Choosing The Best Yoga Mat Materials - Which Suits Your Needs?

Let’s talk about materials…

Choosing a good yoga mat is dependent on a few things. It could be your stance on the environment or toxic chemicals. Obviously, money is a big consideration as well. Let’s also not forget the overall feel/usage of the mat too.

Here is a list of materials you’ll find in yoga mats:

  • PVC
  • NBR
  • EVA
  • Hemp
  • Jute
  • Cotton
  • Rubber
  • PER
  • Cork
  • TPE

I know that's a ton of 3 letter combos to decipher, but don't worry... I'll break everything down so it's easy to understand. Beyond just explaining what these materials are, we need to understand how the above each of the above will affect you as individual. 

Here are 3 guiding questions to keep in mind:

  1. Will it hurt my pocket book?
  2. How toxic or non toxic is it to myself and/or the environment?
  3. What's the general feel and overall utility of the mat?

Let's go ahead and knock out a few you should immediately cross off your list...

What To Avoid At All Costs

The following yoga mats are cheap in all senses of the word…

You won’t pay very much for them, but they are also cheaply made and will break down over time. What’s also a major concern is how these mats are manufactured.

Let’s unravel some of these yoga mat materials to understand them a bit more. 

PVC Mats

PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride…

These are the most common yoga mats you’ll find in the world. You know those cheap $12 mats you can get at sporting good stores? That’s what we are talking about here. If you find a yoga mat that is less than $20 then it’s most likely PVC.

If you have heard of PVC pipes then you’ve seen this material. Naturally this material is too hard by itself to be used as a yoga mat. It is often mixed with other toxic chemicals to make it foamy and squishy. 

I don’t encourage people to use these mats because one of the chemicals - Azodicarbonamide is quite bad for you and it’s best not to have on your skin.

NBR Mats

NBR stands for Nitrile Butadiene Rubber…

If you’ve ever been to the gym or a Pilates class and have seen those thick mats hanging up on the wall then that’s what we are talking about. 

This mat is a synthetic rubber made from fossil fuels. They are heavily manufactured so unless you know you received your NBR mat from a ecologically friendly factory, you’re probably doing more harm to the planet than good. 

These thick mats are good for doing floor exercises in the gym (because of how much padding they offer). They are NOT good for yoga. Too much padding means you’ll wobble when you try standing or balancing poses.

Yes, they are cheap and might be a good choice for a home workout on the kitchen floor - but not good for yoga. 

EVA - Mats or Padding?

EVA stands for ethylene-vinyl acetate…

Have you ever been to a daycare and saw those big interlocking foam blocks on the ground? It’s commonly used as a floor padding and even use in some shoes as well. 

You won’t find too many yoga mats made of this cheap junk, but it is worth mentioning in case you come across it.

It’s not toxic to the touch - hence why it’s used in daycares so much. However, it is still a mass-manufactured product which means the carbon footprint related to this material is less than ideal.

All in all, this material does not make for a good yoga mat. 

What Are The Natural Options?

Let’s look at what won’t destroy the planet or our bodies…

In an effort to move away from harmful materials there has been a surge of companies all wanting to produce the “best” yoga mat.

As you’ll see some are really wonderful, and some miss the mark. Especially when it comes to the overall utility of the mat.  

Keep in mind we are talking about 3 different questions as we explore all of these mats. 

  • How toxic is it for you and/or the planet?
  • How expensive is it?
  • How well does the mat perform?

Hemp And Jute Mats

These mats come close to hitting all three of our desired elements. They are decently affordable, they perform pretty well, and they are somewhat ecologically friendly. 

Sadly, if a yoga mat was made from 100% hemp or jute then it would not be very comfortable. It would basically be like practicing on a burlap sack…

Because of this, these mats are typically made with other materials. Natural tree rubber is a common one, and so is PER. 

PER stands for polymer environmental resin. Sadly, this compound is not as safe for the planet as the name would suggest. Read more about that here.

