This post has been a long time coming. In other words, I’ve been neglecting doing this, finally got to it, and then wanted to share my experience and methods with you guys as soon as I could. And, since the New Year is upon us, causing many of us to reassess and to try to adopt new healthier habits, I thought this post would be very appropriate.
The activity in question–cleaning my yoga and workout mats for mold, of course. Not a chore that is very fun, but one that is extremely necessary, especially when you are highly allergic to any type of fungus, like I am. Or, when the telltale “mat stink,” coming from the combination of sweat (moisture and bacteria/fungus on your skin) and mold (the musty smell), becomes downright disruptive to your yoga practice.
Before I begin with my method, I want to share a few tidbits with you about lovely yoga and workout mats and why it is not only a good idea, but extremely necessary to do, both frequently and properly. According to a medical and microbiology professor at Rutgers School of Medicine, when tested for cleanliness, yoga mats have proven to be filthier, in terms of harboring bacteria and fungi than either airline seats or cell phones—two of the highest items on the contamination list. The reason being, yoga mats get more skin-to-skin contact than either of the other two items. Also, during exercise, more skin on your body is usually exposed; therefore, more skin is in contact with the mat. Human skin can foster many different organisms, among those are up to 14 different types of fungi. Combine that with sweat, an absorbent and porous surface, (aka the mat) and you have a recipe for bacterial and fungal disaster!
If that’s not enough info to make you cringe, here is a brief and by no means all inclusive list of the common junk found on yoga/workout mats when they were tested and cultured by EMSL Analytical, an independent lab, where ELLE magazine sent test samples from mats in yoga studios all over NYC: mold, Strep, Staph, MRSA virus, impetigo, flu virus, coryne bacteria that causes acne, toenail fungus, common cold viruses, e-coli bacteria, herpes infections, warts, and much, much more. Viruses cannot live as long in the mat, but bacteria and fungi can live for days, and fungi can go on to grow and flourish there, if the mat stays moist. Sorry for the wake-up call, but it is gross, isn’t it?
Now, if you are reading this and saying to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t apply to me, because I always bring my own mat to yoga or the gym.” Or, if are you saying, “I only workout at home and just use my mat there?”Sorry. This does apply to you too.
Just because you are not sharing a mat, doesn’t mean that it is bacteria and fungus free. Quite the contrary. If you are bringing your mat to the gym and putting it down on the floor where other people have been, or other mats have been, you are picking up all of that bacteria, fungus, etc. on your mat too. Also, your skin has your bacteria, viruses and fungus on it. So, say for example, you have some type of sickness, or infection, like impetigo, and it gets on your mat, you may recover and get well, but the next time you use your mat, if you have not cleaned it properly, you can pick up that same sickness or bacteria all over again. It can be a vicious cycle. But, the good news is, I’m here to help.
Here is how.
The first technique, and mind you, not all mats are made to withstand this, is simply washing your mat in the washing machine. You will need to check with the manufacturer of your mat before you proceed. Sometimes this information is even printed on the mat itself. For example, my lululemon yoga mat is okay to wash in the washing machine, but my other Gaiam mat is not. Regardless, if your mat is machine washable, here is how to go about laundering it:
How to Wash Your Yoga/Workout Mat in the Washing Machine:
- Unroll your mat and place it in the washing machine by itself—never try to wash anything with it.
- Arrange it in the machine as evenly as possible, so that it doesn’t throw your machine off balance during the agitation or spinning phases.
- Turn the machine dials to the gentle or delicate cycle, and choose the warm water temperature wash on your dials.
- Turn the machine on, so that the drum starts to fill. Add a little bit of mild detergent and a capful of EC3 Laundry Additive or EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate directly to the water. (I like Simple Truth Fragrance-Free Liquid Laundry Detergent, Liquid Castile Soap or All Free and Clear. I have also used baby laundry detergent on my mats with good results. Apparently laundry detergent for washing baby textiles is more geared towards cleansing body oils and bacteria from things, so is mild, but very effective for this type of application. It is just more enzymatic in composition, usually.)
- If during the cycle the drum becomes unbalanced, turn off the washer and rearrange the mat so that its weight is more evenly distributed in the machine.
- As soon as the cycle is complete, remove the mat from the machine. Lay a clean, dry towel over it and roll the towel up in the mat. Step on the rolled mat to squeeze out any extra water into the towel.
- Unroll it, then, hang it or drape it over something, so that it can air dry. Never place the mat in the dryer—the heat could ruin it and cause it to fall apart. Air drying is always, always best.
