environment and they won’t provide the support you need.
Which Kind of Yoga Mat is Best?
Well, that’s completely up to you. It really depends on your priorities: what type of yoga you practice, your physical needs, environmental impact and how much you plan on using your yoga mat.
However, if you need a little inspiration, Yoga Journal has put together a list of the best yoga mats from 2016.
Take some time to figure out what’s most important to you and find the mat the will fit your needs!
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).