Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats: Safe or Toxic?

posted in: Yoga Mats | 49

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Last updated on December 6th, 2018

Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats: Safe or Toxic?

More and more manufacturers recognize a growing consumer demand for eco-friendly yoga mats. Eco-friendly yoga mats have become a popular search term on internet search engines. But what does it mean exactly? And are eco-friendly yoga mats safe for our health? In this post, I will talk about two yoga mats (ThinkSport and Jade Harmony) that at first appeared to be non-toxic and eco-friendly; and I will share my findings after I dug a little deeper.

 

ThinkSport eco-friendly yoga mats

 

I was given a ThinkSport yoga mat as a present. Another non-toxic blogger had researched the mat and gave it the thumbs-up. Therefore, I relaxed, believing that there was nothing more for me to do, but to practice yoga. Then, while holding my pose, I took a deep breath on the mat. It smelled of toxic chemicals.

 

After the yoga session, I went straight to my computer. I ran a lot of searches, and saw pages and pages of posts by bloggers who were sent this mat in exchange for their enthusiasm for this mat made of something called “TPE.”

 

I emailed the manufacturer and asked what TPE is and who tested to make sure that it is non-toxic. I have not received any answers.

 

According to Wikipedia, TPE (Thermoplastic elastomers) is a mix of rubber and plastic. In other words, TPE is a blend of synthetic materials that have not been disclosed, have not been studied, and have not been proven safe. I really enjoyed reading the analysis by Eco Yogini. She did a great job voicing her concerns about TPE. Please take a look at her post here.

 

ThinkSport says that TPE is free of Bisphenol-A (BPA), PVC, Lead, Phthalates, Dioxins, and other notorious offenders. By we are not told what it has instead of these known toxins. I became very skeptical about all types of plastic after reading the result of tests done by CertiChem, founded by George Bittner, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin. CertiChem reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.  My strong recommendation is not to be swayed by BPA-free labels and avoid all type of plastic, to the extent possible. If you try to eliminate all plastic from your environment you might go insane.

 

Jade Harmony Professional eco-friendly yoga mats

 

After my disappointment with ThinkSport eco-friendly yoga mats, my research led me to eco-friendly yoga mats by Jade. When I do research, I always contact a manufacturer to ask questions or even confirm information I already know. The product description looked convincing so I bought the mat on Amazon before I even asked any questions of the manufacturer. When I received the mat, it smelled too, but less strongly than the ThinkSport mat.

 

So how has my experience been with the Jade Harmony mat? I have had the mat now for two weeks, and it still smells. The performance is however excellent – it is very non-slippery and thick enough to provide steady support.

 

I asked Jade Harmony whether their eco-friendly yoga mats are made of 100% natural rubber. The response I received was not as reassuring as I hoped. Jade said that in addition to natural rubber, its eco-friendly yoga mats contain both natural and man-made components that are necessary to give their mats their properties. They said that they can’t disclose those components because they are each afraid that their proprietary formulas will be compromised and counterfeited.

 

Jade assured me that its yoga mats contain no heavy metals, ozone-depleting substances, PVC, TPE, phthalates, formaldehyde or glues. Notice that TPE is listed as one of the things you do not want in your yoga mat.

 

While Jade is not the worst option, I hope to find a non-toxic mat without hidden ingredients, that performs well and does not cost a fortune. I would like to ask you to leave a comment to tell me if you are interested in learning about the results of my search because your comment might persuade a manufacturer of truly eco-friendly yoga mats to send me a mat for my review or even sponsor a giveaway for you.

 

Update as of 1/21/2015:  A German agency tested Jade yoga mats and found nitrosamines that are linked with cancer.

 

Update as of October 2016:  To see a list of yoga mats that I believe are safer than PVC, TPE, or PER yoga mats, visit here.

 

Update as of June 2018:  To read about the yoga mat that I use and love, please visit here.

Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats: Safe or Toxic?

