Ten years ago, the yoga mat choices were very limited. In fact, there was only one material used in their construction: PVC. Colors were also very limited, being restricted to pink for the ladies and blue for the guys.
Today, there are a whole lot more options. In fact, there are so many that, unless you know what you are looking for, you can be overwhelmed and confused with the array of choices.
In this article, we go in-depth to allow you to be able to choose the best commercial yoga mat to meet your needs. We’ll answer the following questions:
- What are the key features to look out for?
- What size yoga mat is ideal?
- What buying traps do I need to avoid?
With more than 10 year’s fitness industry experience in China, we have the insider knowledge to guide gym owners and commercial gym equipment buyers with practical yoga mat buying advice.
So, let’s dive in.
(Note: There are a number of different names used to describe yoga mat. These include sticky mat, gym mat, exercise mat, fitness mat, workout mat, sport mat, aerobic mat. To maintain consistency, however, we will refer to them in this article as yoga mat.)
Table of Contents
1. Quick Comparison Chart
There are a surprising number of materials used in the construction of yoga mats. Check this handy comparison chart to see how each material affects the performance of the yoga mat. This will give you an initial impression of the quality of the various mat types and allow you to quickly rule out the types you don’t like.
Note: Materials that are marked “no” for smell may emits some odor but it will not be as pronounced as for the materials marked “yes’.
2. Yoga Mat Types by Material
As mentioned, the vast majority of yoga mats were constructed from PVC material until about a decade ago. Today, there are at least 9 different materials used in their construction. The choice of material will directly impact the comfort, texture, stickiness, sponginess, wear and eco-friendliness of the finished product.
There are 3 categories of yoga construction material:
- Synthetic Materials
- Natural Materials
- Mixed Materials
2.1 Synthetic Materials
#1 PVC Yoga Mat
The cheapest and simplest yoga mats on the market are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC is also known as vinyl. It is a non-biodegradable material which contains toxic carcinogens. However, they are very durable, with a usable life span of more than 10 years. They are still popular due to their low price, but many buyers stay away from them because of their potentially harmful effects.
- Good grip surface
- Easy to clean
- Good cushioning
- Smooth under wet conditions
- Not environmentally friendly
- Plastic smell
- Poisonous gas under high temperature
#2 EVA Yoga Mat
EVA, (Ethylene-vinyl Acetate Copolymer) is a synthetic material that is popular in expanded rubber or foam rubber products. Its hard foam finish and shock absorbent makes it popular for use in contact sports protection gear. Like PVC, it is cheap to produce and extremely durable. However, it does not bring with the toxicity problems inherent in PVC products.
EVA is a popular yoga mat material due to its softness and bounce back ability. These mats have two component parts: an inner foam padding, and an outer removable cover. This makes it easy to wash the cover, keeping the bacteria and contaminant clear. Due to their comfort and padding, EVA mates are great for types of yoga that involve plenty of sitting and lying down.
One negative aspect when it comes to EVA mats is that they are lacking in slip resistance and elasticity.
- Cost effective
- Soft and comfortable
- Water & oil Proof
- Poor elasticity
- Poor traction & slide resistance
- Plastic smell
#3 PER Yoga Mat
PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) is another synthetic material made from an environmentally friendly polymer resin. The PER construction process starts with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been plasticized and stabilized with tributyl acetate instead of phthalate and lead. Even though it is marketed as “non-PVC”, it is actually PVC, just with different plasticizers and stabilizers. However, PER is safer, friendlier and less environmentally damaging than PVC.
- Almost odorless
- Biodegradable and recyclable
- It is actually made from PVC, though being non-toxic.
#4 NBR Yoga Mat
NBR (Nitrile Butadiene Rubber) is a man-made rubber material which is made from emulsion polymerized by butadiene and acrylonitrile. The resultant material has excellent oil resistance, heat resistance and elasticity, and exhibits good cushioning performance.
NBR yoga mats are among the thickest, most comfortable mats on the market, with a typical thickness of 10mm or more. It is soft, durable and easy to clean. In addition, its price is often lower than other materials at the same thickness.
The big letdown with this product is that the NBR manufacture process is not an environmentally friendly one. As a result, its manufacture was prohibited in Europe, the United States and Canada. In addition, NBR is difficult to biodegrade unless some additives are added.
- Easy to clean
- Oil & water resistant
- Easy to fold and transport
- No smell
- Slow degradation in landfills
2.2 Natural Materials
Natural yoga mats are manufactured without the use of petrochemical products. Natural mats are very popular with yoga enthusiasts because they are biodegradable, thus reducing the impact of waste on the environment. However, this also means that the mats are likely to be less durable than synthetic or mixed material mats.
Synthetic mats, such as those made from PVC, TPE, NBR, EVA, and natural rubber yoga mats are made of ONE kind of material. However, natural mats, such as those made from jute or cork, are often constructed from two materials. The actual exercise surface is made from the natural material, while the reverse side is constructed from other materials in order to provide traction and durability.
