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Yoga Mat Care: 101

Yoga mats are an important part of our yoga practice. They are not only a cushion to flow on, but they are also an expression of us as yogis. We run to them for release, build energy, work on self-improvement, and relax on. It is important to take care of them…unless you like buying new yoga mats as much as I do. Seriously, I have seven mats and I have an addiction to collecting them. 😊

No matter how often you practice, your yoga mat will get dirty, sweaty and possibly stinky over time. This is not conducive to a pleasant yoga experience! Skin and product oils, sweat, and dirt can penetrate the surface of the mat and can expedite deterioration of it. These elements can also make it difficult to practice yoga on your mat because they may make you slide. By washing your mat regularly and keeping up with daily maintenance, you can extend the life of your yoga mat and continue to enjoy a clean and slip-free practice.

Below I share some of the ways to keep your mat as healthy and glowing as you are.

Washing Your Yoga Mat

Be aware of when to wash your mat. You should wash your yoga mat completely every couple of months, and more often if you do not practice regular maintenance or you perform yoga every day. This can not only extend the life of your mat but will also keep it from smelling and transferring bacteria to you.

· If you practice yoga every day, you may want to wash your mat once a month, especially during hot weather.

· The more soil you see on your mat, the more likely it needs to be thoroughly washed.

· If your yoga mat is peeling or pieces of it are adhering to your clothes, consider purchasing a new mat.

Soak your yoga mat. Use a solution of warm water and a mild detergent such as dish soap. Submerge your yoga mat in a bathtub and allow it to soak for a few minutes. This will help dislodge dirt, oils and any odors.

· Dish soap or hypoallergenic laundry detergent are two of the best options for mild cleaners for your yoga mat.

· Avoid using too much detergent in the warm water. You want just enough soap to clean off your mat. Using too much detergent can make your mat slippery and difficult to practice asanas on.

· Mix 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of laundry detergent or dish soap for every 1 gallon (3.7 l) of lukewarm tap water.

· Some sources suggest using vinegar to wash your mat. Be aware that this can leave a lasting and unpleasant scent on the surface of your mat, which could make practicing yoga less enjoyable. Depending on the material of your yoga mat, vinegar may also degrade the quality of the mat.

Hand wash the mat with a soft cloth. Once your mat has soaked for a few minutes, use a soft cloth to wash both sides of the mat. Thoroughly wipe each side, concentrating on the areas that your hands and feet touch most often.

· You can tell the areas you use the most because they will likely have a slightly different color to the rest of your mat.

· Make sure you wipe each side gently so that you do not degrade the mat or pull off any chunks of it.

· If you do not see bubbles from the detergent, that is fine. Remember that you only want enough detergent—and bubbles—to clean the mat and not make it slippery.

· Never put your yoga mat in a washing machine. It can significantly degrade the quality of your mat and make it impossible to practice on the mat because it is too slippery.

Rinse your mat in clean water. Drain the tub in which you have your mat and rinse the washed mat with clean water. This will help remove any residue from the soap and minimize the risk of having a slippery mat.

· Rinse off the mat until you notice that the water is clear.

· If the water does not clear quickly, consider washing it off again with the soft cloth.

Remove excess water from your mat. Shake off your mat to remove water on the surface of your mat. Lay the mat flat on a dry towel and roll the two together to squeeze out remaining moisture.

· Do not wring out your mat! It may cause wrinkling, tearing or warping.

· You can step on the rolled-up mat and towel, which is more effective at getting out excess water.

Hang your mat to dry. When you are done with squeezing out excess water, unroll your yoga mat from the towel. Hang it up until it is thoroughly dry.

· You can use pant hangers to hang up your mat but understand these may leave marks.

· If you have a laundry drying rack, drape your yoga mat over this, which can effectively dry both sides of your mat.

· Never put a yoga mat in a clothes dryer. Not only can doing this ruin your mat but may cause a fire.

· Only use your mat again once it is completely dry. Squeezing bits of the mat between your fingers can help you feel remaining moisture.

Maintenance of your yoga mat

Understand the importance of regular cleaning and maintenance. Dirt, oils, and sweat can quickly degrade the quality of your mat and make it more difficult to practice. Performing simple maintenance tasks on your yoga mat after each use can help extend its life and decrease how often you need to thoroughly wash the mat. If you practice yoga daily or multiple times per week, it is important to clean off and store your mat properly after each use.

Clean your feet and hands before practice. Your hands and feet will constantly touch your mat, and these areas of the body tend to be dirty. Using your mat with clean skin can help extend the life of your mat and help bacteria from spreading between your skin and mat surface.

