PVC Yoga Mats: Safe or Toxic?

posted in: Yoga Mats | 22

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Are PVC yoga mats safe?

Practicing yoga is a crucial component of my healthy routine. After having experienced the benefits of yoga, I do not know how I had survived without it before. I believe YogaWorks (a free week with mention of my name) studio was very instrumental in helping me get addicted to the practice of yoga. Unfortunately, like with pretty much everything, if you are not careful you may expose yourself to toxic chemicals – in your yoga mat. You may end up inhaling potentially harmful chemicals and absorb them through skin contact. In this post, we are going to talk about PVC yoga mats and why it is important to avoid them.

 

The most common material for yoga mats

Most yoga mats are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), also knows as vinyl, the most toxic plastic (recycle code #3). PVC is toxic during every stage of its life cycle. It is toxic during its manufacture; it is toxic to the end consumers; and it is toxic during its disposal. As consumers, we are exposed to PVC, through inhalation and skin contact.

 

What is wrong with PVC yoga mats?

The main ingredient in PVC is vinyl chloride, which is a known human carcinogen. We are exposed to the gas that PVC yoga mats emit.

Also, dioxins are byproducts of PVC yoga mats’ manufacturing and disposal. Dioxins are a group of toxic chemicals that share a similar chemical structure and induce harm through a similar mechanism.  They have been classified as a human carcinogen.  They are on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of priority pollutants.  They are persistent (they do not break down easily in the environment) and bioaccumulative (they build up in our bodies).

Moreover, PVC in its natural form is not suitable to make products. Plasticizers are then added to make it soft and flexible. There are a variety of phthalates used as plasticizers and some of them are so toxic that in 2012 the US government enacted a law to restrict the use of them in children’s toys and some other children’s items (for more info visit here). Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues, obesity, and cancer.

And lastly, heavy metals (such as lead) are added to make it more durable.

I think those are good reasons to avoid PVC yoga mats. Even if you are knowledgeable about PVC and have made the decision to avoid it, sometimes it is not easy.

 

Is your yoga mat free of PVC?

Manufacturers caught on to the idea that consumers are concerned about exposure to toxic chemicals. So they get very crafty with their product descriptions. With PVC yoga mats, you might read that they are free of toxic phthalates, lead, BPA, etc., which does not mean that that the yoga mat is free of PVC. Always ask the manufacturer by email whether the yoga mat you are looking to buy is free of PVC.

 

Is there such a thing as non-toxic PVC?

When a manufacturer tells you that their PVC yoga mats are free of phthalates, heavy metals, and chlorine, the question I am always dying to ask is what is used instead Of these toxins. Remember my post about the Sealy Soybean mattress? As I never received satisfying answers, I did not add the Sealy mattress to the database of baby products I recommend in my private non-toxic baby registry consultations.

PVC yoga mats

What about OEKO-Tex-certified PVC yoga mats?

I recently learned the OEKO-Tex, a European agency that tests products for harmful substances, both legal and illegal to use, certifies PVC. Does it mean that it is okay to use? It means that apparently there is a new technology to make PVC yoga mats in such a way that it satisfies OEKO-Tex standard limits, which is a step in the right direction.

However, the standard does not look into whether the production and disposal of PVC are toxic to the environment. We know that PVC is not biodegradable so the only way to get rid of it is to burn it. When PVC is burned, the chlorine produces extremely toxic and persistent dioxins that end up in soil, fish, animals, water, air, and ultimately in our bodies.

 

What is next?

Thus, I do not recommend PVC yoga mats even if they are certified by OEKO-Tex.

 

Update as of 10/06/2016:  To see a list of yoga mats that I believe are safer than PVC, TPE, or PER yoga mats, head over here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 Responses

  1. Thank you for this article. As a new mother I find I’m thinking even more about what products are made of and how my use or consumption of various products affect this new life I’ve created. I requested that no one give the baby plastic toys and have chosen glass bottles for those times when I can’t nurse because as I tell my friends and family: BPA isn’t the only harmful ingredient in plastic. I’m looking forward to your article on environmentally sound yoga mats.