#5 Latex Yoga Mat
Natural rubber yoga mats are, as the name suggests, made from natural rubber. This material is also known Latex or Caucho. Derived from a range of South American trees, it is completely sustainable and easily regenerative. Natural rubber yoga mats are durable, cheap and readily available. This is a good option for beginners.
Natural rubber yoga mats have excellent traction, a high comfort level and antibacterial properties to keep themselves clean. However, it is not suitable for people who are allergic to latex.
Rubber is not as environmentally friendly as other natural materials. It is, however, far less ecologically impacting than synthetic materials. Some of the latest rubber mats also contain some jute and cotton material, making them more environmentally friendly.
Rubber is more expensive than PVC, but it has a higher reputation among yoga enthusiasts.
- Good elasticity and cushioning
- Water proof
- Durable if properly maintained
- Excellent traction (even under wet conditions)
- Rubber smell
- It must avoid direct sunlight.
- It contains latex which may cause allergies.
#6 Cotton Yoga Mat
Many yoga studios prefer cotton mats, especially organic cotton. Cotton mats are thicker than other yoga mats. Due to this extra thickness, it is also known as a yoga blanket. It is suitable for some static types of yoga.
Cotton yoga mats absorb sweat easily to provide a good buffer for yoga poses. It does need to be cleaned frequently, but it is easy to clean by both hand and machine washing.
Cotton yoga mats can be used directly on the floor or on top of another yoga mat, which are ideal for those who practice hot yoga or sweat a lot because its absorbency prevents sweat from smoothing the surface of the mat. Cotton mats also provide good traction for your body. However, they may slide across wooden floors.
- Good traction
- Sweat absorption
- It needs to be cleaned regularly.
- Poor durability
- Easy to slide on wooden floors
- May cause skin irritation
- Poor cushioning
#7 Jute Yoga Mat
Jute is a natural biodegradable material made from fiber plants. It rivals synthetic yoga mats in terms of durability and stickiness.
Jute yoga mats are more durable than cotton. This is due to their tightly woven hemp yarn, high elasticity and excellent tensile strength. Jute yoga mats also perform better than cotton ones in warm weather and have better water absorption. Unless it is used in combination with other skin-friendly materials, however, jute may cause some skin irritation.
- Good traction
- High elasticity
- Good tensile strength
- May cause skin irritation
#8 Cork Yoga Mat
Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. These trees will naturally regenerate the bark, making cork a highly sustainable resource. By removing the bark, the trees absorb more carbon dioxide, which means that using the bark actually has a positive impact on the environment. This makes cork a popular material among environmentalists.
Cork has a natural structure that resists bacteria. This makes it a natural antibacterial agent that is easier to keep clean than other materials. However, contrary to what many people think, cork mats are not self-cleaning. These mats may not need as much maintenance as other yoga mats, but they do need to be cleaned occasionally. Cork has a natural woody odor that will dissipate over time.
One side of a cork mat is usually made of cork, while the other side is constructed from a more slip resistant material. Cork has a very durable non-slip surface, even in sweaty hot yoga conditions.
The most common cork yoga mat has a rubber coating on the revere side to prevent it from slipping. This can give off a bit of a rubbery smell.
- Good traction
- Good elasticity
- Easy to store and carry
2.3 Mixed Material
Some yoga mats combine natural and synthetic materials. These mats usually last longer and cost less than all-natural ones.
#9 TPE Yoga Mat
TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) does not contain PVC or latex. It is created by heating and chemical processes. The main ingredients to make TPE are TPE, EVA and synthetic rubber. Combining the advantages of rubber and plastic, TPE materials are not only durable, but also biodegradable at the end of their service life. They can also be recycled to make more mats, making them popular with conservationists.
TPE is also often combined with another material. For example, it can be used as the bottom of a mat, whose surface is made primarily of cork or cotton. Mats made from TPE are generally reasonably priced, lightweight, soft and durable, resistant to bacteria, and easy to clean.
- Soft and Light
- Strong traction
- Good cushioning and elasticity
- Easy to fold and carry
- Easy to clean
- Degradable and recyclable
- It must avoid direct sunlight.
- It has an initial smell.
3. Yoga Mat Physical Properties
The thickness of a yoga mat has a lot to do with comfort. Mats that are too thin may cause soreness to the wrists and knees. Yoga mats range in thickness from about 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch. The 1/16-inch thickness is designed for portability. They are ideal for standing and balance poses that are used in dynamic yoga. A thickness of 1/2 inch, which is designed for comfort and cushioning, is more comfortable for sitting poses when performing static yoga.
1/2 inch or 12 mm
This is the thickest yoga mat you can buy. It is the softest mat on the market, which makes it perfect for Pilates.
- This mat is so soft that the thickness of the mat is not ideal for yoga. The thick cushioning will make it hard to keep your balance in a standing position. It can also be a bit bulky to carry around.