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49 Responses

  1. Lindsay

    This is great to hear other people are also concerned about what is in their yoga mats. I have been shopping around for a safe yoga mat for myself, and my toddler – but have yet to purchase one because I cannot find one that meets my standards. Would love to find a company who cares enough and is responsible enough to produce the kind of mat we are looking for!!! Thank you!

  2. Rika

    Irina- thank you so much for digging into the details– this is such an easy to overlook route of exposure to chemicals –

  3. Karen

    Yes, I would like to read of the results of your research. Thanking you for your work-

      • Mir

        Hi Irina,
        This link is broken 🙁

        I remembered reading a post you did about Barefoot yoga but I can’t find that either.

        • Irina Webb

          Hi, Miriam: Nice to hear from you again! Which mattress did you end up choosing? An independent agency in Germany found that The Original Eco Yoga Mat sold by Barefoot contains Nitrosamines. I am updating the post. ~Irina

          • Mir

            Hi Irina! Thanks for the update – bummer!!

            Do you feel it is still “better” than the traditional yoga mat?

            We went with Essentia mattress – love it but hate the pillows we got from them 🙁

  4. Kim Lawrence

    Hello, thank you for all of this great information! What a lot to sift through though? I have a new student who is severely allergic to latex so organic rubber is out of the question. I was all excited to hear the manduka pro line was 100% latex free only to find out it is made out of PVC! I have eco mats in the studio now made from SEBS, no latex is all I know about this. The more exposure to latex the higher the risk of allergy, if you are allergic to latex most hospitals are pretty dangerous places for you to be. Please help.

  5. Johan

    Hi, Im also concerned about these “eco-friendly” mats. I found a test (in German) that found a loot of nasty stuff in the jade mat (Harmony Mat Standard). For example “Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” and “Nitrosamines”. cheek out the test here http://emedien.oekotest.de/cgi/index.cgi?artnr=104105&bernr=23
    However it costs 2.5€ and is one year old. I can send you the test as a pdf if you like.
    I’am about to buy a manduka mat but this one has not been tested and I’m not feeling convinced by the manufactures promises….

  6. Sallie

    I recently came across Dr. Mercola’s Earth Friendly yoga mat that is made from polymer environmental resins (PER). Did your research look into this one?
    Thank you for any info. you can provide.

  7. Paul

    Hi Irina,

    I also red about the Jade Yoga mat in the German sustainability magazine called “Ökotest”.

    From a scale 1 to 6, where 1 is best and 6 a No-Go, the “Jade Harmony Mat Standard” got a 6!
    Even it’s made from natural rubber, it contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and nitrosamine, both carcinogenic substances!

    Most of the fifteen tested Yoga mats contains toxic substances.
    For consumers, there is actually no way, to see if a mat ist free of toxic substances, even if it’s named “eco”, “natural”, is claimed to be natural rubber or got an eco label/certification, you shouldn’t trust! A lot of these substances are not smellable neither!

    Unfortunately this is the case for all consumer products which are in close skin contact, like bed linen, shoes or just clothes. In Germany we have strong consumer rights and a lot of critical substances are forbidden to use, but we still get them everywhere, cause it’s allowed to import such goods and nobody will control it anyway.

    I still not found a durable, non-toxic Yoga mat. Does anybody know if Manduka natural rubber mats are free of toxic substances, used in the vulcanization process?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Paul! Thank you for letting me know. Is there a way you can email me the article. I am so curious to see it. I used to speak German so I think I can still read it. Yes – this is a huge problem. Until we test a product, we can’t know for sure what is in it. Currently, I am trying to find a bau-biologist who can help me with the actual testing of some products I use but keep wondering about.

  8. Max

    I want to thank you for this incredibly thoughtful series on yoga mats. My partner and I are looking forward to getting pregnant in the near future and cutting down on our exposure to hormone disrupters is one of our top priorities.
    I recently purchased a Gaiam Sol Power-Grip Yoga Mat (4mm) for her as a birthday gift, I called and informed me the mat is pvc free and 100% rubber. Any thoughts from your research on this product?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Max! I have not researched this particular mat. I would be curious to know where these mats are made, what is used to reinforce natural rubber, and if the company could share their test results for toxic chemicals. If you email them, could you share their response with us? Does that mat smell toxic? Thank you!