    • Hi Hannah, you are right about the fact that BPA is not the only toxin in plastic. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that BPA-free plastic is as toxic as its BPA-containing relatives. Read more, here.

  2. Pallavi

    Hi Irina,

    I absolutely love reading your write ups and after reading this one, I have started doubting whether the playmats my husband bought recently for our 8 month old son are safe. There are 2 kinds I found in shops – one type comes in different pieces which one needs to put together like a jigsaw puzzle and each piece/square has a different color, number or letter on it. The other type is a single large piece with some animated characters made on it. I think both these types are made of EVA foam though I’m not very sure. Do you think the kids playmats available in the market are safe or is there some toxic element in them. Apart from sitting and crawling on the playmats, I’ve seen my baby lick the mats sometimes too. If these are toxic, then what would you suggest would be a safe substitute. Thanks for being there for worried moms like me!

    • Hi Pallavi, EVA is a safer alternative to PVC. However, it may still contain toxic chemicals such as formamide, a reproductive and developmental toxin. Since you already got them, you might want to call the manufacturer to find out how they are made and tested for toxins. And yes, natural yoga mat is good alternative for your situation. Stay tuned for my research results and let me know what you find out.

  3. Hello Irina,
    Today I purchased a yoga mat without knowing what PVC was and how harmful it is. However, after reading this article I am worried about what to do with my mat. I do not feel comfortable using it knowing it contains toxins, but I would also feel guilty about throwing it away since I know it’s bad for the environment. I don’t know what to do, it’s very frustrating. I would love to hear any comments or advice you may have.

    • Hi Janet,

      Thank you for asking the question. Unfortunately, there is no ideal solution to this. We face this problem as individuals and as the humankind – what to do with toxic chemicals we have created and now know that they are toxic. I was glad to learn that there are emerging recycling facilities for PVC (vinyl). They process PVC to make it less toxic. It is not ideal but better than putting vinyl in landfill or burning it releasing dioxins in the area. Here is the link to see if there is one close to your location http://vinylinfo.org/recycling/directory/

  4. That’s a very interesting conversation. And I’d like to broaden a little bit the scope: toxicity should be evaluated on the complete life cycle of the product, and it’s then not only about the product, but also the logistic of moving the product from Asia to let say the USA. Then my concern: while PVC mats are more toxic than others, they are also more durable. And the toxicity cost of moving a mat from Asia to the USA is the same. So, are we better overall with a PVC mat that will lat 5 years, or eco friendly mats that need to be replaced every 6 or 12 months, and therefore will generate 5 to 10 times more ecological footprint with their logistic?

    • And yes, I take into the considering transportation toxicity. I am still hoping that we do not have to make that choice. I do not think I would make a choice toward PVC as everything is so toxic about it from manufacture to disposal. From my experience natural rubber lasts longer than 1 year as long as you do not expose it to direct light too much.

  5. Hi Irina,

    First, this is really weird, as I was just looking for a Yoga Kit
    with mat, blocks, etc. and I saw some that supposedly were
    Non-toxic….some even said Non-toxic PVC. Also, how about
    the blocks? What are they made of?

    Anyway, what did “they” make their mats out of, hundreds of
    years ago when there wasn’t any plastic or PVC?

    I’m really interested to find out…..maybe “they” didn’t use
    anything but what they had, like hand-woven blankets, etc.,
    or just did their Yoga on grass.

    Just thought I’d take a shot and ask, thinking you might
    know or would be interested in finding out.

    I want to Thank You for what you do, supplying “us” with
    non-toxic information (little play on words there, HA!) and
    I look forward to detoxing my home!

