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How Am I Supposed to Clean My Yoga Mat?

Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

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Dear Jolie,

As many yogis can attest, an active yoga practice makes me feel great — but smell awful. Simply put, my yoga mat constantly smells like feet, and even when I spray it down after class with the hippie juice my yoga studio passes around, I know in the back of my head that it's still dirty... considering it chills on the dirtiest of floors. Can I get my yoga mat to ever truly be clean? — Chavie Lieber

Ah yes, the old foot-smelling yoga mat problem. It's so gross, but it's also so common, and none of us should feel bad about it because it's just a thing that will happen. And actually, you're catching me right as I'm resuming my own yoga practice, so mat cleaning is a thing that's been on my mind a bunch lately.

When it comes to caring for your mat, there are two ways you'll want to think about cleaning it: Regularly wiping it down with some sort of hippie juice, as Chavie so perfectly describes it, and doing a deeper cleaning, which is what needs to take place when the foot smell starts to develop.

Keeping Your Mat Clean on the Regular

The good news about keeping your mat clean on a regular basis is that it's a thing that will take you, oh, a minute? Probably less. And there are tons of good options when it comes to what kind of products to use, many of which you likely already have, so you won't even have to go out and buy some sort of specialty product. Of course you can certainly go out and buy a new specialty product if you want! This is Racked after all, we're all in on shopping.

The bad news about keeping your mat clean on a regular basis is that you actually have to do it.

The bad news about keeping your mat clean on a regular basis is that you actually have to do it. I can't tell you exactly how often, because I don't know how often you're using your mat, but aim to wipe your mat down every one-to-three uses. Does that sound fair? Okay cool.

You've got three basic options when it comes to your choice of mat cleaner: A commercial all-purpose cleaner, a DIY cleaning spray, or mat wipes.

In the commercial all-purpose category, the two things to look for are gentle ingredients and a scent that appeals to you. The Mrs. Meyer's sprays are a good choice — all those wonderful scents! — but really there are plenty of other good options. Avoid products made with harsher chemicals like bleach, because you don't want residue transferring onto your skin while you're chilling in pigeon pose.

Then there are the DIY mat sprays/hippie juice, of which there are as many recipes as there are yoga poses. You'll need a spray bottle — you may want to get two bottles, one large one in which to mix and store your potion, and one small one that you can fill and toss into your gym bag for spritzing on the go — and some ingredients. This is where the fun begins! Because there are so many great options, and you should definitely think about what ingredients, such as witch hazel, white vinegar, or Dr. Bronner's, that you may already have and use those. Other popular ingredients are essential oils that have antibacterial properties, which will help to impart a lovely scent onto your mat while also disinfecting it. Some oils that fall into that category are tea tree, lavender, or grapefruit seed.

The key to using any sort of spray is to go easy on the stuff.

The key to using any sort of spray is to go easy on the stuff — you're aiming for a light misting, not a soaking, because yoga mats are porous and you don't want to be toting a soggy mat around. Also, you may either spray the mat and leave it at that, or you can spray and then wipe the mat down with a clean rag or paper towels, which will help to remove some of that floor grit.

Then there are mat wipes, which are a great option for tossing into a gym bag, but also have the drawback of creating a lot of extra paper waste. For that reason, they're my least favorite of the choices, but it's also well worth acknowledging them because of the convenience factor.

How to Deep Clean a Mat

Even the most diligent mat sprayer will eventually need to deep clean her mat, though again, I can't tell you how often to do so because it really depends on how often and in what way you use the mat. If you do hot yoga twice a week, you'll need to deep clean your mat much more often than someone who does a little light practice at home twice a month.

The best way to deep clean a mat is to throw it in the bathtub.

The best way to deep clean a mat is to throw it in the bathtub, because it can stretch out and get comfy in there. Fill the tub with enough warm water to submerge the mat and add a small amount (about a tablespoon or so will do it) of a mild detergent like dish soap, liquid laundry detergent, or a castile soap like Dr. Bronner's. While holding it submerged in the water, give the mat a quick scrubbing with a sponge and then let it soak for about 15 minutes. If the mat is very heavily soiled, allow it to soak longer. Drain the water and rinse the mat well to remove all the soap residue.

If you don't have a tub, yoga mats can be machine washed using the gentle cycle. However, this is better left to those who have a front-loading machine; if you've have a top-loader that has a center agitator, skip the machine washing because the fins on the center agitator can nick or shred the mat.

A Note on Drying a Yoga Mat

To dry a mat, start by laying a clean towel on top of it, then roll the mat and the towel up together, which will help to press out a lot of water for the towel to absorb. Then, unroll the mat and either lay it flat or hang it to dry. Setting a fan near the mat will help to speed up the drying time.

After a deep cleaning, you'll need to let your mat dry completely before you use it again. Depending on the climate where you live, drying time could be up to two days, so be sure plan your practice accordingly.