  9. Lorri

    Have you checked into the Kharma Khare mats? Their website says, “Kharma Khare’s yoga mats are sourced from recycled rubber tires which undergo an innovative patent-pending process that removes all the bad stuff, leaving a material that is safe and healthy for your skin in your practice, and good for the earth! The Reincarnated and Reincarnated Lite yoga mats are completely hypoallergenic, and all of Kharma Khare’s yoga mats even pass FDA’s ingestion tests. That means you could eat them, though we don’t recommend it!” Sounds almost to good to be true, doesn’t it?

    • Irina Webb

      I am still skeptical about the process of removing all the bad stuff. The tires are pretty toxic. While recycling tires is good for the earth, I am not sure I want to use this yoga mat at this time. But I would love to sit down with the company to learn more about their manufacturing processes at some point. You might want to ask them if they can provide with test reports that show that there are no toxic emissions. Let me know what they say. Thank you!

  10. Lorri

    Hi, Irina,

    Okay, I emailed the company and asked for test reports verifying the claim that there is absolutely no toxicity to these mats. I’ll let you know if and how they respond.

  11. Lorri

    A company rep emailed me back promptly and attached a pdf. file of some of the research that they utilized in their development process, Recycled Tires in Track and Playground Surfaces. He/she said the report is also available on the web. I then asked if this is the same tire crumb material used in artificial turf fields that’s been in the news recently because of a suspected link between it and goalies developing lymphoma. Again I received a prompt reply stating, “Artificial turf fields do not process out the carbon black which is known to be carcinogenic. We take the time to process that out so that the material is the same as what has been used in children’s playgrounds for decades across the US.”
    If you can think of any other questions to ask them, they seem more than willing to discuss any and all concerns. I sure hope the mat is all they claim because I have one and in all other regards, it’s great!

    • Irina Webb

      Lorri, could you please email me the pdf. file? In general, what happens is a lot of companies claim that their products are free of toxic chemicals but very few can actually back up these claims with test results. I think you could ask them what is a composition of tires initially and what they process out. And if they do testing to make sure what they process is actually out without traces. And if they could provide those test reports, that would be great. Thanks!

  12. diana

    Hi Irina, thank you for the article and for your research. Have you found any non toxic yoga mats yet? I have yet to find one for bikram yoga where you can really smell the toxins from these terrible mats and companies. Please let me know. Thanks again

  13. Amy

    I’m trying to access the page that goes to the yoga mat you have decided to keep and feel is safest. The link doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I’m excited to see which one you decided on since I’m in the market for a new one. Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Amy: I am updating the post. I just learned that one of the yoga mat I recommended was tested in Germany and there were some harmful substances found so I took the post offline for now. Stay tuned. Thanks. ~Irina

      • Mir

        Hi Irina,
        Just saw this that you took that post down – I had purchased the barefoot yoga mat based on your post – please let me know if that is one of the ones that had the harmful substances!
        Thanks for all the work you do!

    • Lisa

      Thank you for all of your hard work and research! Any luck on finding a mat you recommend?

  14. Rich

    Hi Irina,

    Thanks for all your intelligent research and perspicacious caring. Sorting through all this is a lot of work, I know!

    Like Amy, I also followed/found the link https://ireadlabelsforyou.com/products-i-like-non-toxic-yoga-mat/ broken. I’m doing similar research now, to replace what I thought was a great, enviro-conscious, healthy mat (DynActive Premium Eco Yoga Mat), but now am not so sure about their claims about TPE.

    DynActive claims their mats are, “Made from SGS tested and approved premium TPE material which is non-toxic, PVC free, phthalates free and free of any harmful chemicals unlike the traditional pvc, nbr, eva or eco-pvc (still a pvc) yoga mats which all contains carcinogen components. It is also latex-free unlike rubber yoga mats.” I don’t really know what to make of that, do you? (I sent an email to the SGS to ask. Due to other stuff I’ve read, I think I’ll stay away from TPE and PER mats.)

