Yoga mats are made of synthetic and natural materials. Your choice of a yoga mat material will depend on the type of yoga and the place of your practice. Considering the price alone may leave you with a yoga mat that’s toxic for your health and the environment.
The right yoga mat material needs to be comfortable for you to be on, keep you warm from the cold floor and have a good grip. Eco-friendly yoga mats are made from organic natural materials from sustainable sources.
Yoga is a spiritual practice that connects you to yourself and your environment. Yoga practice encourages living in a more natural way. If you are interested in an eco-friendly yoga mat, here’s an article to help you choose one.
To give you an overview, let’s have a look at different options of yoga mat materials. Some yoga mats are toxic, and others are more friendly to you and the environment.
With a wide range of yoga mat materials available, you can take your pick. Here’s a full guide on how to choose the right yoga mat for beginners. The common synthetic materials for yoga mats are PVC, TPE, NBR, EVA and PU. The eco-friendly yoga mat materials include Cork and Natural rubber, Cotton, Jute and Wool.
Synthetic Yoga Mat Materials
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) Yoga Mat Material
One of the most common yoga mat materials is PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), a plastic toxic for our health and the environment.
When you look into yoga mat materials, PVC is one of the first materials you will come across. Why?
PVC is one of the first plastics ever manufactured. You can find it in products like shower curtains, sewage pipes, cables, vinyl records among many others.
PVC is composed of organochlorides. These chemicals create toxic by-products dangerous for animals and plants. Organochloride compounds accumulate in fatty tissues, reaching all levels of the food chain (Source).
PVC manufacturing has a big eco-footprint in the environment. It requires the use of organochlorides and a lot of electricity. In fact, it uses about 1 per cent of the world’s total electricity output.
PVC has been found to cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine system, impair the foetus development, and suppress the immune system (Source). PVC contains substances such as phthalates and vinyl chloride and reacts with other compounds to create toxic chemicals that damage the health of animals, plants and humans.
These chemicals concentrate in breast milk and can harm babies. They can also cross the placental barrier and damage the foetus (Source). PVC can take up to 500 years to degrade. It also releases toxic chemicals during degradation.
PVC yoga mats have some benefits. They are cheap, easy to wash, resist bacterial growth and have a long life. PVC yoga mats also have a good grip and cushioning.
However, PVC toxicity outweighs any of its benefits. PVC yoga mats have an open-cell structure, which means they aren’t waterproof and easily absorb water. Because of this, you can’t wash them and they aren’t suitable for Hot yoga. They also have a strong plastic smell when new that doesn’t go away easily.
You can’t recycle PVC, so it ends up in landfills where it produces toxic chemicals, dioxins and chlorine compounds.
PER Yoga Mat Material
PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) is essentially PVC that has been stabilized with additives, although not as toxic as the ones used in PVC production. Even though the degradation of PER isn’t as polluting as that of PVC, it still releases toxic chemicals into the environment.
The downside of PER yoga mat materials is their high eco-footprint during the production of PVC. PER is not recyclable.
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomers) Yoga Mat Material
TPE is a polymer, a type of plastic with thermic and elastic properties. TPE doesn’t require reinforcing agents or stabilizers and because of this, it’s less reactive and polluting than PVC. Which makes it a better alternative to PVC.
TPE is easily moulded, extruded and reused. However, it’s not easily recyclable. While TPE is better than PVC, it still has a big carbon footprint because it’s produced from fossil fuels (like all synthetic materials).
TPE yoga mats are moderately priced and have a closed-cell structure which provides good cushioning and insulation. TPE is resistant to oil and water, as well as having anti-bacterial properties. TPE yoga mat material is popular because of its low weight and long life. The downside of TPE yoga mat material is that it isn’t recyclable and degrades slowly in a landfill. It also has a strong plastic smell when new.
NBR (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber) Yoga Mat Material
NBR is a synthetic rubber material commonly used in the automotive and aeronautical industry. It has become popular among yoga mats as it provides good insulation and cushioning.
NBR manufacturing isn’t friendly to the environment. Europe, USA and Canada don’t produce NBR because of the toxic substances such as Butadiene used during the manufacturing process.
NBR degrades faster than other synthetic materials if it has additives to speed up the process.
The NBR yoga mat is cheap, provides good insulation and cushioning. It’s light and has a long life. Closed-cell structure makes it washable and resistant to bacterial growth, oils and water. The downside is that NBR degrades slowly in a landfill and isn’t recyclable.
EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) Yoga Mat Material
EVA is made from blended copolymers of ethylene and vinyl acetate. It’s commonly found in shoe soles, toys, foam tiles, sports helmets, among many others.
EVA yoga mats are cheap and light. They provide good insulation and cushioning. EVA yoga mats come in different thicknesses, but if they are too thick, they don’t provide good stability. A closed-cell structure that makes it water-resistant and antibacterial. EVA is a material that is non-reactive to fat or oils.
The EVA downside is that it will compact with use, making it unstable for your practice. It has a plastic smell when new that disappears after a few weeks. EVA recycling is extremely localized and usually ends up in landfills.
PU (Polyurethane) Yoga Mat Material
Polyurethanes (PU) are synthetic polymers that can be processed in a variety of different ways. There are two types of PU: biodegradable and non-biodegradable (source).
The use of PU outside yoga mats extends to furniture coatings, adhesives, construction materials, flame retardants, fibres, paddings, paints, elastomeric parts, and synthetic skins.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers polyurethane foam fabrication facilities potential major sources of several hazardous air pollutants including methylene chloride, toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and hydrogen cyanide.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has yet to establish exposure limits on carcinogenicity for polyurethane foam. (Source)
You may come across PU yoga mats. They tend to be cheap, offer good cushioning and insulation. PU isn’t friendly to the environment, as an alternative, companies like Liforme has created an eco-PU which biodegrades in between 1-5 years in landfill conditions without releasing toxic chemicals.
Comparison of Synthetic Yoga Mat Materials
Easy to wash
|Open-cell construction absorbs moisture|
Strong plastic smell
Degradation doesn’t cause hazardous byproducts.
|Slow degradation in a landfill|
Plastic odour when new
Oil and water resistance
Good insulation and cushioning
|Slow degradation in landfill|
Non-reactive to fats and oils.
|The plastic smell disappears after a few weeks.|
EVA compacts slightly with use
EVA material degrades if it contains additives to speed up the process.
Recycling is low and localized.
Usually ends up in landfills
Ok insulation and cushioning
|Less grip than some PVC mats|
Coarse to the skin when mixed with Jute
Requires a break-in period to develop maximum grip
Good insulation and cushioning
|Not good for hot yoga|
Its production releases toxic fumes
Natural Yoga Mat Materials
JUTE Yoga Mat Material
Jute is a natural fibre from a plant from the Corchorus genus. It’s second to cotton in the amount produced and variety of uses.
Jute is a rain-fed crop with little need for fertilizers or pesticides, in contrast to cotton’s heavy requirements. Jute’s production is mostly in Bangladesh, India’s states of Assam, Bihar, and West Bengal.
Jute yoga mats usually have one side made of Jute and the other from PVC or PER. They are washable and provide good cushioning, insulation and durability. but require a period of breaking in and can be a bit coarse to the skin.
Cork Yoga Mat Material
Cork is a natural material made from the cortex of the oak tree. It’s a renewable resource that doesn’t damage the trees during its harvesting. Cork yoga mats usually have one side made of cork and the other from a different material to make them non-slippery on the floor surface.
Cork yoga mats can be 100% cork or mixed with other materials such as TPE, PU or Natural rubber. An eco-friendly option is a cork mixed with natural rubber. When the cork is mixed with PER, TPE or PU the eco-friendliness of the cork yoga mat is negated by these synthetic materials.
A cork yoga provides a good grip for your practice, even when wet. This makes it a great material for hot yoga, power yoga, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga.
Cork is antibacterial, so you won’t need to worry about your yoga mat growing bacteria or mould. You can also wash your cork yoga mat or wipe it after each use. Cork yoga mat gives you good insulation and cushioning. It will last around 2-3 years depending on how well you look after it.
Natural Rubber Yoga Mat Material
Natural rubber is also known as latex or caucho. Natural rubber is made from the sap of rubber trees found in South America (Brazil) and South Asia (Malaysia, India, Thailand, and Indonesia).
Natural rubber is harvested from trees by making incisions in the bark and collecting the milky fluid. Different items can be made from natural rubber. It’s one of the best options for a yoga mat.
Natural rubber yoga mats are impermeable, have a good grip and are washable. Natural rubber comes from sustainable and renewable sources, it’s biodegradable. Natural rubber yoga mats have a lifespan of 2 to 3 years. It’s not recommended for hot yoga as it can get slippery.
The downside of natural rubber is its smell when new that takes a few weeks to air out. It’s not recommended for people with latex allergies. It can degrade quickly when exposed to sunlight or when used in hot and humid climates.
Natural rubber yoga mats can be expensive and heavy.