- If you want to pack an extra punch for cleaning for mold, you can also mist the damp mat with EC3 Mold Spray and continue to allow it to air dry.
- Make sure your mat is completely dry prior to using it again. This can take up to 48 hours, so plan accordingly with your workout and yoga schedule.
Other Yoga Mat/Workout Mat Washing Techniques:
- On a nice day, you can use a hose and a mild detergent to hose your mat down with water and to clean it outside. (I use Liquid Castile Soap for this, like Dr. Bronner’s.) Unroll the mat onto a clean, preferably concrete or stone surface. Doing this in the leaves or grass with defeat the purpose, because you will pick up additional allergens doing so. You will need to use a sponge with the detergent to fully clean your mat on both sides. Then, as in the previous directions, roll the mat with a clean, dry towel to absorb the excess water, step on it to squeeze it out, and hang it outside in the sun, preferably during spring, summer, and fall, or in a well-circulated place inside to dry. Spray it with EC3 Mold Spray all over, front and back, as it is drying to kill any mold that didn’t get washed away with the detergent.
- Clean your mat in your bathtub. Fill a clean bathtub with warm water, and use a sponge and a mild detergent to clean the mat. (I would use the Liquid Castile Soap, like Dr. Bronner’s for this.) Drain the tub and shake out the mat first before rolling it with a clean, dry towel, stepping on it to remove the excess water, and then hanging it to dry. With this technique, you would also want to spray it with the EC3 Mold Spray as it is air drying to make sure all fungal spores are eliminated.
If washing your mat isn’t preferable, or you cannot spare a day without using it, so that it can fully dry, I have a recipe for a great anti-fungal/antibacterial spray that you can use to disinfect your mat after each use. You can also use this spray with a sponge soaked in warm water to give your mat a more thorough cleaning on days when you have a little more time, or think it needs it. This spray is safe for use on your gym and yoga mats. It cleans, disinfects and prevents bacteria and fungi from proliferating. But, unlike antibacterial sprays or Clorox wipes, it does not contain any perfumes, won’t irritate your skin, isn’t toxic, and won’t put any off-putting smells or chemicals up close to your face when you are lying on your mat or have your face pressed into it for yoga.
Here is how to make it:
Antifungal/Antibacterial Workout and Yoga Mat Cleaning Spray:
Tools and Ingredients:
- 16 Oz. Spray Bottle
- Distilled Water
- ¼ teaspoon Liquid Castile Soap
- 3 ounces “Real” Distilled Witch Hazel – Make sure it is alcohol free. The best place to source this is online or at an all-natural apothecary or store, like Whole Foods.
- 2 capfuls EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate
- 3 ounces Aloe Vera Concentrate – Must be a shelf-stable liquid, not the gel or a perishable aloe vera liquid that needs to be refrigerated.
- Optional: 3-4 drops of essential oil – This element will add fragrance, so if you want it fragrance-free, just leave this out. I am going to use Tea Tree oil.
Take the top off of your spray bottle and put it to the side. Fill the bottle halfway with distilled water. Add the castile soap, witch hazel, EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, Aloe Vera concentrate, and the essential oils, if using. Screw the top back on and shake vigorously until mixed well.
Unroll your yoga mat out flat. Mist entire topside of the mat until fully saturated.
Use a clean, damp towel to wipe the mat off, moving from one end to the other to ensure that you have wiped every inch.
Use a clean, dry towel to wipe it dry.
Flip the mat over and mist and wipe as before. Once you are finished, if possible, leave your mat hanging or draped over furniture where it can dry.
If you are at the gym, mist the mat, wipe it down with a clean towel, making sure to do both sides, and roll it up to take home. The spray will work to keep bacteria and fungus from forming between uses. You can also take this spray to clean the public gym or yoga mats before you use them, although, I highly recommend getting your own if you frequent the gym. It is just more sanitary. I would make the fragrance-free version if you are going to use it for public mats. I also suggest throwing out your mats once a year and getting new ones. It seems like an expensive suggestion, but think of all of the medicine and doctors you won’t need to pay for, if you stay well. Finally, MicroBalance makes a travel-sized EC3 Mold Spray that is easy to keep in your gym bag. Combine that with the above spray, and you will eliminate many of the bacteria and fungal hitchhikers that make you very sick. You get to be fit and healthy. Yay! Win-win.
Take care, and let me know if you try any of these.