    I admire both your smarts to unravel all this, and your mindfulness not only about human health but especially of the effects to our non-human cohabitants and to the ecosystems on which well all depend – Thanks for this!

    As such, I’d love to know what you’ve found, so I can incorporate it into my research / buying decisions.

    Thanks,
    Rich

    • Irina Webb

      Hi Rich, thank you for letting us know about your interest in safe yoga mats. The more people ask for them, the more companies will start making them. Yoga mats is one of those black hole where ingredients are not fully disclosed and we consumers are kept on dark. I used to recommend a yoga mat that I thought was safe but then I read test results in a German magazine that dispelled my belief. Anyway, be assured that I am working on finding yoga mats we can all like. I will share my research as soon as I can. ~Irina

  15. Corinna

    Please let me know once you find a safe yoga mat…..sad we can’t just find one!

  16. Maureen

    help, I cannot source a non toxic and environmentally friendly yoga mat for my adult son’s birthday present. I googled eco friendly yoga mats and loads came up, however, they’re full of nasties! Where can I find one and what description should I be looking for to trust it’s safe?

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Maureen: thank you for letting me know. When is your son’s birthday? I will do my best to update the yoga mat post and publish it next week. Thanks. ~Irina

      • Maureen Reith

        Thank Irina. I bought one which was described as an eco friendly linen mat, sold by John Lewis, however it’s pvc on the underside. Nowhere in the description was this information available. At £48 it’s overpriced. I guess I will need to keep it as a pure rubber mat isn’t suitable due to latex allergy.

  17. Ron

    Hi, some questions:
    1. have you found a safe yoga mat yet?
    2. in the pdf of the German tests the topmost 3 options are on green, does it means they were found safe in the test (I don’t read German :))
    3. Any hazards in cork made yoga mat?

    Thanks!

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Ron: I will answer all your questions in the upcoming post in a couple days. Yes, the green ones did not have any bad chemicals. My German is enough to say that. However, my German is not good enough to tell which chemicals they tested for. If anybody reads German, please let me know. I did look for those green mats but could not find them. Two of them are made of wool… ~Irina

  18. Dawn

    Thanks for this. I have also serious concerns about using something that is supposedly safe and non toxic, but still cannot be ‘named’.
    Companies selling non toxic mats should be required to adhere to strict regulations just like the food industry I think.. a list of ingredients. I am shocked at the amount of happy customers on Amazon buying ‘Eco Friendly Mats’ which are not certified as safe.

  19. Bud

    Irina,

    Do you have any info on Theraband exercise mat, made of high density polyethylene? After receiving this mat, it had noticeable chemical smell, although less than other brands or materials. HDPE should have no odor.

    Any comments on this product?

    Bud

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Bud, I am not familiar with this mat at the moment. I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will certainly look into it when I update my safer yoga mat guide. Thanks. ~Irina

  20. Lana

    I would love for you to continue your research!! Please. I began on my wellness journey by becoming a personal trainer, researching nutrition, meal planning, and including exercise into my daily life. I am so grateful I made my health a PRIORITY. One of the first things I needed was a mat so I could do workouts at home and not be restrained by gym hours. Unfortunately the cheapest mat at Walmart, all I could afford, smelled of toxins the second I opened it. I was also shocked and upset to see in tiny print, right on the package, that the yoga mat contains materials that may cause cancer. I still have the mat, but am disappointed since I am inhaling all these terrible pollutants as I plank and do yoga trying to be healthier. I hope we all can eventually find mats that we can bring anywhere that won’t secretly kill us. In addition I am working on a wellness blog to provide all natural skincare options, as well as, individualized workouts. A mat to review would be amazing. I’d be so grateful.
    Thank you so much for your time and efforts!!
    Lana

  21. Mark Atkinson

    Hi Irina,

    An interesting article for sure. I am providing a couple links that might be of interest to you or your readers concerning TPE.