Cotton Yoga Mat Material
The production of cotton has a high environmental impact because of the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and huge amounts of water.
Some cotton crops are genetically modified. These crops require herbicide glyphosate, which poses risks to our health and the environment.
If you are getting a cotton yoga mat, go for an organic option. Its production doesn’t use pesticides, chemical fertilizers and relies on rainfall. Organic cotton production also benefits local communities who have ethical working conditions.
Cotton yoga mats are the traditional yoga mats. They have a great grip even when wet. This quality makes them great for all types of yoga including Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Power yoga. A cotton yoga mat is washable, great for outdoor yoga practice and light to carry around. It’s biodegradable.
The downside is that the cotton yoga mat doesn’t provide that much cushioning so you may like to combine it with another yoga mat. The other downside is that depending on the flooring you practice, the cotton yoga mat can slip, so you may need to use anti-slippery pad underneath.
Wool Yoga Mat Material
Wool is a sustainable resource that doesn’t harm sheep during the process. If the wool is organic, it benefits small producers and has a low impact on the environment.
A wool yoga mat is great for calmer types of yoga such as Yin yoga, Kundalini yoga, Mantra yoga, Meditation and Relaxation.
The wool yoga mat is ideal for indoor practice. It provides great insulation and cushioning. It has a long lifespan, and it’s biodegradable.
The downside of a wool yoga mat is that it can be coarse to the skin and some people may have some sensitivity to wool.
Comparison of Natural Yoga Mat Materials
Lifespan 2-3 years
Bacterial growth resistant
|More expensive than synthetic yoga mats.|
|Natural Rubber||Good grip|
Lifespan 2-3 years
From sustainable sources
|Can cause allergies and sensitivity. |
It’s not recommended for people with latex allergies.
Not good for hot yoga, it can be slippery.
It gets damaged when exposed to sunlight and in hot and humid climates.
Emits strong odour when new, it needs a few weeks to air out
Absorbance of sweat
Great for all types of yoga, including Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Power yoga.
Great for outdoors
|Moderate cushioning. |
Can be a bit coarse to the skin.
May need an anti-slippery pad if used over hard flooring.
Good cushioning and insulation
ok for indoors and outdoors
|The natural fibres can be coarse to the skin.|
Usually combined with PER
|Wool||Good cushioning and insulation|
For indoor practice
Great for Yin, Kundalini yoga, meditation and relaxation.
|The wool can be a bit coarse to the skin|
There is a wide range of yoga mat materials available. You can take your pick to suit your preferences and values. Choosing an eco-friendly yoga mat benefits your health and the environment.
One thing to keep in mind is that PVC, TPE, NBR, EVA and Natural Latex yoga mats are made of a single material. Whereas yoga mats from Jute or Cork contain 2 different materials – one for each side.
The top part is a natural material and the bottom part is synthetic. This provides more grip and insulation. Pure Jute and pure cork are more expensive.
Some yoga mats are recyclable or made with recycled materials. If you care about the environment, choose a yoga mat from a natural and non-toxic material.
When you buy a yoga mat, check the material it’s made of. The label will give you a clue to know whether the material is biodegradable, recyclable or environmentally friendly.
Most of the synthetic yoga mats have a big carbon footprint and will take a long time to degrade. Some yoga mat materials are toxic and have detrimental effects on our health in the long term. PVC is the most toxic. Other synthetic materials use additives.
When choosing a yoga mat material, apart from the core material, one thing to keep in mind is the manufacturing process. For example, natural rubber itself may not be harmful or cause allergies. But the chemicals that turn a blob of natural rubber into a yoga mat may allergenic.
If you walk or jog to your yoga class, a lightweight yoga mat material like a thin cork yoga mat or a cotton yoga mat can be good. Whereas if you are driving or practising at home, a natural rubber yoga mat is a good option.
If you are planning to practice outdoors, consider a yoga mat material that’s durable and easy to wash.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are yoga mats made of?
There is a handful of materials, overall yoga mats can be made of synthetic polymers, natural materials either fabrics or natural rubber and a combination of both.
What is a yoga block?
A yoga block is a prop that helps us during yoga practice to achieve a position with more ease. A yoga block helps us get into the correct alignment and develop into a posture.
What is the best thickness for a yoga mat?
The thickness of your yoga mat will depend on two things the type of flooring where you will be performing yoga and the type of yoga you are doing.
What makes a good yoga mat?
A good yoga mat will ideally have the right size for your body, be comfortable, cushioned, have a good grip, and be environmentally friendly.
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