· Cleaning your hands and feet will also wash off any lotions or creams that can degrade the mat and make you slip during practice.

· If you cannot wash your hands and feet prior to practice, consider using gentle baby wipes so that you can wipe off your palms and soles.

Wipe off your mat. Each time you practice yoga on your mat, wipe it off with either baby wipe, yoga mat specific wipe, or a cloth with some mild soap. Roll it up after it dries, and you are good to go. This can help to keep your mat clean and free of sweat, dirt, and oils, but may also extend its life.

Add an Essential Oil to the Mixture: Buying a mat spray that contains essential oils (or making your own!) is a great way to clean, disinfect, and add a nice scent to your mat. The scents I have had the best luck with are lemon, orange, and eucalyptus for energy, or lavender and mint for a more relaxing scent. At Spark., we use my favorite essential oil Bergamot mixed with Tea Tree.

Vinegar and Water: For a quick clean, create a 50/50 mixture of water and apple cider vinegar to wipe down your yoga mat. Let it hang dry in a well-ventilated room or outside in the fresh air.

· Wipes that are specifically formulated for yoga mats are available at sports stores or online at specialty yoga retailers.

· Wipe off your yoga mat with reusable towelettes so that you do not create much trash or waste after each session.

Consider placing towels on your mat during practice. If you sweat a lot, you are in a hot room or just want a layer between you and your mat, place a towel on your mat. Towels can absorb excess moisture and make it easier to grip your mat.

· Regular towels may slip around during use. It can become a hazard.

· Try a yoga towel. These super absorbent towels come with special grips that will keep the material—and you—from slipping all over your mat.

· You can buy yoga towels at some sports stores and at most online yoga specialty retailers.

Air out your mat regularly. Most people will roll up their yoga mats after each use and cleaning and either store it in a mat bag or in a corner of their home or studio. Ideally, allow your mat to air out regularly to help evaporate lingering sweat or moisture and keep it smelling fresh.

· You can hang up your mat on hangers or place it over a laundry rack. You want to make sure you are airing out both sides of your mat, even if you only practice on one side.

· Consider only using your mat carrier for transport purposes so that your mat can air out thoroughly after each use.

· Keep your mat in a cool, dry, location out of direct sunlight. This will also keep it from degrading. It will also avoid it accumulating excess moisture, which can help bacteria or fungi breed.

Powder it up. Through time and wear, the stickiness of a yoga mat lessens. One of the best things I have found to remedy this is using baby powder or baking soda to help absorb the oils, water, and eliminate the slip-slide effects. Lightly sprinkle baby powder or baking soda all over your mat and wipe with a clean, dry cloth. Sometimes a bit of the powder will stay in the grooves of your mat, and that is OK; I find this keeps the clean scent longer and helps me stick to my mat. If you are not into the extra powder, simply shake your mat out in a wide-open space, preferably outside.

Things to NEVER do to your yoga mat

Do not put your mat in the washing machine. Unless you 100% absolutely know according to the manufacturer that your mat is washing machine safe, do not consider it. Depending on what type of material your mat is made of, throwing it in the wash (especially with soap) can instantly ruin it.

Do not use just any soap to clean your mat. You may be tempted to use a few drops of dishwashing soap to wipe down your mat, but you will learn quickly that this is a good way to make it extra slippery. If you do not properly rinse off all the soap, a soapy residue could be left on it as it dries, leaving you to slip and slide around during your practice.

Do not forget to clean the other side of your mat. Even if you do a great job of regularly cleaning the main side of your mat that you practice on, make sure you get the other side as well. Constantly rolling it out on several different flat surfaces is bound to make it dirty.

Do not leave your mat rolled up after coming back from class. Whether you gave your mat a wipe down or not right after class before rolling it up and heading home, make sure you remember to roll it right back out again to let it dry out properly. Leaving it rolled up makes for a moist, dark environment that bacteria just love to thrive in.

Do not leave your mat inside your car on a hot day. The scorching hot temperatures that car interiors tend to reach can be hot enough to melt the stickiness of your mat. So, if you are heading to yoga class after work in the summer, make sure you bring your mat inside with you instead of leaving it in the car all day.

Do not leave your mat to dry out in the sun. Some yoga mats come with warnings about keeping them out of direct sunlight due to the damaging effects it can have on the materials. If you are going to even consider allowing your mat to dry outside, or inside in a very sunny room, make sure it is in a very well shaded area.

I hope these tips help you stay grounded and balanced while on your mat, whether it is your new companion or a longstanding friend to your yoga practice.

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