How to Clean a Yoga Mat and Why You Need to Do It

Harmful bacteria on a dirty yoga mat can put you at risk for a skin infection. Find out how often you should clean your yoga mat.

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Your yoga mat is like your water bottle – you know you need to clean it once in a while, but you probably don’t.

However, if you examine your carpet under a microscope, what you find hidden might make you change your mind (and give you chills). Yes, an unwashed carpet is a breeding ground for all kinds of creepy critters, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Which makes it a particularly fertile incubator for many infections (more on that later).

We spoke to Kelly Reynolds, PhD, director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Environmental Assessment, Exposure Science, and Hazard, to find out what happens if you let your carpet build up. mud, as well as tips on how to clean a yoga mat.

3 reasons to regularly clean your yoga mat

1. It can cause a skin infection

Your yoga mat can harbor harmful germs, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi, which can cause nasty skin infections.

“These microbes can live on surfaces for days or months and spread from person to person via surfaces like exercise mats,” says Reynolds. Common pathogens that can be transmitted by a dirty yoga mat include:

  • Fungi that cause athlete’s foot and other types of ringworm:These pathogens multiply in warm, humid environments (like gym showers or around swimming pools). They’re particularly well suited to thriving for long periods of time on yoga mats, Reynolds says, which is why fungal infections develop so easily.
  • Staphylococcus or staphylococcus bacteria:This is a pathogen that is commonly found on the skin and is usually harmless, but can cause infection when it gets into a cut. According to the National Library of Medicine, staph infections can cause red, swollen, and painful skin infections that look like pimples or boils, and may even leak pus or become crusty. They can also lead to bone infections, which can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV):Certain strains of HPV can cause warts on the skin. Plantar warts are warts located under the feet.

And while bringing your own yoga mat to the gym (instead of borrowing a seldom-cleaned communal mat) can help mitigate your risk of infection, it doesn’t eliminate it completely. You can still get infected from someone simply stepping on your carpet on their way to the water cooler. Or you can pick up germs from the gym floor and transfer them to your mat.

“Anyway, add sweat and a warm environment, like a hot yoga studio, and you could have your own fungal colony established,” says Reynolds.

2. It can make you break out

Your dirty yoga mat could cause breakouts. Excess oil, dirt, dead skin cells and bacteria – which can clog your pores and produce pimples – can easily spread from a dirty exercise mat and promote acne, said Reynolds.

To make matters worse, acne usually appears on areas of your body that have the most oil glands such as your chest, upper back, and shoulders, according to the Mayo Clinic. And these fattier body parts are often the ones exposed to your yoga mat.

A dirty yoga mat can also increase your risk of catching a cold, respiratory infection, or stomach flu. This happens when cold and flu viruses are released into the air by a sick person’s cough or sneeze, Reynolds says.

And someone doesn’t have to be particularly close for their germs to reach you. The spray from a sneeze or cough can travel up to 6 feet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, an April 2014 study in the ​journal of fluid mechanics​found that smaller droplets can cover even longer distances (up to 2.5 meters or more than 8 feet).

These intrusive microbes quickly take up residence on surfaces — like your yoga mat — where they can survive for days and spread to others, Reynolds says. Usually, an infection occurs when you touch your germ floor and unknowingly transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth from your hand.

And while a cold or the flu can be a temporary inconvenience (read: mostly harmless) for healthy people, those with weakened immune systems can become sicker.

For example, people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as older adults and pregnant women all have a higher risk of serious flu complications, according to the CDC.

So how often should you clean your yoga mat? More often than you think.

“Since exercise mats are placed on dirty floors, often shared between users, and come into direct contact with the skin and face, I recommend cleaningandsanitize them before each use,” says Reynolds. “Cleaning alone won’t kill most germs, but it will reduce the dirt, sweat and oils that bacteria and fungi feed on.

If you stick to solo at-home workouts (meaning only you come into contact with the mat), you have a little more leeway. In this case, cleaning and disinfecting it once a week should be enough. That said, if you sweat profusely or are prone to acne, you may want to wipe your mat more often.

Here are Reynold’s tips on how to clean a yoga mat and keep it germ-free.

If your rug is machine washable…

Throw it in the wash (on its own) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. To properly sanitize your carpet, use a laundry sanitizer as well, Reynolds says. A product like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer will kill bacteria and viruses that a regular detergent might miss.

If your rug is not machine washable…

First, scrub it with soap and water to remove any dirt, then use a disinfectant spray or wipe, which is your best defense against germs. “Alcohol-based wipes are safe for most surfaces,” says Reynolds, who recommends throwing a duffle bag in your gym bag.

After cleaning and disinfecting your mat, pat it dry. “Make sure your mat is completely dry before rolling it up for storage, as trapped moisture can promote the growth of germs,” ​​Reynolds says.

So how bad is it really to never clean your yoga mat?

Doing a downward dog on a dirty carpet can have a different impact on each of us – for some it’s NBD, but for others it can be potentially harmful.

If you have a weakened immune system and are more susceptible to infections, a clean yoga mat is more important, especially if you’re dragging it to the gym or a hot yoga studio where germs love to roam.

But a group class isn’t the only place you can sniff out pathogens. At home, your roommate or partner can also transmit infections if they use your mat or inadvertently cough or sneeze on it.

So if your immune system isn’t robust and you live with someone, stay on separate mats and put your own away (out of reach of random sneeze sprays) when you’re not using it.

If you are a generally healthy person who lives alone and only uses your mat at home (i.e. you never share it with another person or take it to the gym) , you’re probably safe even if you don’t clean it. as usual. But if you notice recurring body acne or an unexplained skin infection, you may want to scrub and disinfect your mat more often.

To extend the time between washes, you can even lay a towel on top to keep sweat and body oils off your mat’s surface. Keep in mind: This strategy only works if you wash the towel every time you use it.

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