How to clean a yoga mat during COVID + what to bring

How to clean a yoga mat during COVID- studio class rolling up mats

With coronavirus, questions that are popping up a lot are: how should I clean a yoga mat during COVID? Do I need to do anything extra to make sure it’s sanitized? Here’s what to consider if you’re heading to the gym or studio for your favorite class—and one extra thing you’ll definitely want to bring with you.

Are yoga mats really germy enough to need cleaning after each session?

Just thinking about everything your yoga mat touches can be anxiety-inducing during COVID. At a minimum, it connects with your feet, palms, and clothes. Plus the floor. (And when was that last cleaned, anyway?) Then, it lands in your trunk or maybe on shared shelving with other mats, blankets, and blocks.

The point is: your mat gets a lot of contact. Bacteria and viruses can easily settle in and come along for the ride. According to ASUTRA, who makes one of our favorite yoga mat cleaners, untreated mats can harbor up to 100,000 bacteria on one cubic centimeter alone. (Eww. And yikes.)

Different options for how to clean a yoga mat during COVID-19

On an everyday basis, studies haven’t definitively linked yoga mats to increases in viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. But some physicians are noticing a connection. As far as COVID, research is still ongoing as to how well it can be transmitted via surfaces. But we do know is that studies show other coronaviruses can live on surfaces for a few hours or as long as a couple of days. The best thing to do, pandemic or not? Give both sides of your yoga mat a thorough cleaning every time you use it. Especially if you’re in a studio or fitness center. And even if you’re at home.

What you commonly see used as yoga mat cleaners

There’s no shortage of mat cleaners out there. Our usual favorites are ones that are free from harsh chemicals that can irritate the sensitive parts of skin that can come in contact with your yoga mat during class or practice. If you’re using a borrowed mat, your gym or studio should have specific protocols and products in place for disinfecting surfaces. Ask your yoga instructor what those protocols are, so you can decide if you’re comfortable with the products used for cleaning and sanitization. Listen for instructions on whether or not you have any responsibility for cleaning your materials after class or if the studio or gym handles disinfecting equipment.

Many studios use mat cleaners from reputable yoga brands. Or, sometimes, they use mixtures of water, vinegar, and essential oils. But, in gyms or fitness centers, you might see disinfectant wipes used. They’re easy to hand out, and, according the CDC, many do kill COVID.

A pre-moistened wipe is not great for cleaning your yoga mat

First of all, any level of cleaning is better than not cleaning at all. It’s good to know, though, that pre-moistened wipes of any type are not the absolute best method for thoroughly cleaning a yoga mat. Here’s the reason why: to prevent slippage during class, yoga mats have a lot of grip and grooves to keep you from falling in tree pose (and others!). Wipes can have a hard time getting into all of those grooves. Especially if the one you’re using starts to dry up while cleaning.

Spraying and wiping are the best way to quickly clean your yoga mat

During COVID or not, it’s ideal to use a spray to clean your yoga mat. It gets into all of the dips and grooves. Spray on a fine mist of your cleaner, and let it sit for the recommended contact time before wiping it off with a towel or cloth. Make sure to give both sides of the mat equal attention. (They both get dirty.)

Another good option: most yoga mats can also go for a bath

The washing machine is off-limits for most mats. But a good soak is okay for most mats, and a gentle, non-abrasive way to clean them. Sure, it sounds a little silly. But most mats can be thrown in the tub with a hypoallergenic soap and water. Give it a good scrub, just like you would when washing your hands. Then, hang it up to dry.

If I use a bleach-based cleaner, will it ruin my yoga mat or irritate my skin?

What students feel comfortable using to clean their yoga mat (during COVID or not) varies based on personal risk, mindset, and sensitivity or feelings on conventional cleaning products. Some feel safest with cleaners designated by the CDC as effective on COVID. Others still prefer to use their usual mat cleaner, which often has essential oils. As always, information is key: no essential oils have been proven to kill COVID. However, many do have antiviral, as well as antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Harsher cleaners may take the non-slip coating off your mat or degrade it over time. How much so depends on several different factors, from frequency of use to type of cleaner and even what your mat is made from. They may all look fairly similar, but yoga mats can be manufactured from a variety of materials, like cotton, jute, rubber, PVC, and more, and will respond in different ways.

If you decide to use a bleach-based disinfectant to clean and sanitize your yoga mat during COVID, here’s a tip. Follow product recommendations on how long the cleaner needs to sit on the mat to be effective. Afterward, if the material allows it, wash your mat again with mild soap and water in the tub. This way, your skin doesn’t come into contact with residue from harsher cleaners the next time you practice.

What we recommend bringing with you to a studio or fitness yoga class

Safety should always be top of mind. Cleaning your yoga mat with a product designed to eliminate a majority of dirt, grime, and germs has never been more important. One thing that can be helpful for students with sensitive skin or using a community mat: purchase a yoga towel. (If you go to hot yoga, chances are you already have one.) Look for a non-slip one that fits the dimensions of your mat. It’s helpful if it has pockets for the corners of your yoga mat to slide into. No one wants to get tripped up by their towel in the middle of a flow.

A yoga towel doesn’t mean you can skip cleaning your yoga mat, especially during COVID. But it does let you have more control over what surface you’re coming in contact with. After each use, toss the towel in the washing machine and follow care instructions on drying.

How often should I sanitize a yoga mat regularly and during COVID?

Even in a perfect or non-COVID world, it’s a good idea to give your yoga mat a wipe down after every session. This is especially true if you’re borrowing a mat, but also important even if it’s yours.

Have questions about yoga with a mask on? We answer here.

Cindy Hodits, RYT