1 / 4 inch or 6 mm
This thickness is the most popular on the market. Most advanced yoga mats are kept within 1 / 4 inch of thickness, because it has proven to be the most durable with the right balance of cushioning. This mat thickness is best suited for core workouts, handstands and other poses that may cause the bones to sink to the ground. That is because it provides optimum back support during the pose. Beginners can also use 1/4-inch yoga mats to protect themselves from injury.
- These mats can be heavy (up to 9 pounds), making them difficult to carry around. The thickness can also make it difficult to maintain balance in standing poses.
1 / 8 inch or 3 mm
Although much thinner than 1 / 4-inch mats, the 1/8-inch version can still provide adequate support and durability. They are usually cheaper than 1/4-inch yoga mats. They are also lighter and can be packed into most of the yoga bags on the market. This makes it easy to take to classes and suitable for most yoga types.
- The thinner the mat, the faster it will wear out. As a result, this mat may need to be replaced on a regular basis.
1 / 16 inch or 2 mm
1/16-inch yoga mats are among the thinnest you can find. It can be easily folded up and packed in a travel bag so you can carry it wherever you go. The minimal thickness is perfect for practicing balance poses, ensuring that you get a secure foot hold.
- 1/16 inch is too thin for a general-purpose yoga mat. It offers minimal cushioning and is not suitable for people with sore knees.
For a long time, yoga mats were simple and standardized. They were typically 68 inches long, 24 inches wide, 1 / 8-inch-thick and weighed 3-4 lbs. Today, however, there are a wide variety of yoga mat options. As a general guide, you should select a yoga mat that is at least 6 inches or 15 cm longer than your height.
The odor that comes from a yoga mat depends on the material and process applied to it. PER, TPE, NBR, cotton and jute are almost odorless; PVC and EVA have a plastic smell, while natural rubber and cork have their own unique odors.
If you practice yoga at home or learn via video, you may not have to worry too much about portability. But if you travel to classes, you will want a mat that is easy to carry around.
When it comes to portability, you need to account for mat weight and size. The thickness determines the tightness of the mat which, in turn, dictates the storage space and difficulty of carriage. The heavier the material, the heavier the mat. Generally, man-made materials will weigh less. Some mats come with such extra as bags or strips, which make it easier to carry around.
The texture of the yoga mat determines the amount of traction, which, in turn, affects the slide of the mat. The texture can range from smooth to rough, depending on the raised pattern on the mat or the material used to make it.
The more raised the pattern on the mat, and the denser the physical obstacles, the less likely it will be for the hands and feet to slide. A raised texture provides increased traction that helps the user maintain their pose no matter how sweaty they are or strenuous it is.
Yoga mats made of rubber, jute or cotton can reduce slip, as these mats usually have a natural raised texture and a rough organic feel. If you are more concerned about the comfort of a smooth surface, you might want to go with a rubber yoga mat.
You should also note the difference between “closed cell” and “open cell”. Open cell means that the mat is porous and can absorb sweat and any other moisture that may come into contact with the mat. This type of mat is popular for hot yoga classes. Open cell mats require frequent cleaning to avoid bacteria growth.
Closed cell mats are non-absorbent, easy to clean, and do not absorb any sweat, oil and bacteria. However, if used in sweaty yoga sessions, they can become very slippery.
Stickiness helps prevent the mat from sliding around on the floor.
If you need to keep your pose, but you feel uncomfortable practicing on a rough yoga mat, then natural rubber or PVC is a better choice. It is a good idea to clean the mat before its first use so that it can stick better to your floor surface.
4. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
1. Material: compare the characteristics of different materials to determine the best material for you (refer to the quick comparison chart in the first section).
2. Weight: The heavier the mat, the denser, and more durable it will be.
2. Size: The length of the mat should be 6 inches longer thn your height; the width should be lightly wider than your shoulder width.
3. Elasticity: Test the elasticity by squeezing the yoga mat with your hand; if your fingers are easily squeezed together, the mat is too soft and may be made of cheap PVC or EVA material. PVC yoga mats that are made with the right foaming process will quickly restore to the original shape after you step on them.
4. Evenness: Test the evenness of man-made materials by rolling up the mat and inspecting it from the two ends to check if there is a very uneven bubble. Large and even bubbles mean that you have a good quality. If the foaming is uneven, the mat can easily be damaged during use.
5. Slip Resistance: Put the mat flat on the floor, and then press and push forward with your palm. If the mat slides on the ground or your hand slides on the mat surface easily, then its slip resistance is poor. This may cause unnecessary injury in the yoga practice.
6. Smell: Take the yoga mat (don’t open it) to check for a pungent odor. Quality yoga mats will not have a noticeable odor and what odor there is will disappear after several days in open air.
7. Durability: You can rub a yoga mat with an eraser to see if the material breaks easily or if there are marks when you lightly tear it.
Ultimately, your choice of yoga mat depends on which features you care about the most and the type of exercise you will be performing on it. Once you have decided these things, use the information we’ve provided to help you choose the mat that is ideal for your needs.
We hope this yoga mat buying guide will help you make the smartest yoga mat buying decisions.
If you have any other questions, please leave a quick comment below!
Related reading: top 10 gym equipment brands in China
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