    TPE is a whole family of products with different formulations for different applications and because they are different may need to be treated slightly differently in their use and maintenance. For Example; many TPE products leach or evaporate an oily substance (over time). TPE is more absorptive than Silicone and therefore may absorb body oils and body residues that may, over time, produce fungus and/or mold spores. Yuck! .. It is very important to know how to clean and maintain it no matter what product is being used.

    Here is a chemical compatibility guide from the Graco company who produce pumps not yoga mats but TPE is TPE .. perhaps.
    http://www.graco.com/content/dam/graco/ipd/literature/misc/chemical-compatibility-guide/Graco_ChemCompGuideEN-B.pdf

    You would see in this very long list vinegar, an eco friendly cleaning agent, is not recommended as it reacts to the TPE. On the other hand Isopropyl alcohol is not reactive with TPE and might be a better cleaning agent choice. This is not to say that TPE is a good product but it is in so many things we use and live with because of its natural flexibility and low cost, it is sometimes best to understand that if you own it, know how to maintain it properly.

    Perhaps your readers could come up with a natural fiber cover for yoga mats that eliminates contact with the skin and thus avoid chemical absorption into the body without compromising the usefulness of the mat.

    http://www.bpf.co.uk/plastipedia/polymers/thermoplastic_elastomers.aspx
    This is a link to the British Plastics Foudation and it might be worth your while to contact them for additional information regarding TPE and its ECO fit.

    TPE and other plastics are all around us. From running shoes, tool and bicycle handle grips to sex toys and yoga mats. Very hard to get away from low cost, high integration plastics such as TPE. Perhaps it is better to mitigate the risk then completely eliminate the product.

    Just my two cents worth.

    • 123

      Hi Mark, so can you give a list of every day cleaning products that can be used on TPE? I am looking for something that can be used to deodorize a new yoga mat. I originally thought to put the yoga mat in the tub and just pour big bottle of vinegar and water and soak the yoga mat until the odor wears out, but now I know it’s not a good idea, I suddenly have no idea what to do any more.

      The comprehensive table in the link you provided did not mention whether baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, mixes well with TPE.

      I am trying to avoid bathing soap because I don’t want the soap to sink into the mat.

  22. Mark Atkinson

    Well from the graco chart, vinegar would not be a good choice, your right. Since it is a rubber derivative, you could use a mild antibacterial soap such as Dawn soap or anything you might use on an infant child to gently clean it. For myself, I first use 70% rubbing alcohol to clean TPE and wipe it all down. Then gently clean it with Dawn soap. Also, once a quarter (3 months) or so, depending upon use, I will apply Baby oil (leaving it on for a few hours to be absorbed) to replenish any lost mineral oil from the product, and clean again with Dawn. The mineral oil will help replenish lost oils and block any bacteria from being absorbed. There is such a wide variety of TPE combinations it is hard to nail down which cleaning method is best. Also keep in mind TPE, once stained, is reasonably difficult to remove the stain from. Yoga mats may have to be replaced after a few years of constant use and should be cleaned regularly. Note. Essential oils have not been tested on TPE anywhere I looked but from a personal perspective I have put a few drops of peppermint oil in my baby oil and it seems to be fine and smells wonderful. Not all Essential oils are compatible with TPE in their concentrated form.

    Baking soda is a ground mineral and should be fine. A fine dusting of talc (also a mineral) would give it a nice smell and help absorb and foreign odors. If you use anything like talc or baking soda remember to clean and rinse off the residue.

  23. paula

    Not sure if any of you have heard of this company, but their mats are hand made in India and 100% cotton. You can also purchase a rubber floor grip to keep the mat in place. I haven’t bought one, but it seems like the strongest contender for me at this point.

    • Irina Webb

      Hi, Paula: If you can tolerate the absence of cushion, the plain natural fabric is always a better choice over synthetic material with undisclosed ingredients. ~Irina

  24. Laure

    Thank you very much for this post! Please do let us know if you find a more non-toxic mat, as I’ve been holding off on buying one until I can find one that I want.

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