    All My Best,
    Carla

  6. […] polyurethane foam (petroleum-based foam), flame retardant chemicals, and waterproof covers made of PVC (vinyl). One of the major problems with polyurethane foam is VOCs. This study found that VOC concentrations […]

  7. Thank you! I splurged on a yeti yoga mat because it was advertised as “pthalate free”, and because it’s from a small company out of Portland I trusted I’m getting something good. After 3 uses and feeling nauseous from the toxic smell, and sliding around on it due to it’s strange oily surface texture, I’m just upset and feel duped. Unfortunately, I purchased another before I tried this one out, only because I like the patterns and I wanted one as a gift for my husband. I’m so disappointed and tired of false advertisement. Upon looking into the composition, it’s made of PVC. I’m finding that even small companies that you expect better from are misleading consumers and you always have to question everything.

  8. Shawn Tycz

    Hi there! What was the outcome for suggestions for least toxic yoga mat? its so difficult to figure out with all the horrible false advertising out there. It’s horrific that these companies get away with this. Thanks so much for any feedback!!

  9. What was the final outcome? So tough to find a good may with all the false advertising out there!!

    • Hi, Shawn:

      please see my finding here. Unfortunately, my fav mat sold by Yoga Accessories has been discontinued. I still use it and have no idea what I am going to replace it with down the road. ~Irina

  10. There is a yoga mat company in Colorado called Sweet-Mat and they are marketing their scent infused mats as safe, latex and rubber free. I was told that the owner of the company has conned and stolen money from many people through his failed companies in Iowa and Kansas. He appears to be in it for the money and from the comments from many previous customers of his, he doesn’t seem to have a conscience. So BEWARE! Who know what chemicals his mats, made in China, contain. Google: “Sunroom design by Ron”, “The amazing patio cover”, “Sunroom escapes ron williams”, and “FUNDRAISING SCAM: Family of Child With Cancer Conned – WHOtv”.

  11. Hi!!
    So I myself have done tons of research on which mat is in fact the SAFEST. My conclusion is that the Barefoot original eco mat may be the most natural and non-toxic. I was originally looking into the Manduka mats, but after much research I learned they may in fact contain some of that “non metal” PVC.
    Thoughts???

    • Hi Annie: yes – I think the Barefoot Original Eco mat is the safest. Unfortunately, with time it sheds. I also found a mat made with natural rubber and jute by Yoga Accessories. And I am so happy with it. Unfortunately, it is not longer sold. Read more, here. ~Irina

  12. Hi,
    I bought a yoga mat from amazon it is natural tree rubber yoga mat, as a new yoga person, I don’t know what type of yoga mat is the best. Also, I don’t know what’s different PVC VS Rubber.

    Thank you for this nice article.

  13. Well I read through your article.. And I have couple of points to make. If your investing in the most appropriately made PVC mat, you need not dispose it off! Such mats are neither allergic nor release toxic materials for they are free of all the toxins. In fact, they are so durable that you need not replace them at all. So indirectly you are helping not to release toxins in environment through its disposal. But having used the rubber mat, blanket n cotton mat, I still found PVC mat to be the best in terms of #grip and #anti-skid texture!

    All said, there is no replacement to the most naturally available ‘grass’ mat of course.

  14. Hi Irina, thanks so much for this blog! I already have this baby-friendly mat and am thinking of buying another but am more conscious now about PVC and vinyl. The mat is made of 100% PVC but company says that the PVC they use is “eco friendly” which has undergone and met rigorous EU and US standards for safety. Would you still trust this product? You can see there are over 2,000 reviews and everyone seems to love it. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0058K5IIQ/ref=ask_ql_qh_dp_hza

    • Hi, Jenny:
      The reason it says eco PVC is that this is a type of PVC made without phthalates, which is a huge step forwards. However, we are not informed what they use instead and whether the substitutes have been tested for health safety. Also, formamide can present in some EVA foam. With this said, since they claim that the mat is tested to EN71 and not made in China, it should be okay. However, it is best to contact the manufacturer directly to confirm that because I find that some Amazon product descriptions are not always accurate. Please let me know what you think and what you find out. I know that the mat looks really good. ~Irina

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