In terms of a “natural” yoga mat, the majority of hemp and jute yoga mats may be a bit misleading. 

Cotton Rug Mats

If your primary concern with yoga mats has to do with how toxic they are (or are not) then you’ll want to get a cotton yoga mat.

The best non toxic yoga mat I’ve found is an organic yoga rug. It’s organic, it’s handmade, and it’s super easy to take care of.

The price for mats like these range between $50 and $100. That’s a pretty good price point given the ultra high quality.

But what about the utility?

Some yogis love the fact that it actually takes a bit more strength to practice on these mats. You’ll find yourself engaging your core a bit more in certain poses, just to be able to hold the pose.

They can be a tiny bit slippery if they are dry, so keep a spray bottle handy.

For the most part, these mats are fantastic - as long as you’re not practicing on cement or hardwood floors. 

Mats Made Of Rubber

Mats like Manduka, Liforme, and Jade are all made from natural tree rubber.

Some people swear by these mats, while others can’t stand them.

The main complaint people have is the smell of rubber yoga mats. The material is natural rubber from rubber trees, but oftentimes these mats smell pretty bad.

There’s a little bit of a catch to these mats. The thicker the rubber, the stronger and longer the smell is going to linger. 

If you get a big 10-pound extra long and extra thick 6mm Manduka pro mat then you’ll have to deal with the smell for a long time.

However, if you chose to pick up a smaller travel mat then it may not be so bad. 

The price for these mats are the highest you’ll find, but they are made from mostly natural materials, and have an amazing feel while practicing. 

What About Cork mats?

Cork mats are interesting…

These yoga mats can’t be made from 100% cork because they would just turn into a big crumbly mess. 

Most often, you’ll find the top layer of these mats to be made of cork and the bottom layer made of rubber, PER, or even TPE.

(I know that’s a lot of acronyms, but just stay with me)

Cork mats are really good overall. The challenge comes in finding one that has a bottom layer that works for you. 

Remember, you’ll want to avoid anything with PVC, and probably PER, because those are pretty heavily manufactured. 

A rubber bottom is good, but again, you may have to contend with smell. 

So how does it stack up overall? Well, besides being expensive these mats score well in the other two categories of eco-friendly and utility. If you can afford the price tag of somewhere around $120 then it’s a good buy.

A Quick Note About TPE

Sorry to keep throwing these 3-letter combos at you, but this is the last one, I promise.

You’ll eventually come across mat’s that are labeled as, “eco-friendly TPE” materials.

TPE stands for thermoplastic elastomers…

They are a mix of plastic and rubber. Surprisingly they are decently ecologically friendly because they are often made from other biodegradable and/or recyclable plastics. 

TPEs are biodegradable which is also good. However, as you can imagine, they are mass produced in factories that don’t always have the lowest ecological footprint. 

It seems there’s always a trade-off...

These mats are a good alternative to rubber mats if you don’t like the smell of those mats. TPE mats are very affordable and have a very good feel/grip to them when practicing yoga. 

So What’s The Best Yoga Mat?

It seems there’s no perfect answer…

Some sacrifices will have to be made because you can’t have a yoga mat that scores a 10 out of 10 in the three areas of affordability, non-toxicity, and utility. 

Here is a short recap of everything…

Try to stay away from mats that have PVC, PER, NBR, or EVA in the name. They are just too high on the toxicity level and/or too poorly made to have much utility. They rank super high on the affordability level, but again it’s just not worth it. 

Jute, hemp, and cork mats are a good idea in principle, but it will depend on the other materials they are made from. Rubber is typically the best option. Cork mats have a nice feel to them, but tend to be expensive. Jute and hemp mats are a good price, but have a slightly rougher and more textured feel to them. 

Rubber mats will provide a fantastic feel and overall solid experience while practicing yoga. They are typically the mat of choice for most veteran yoga asana practitioners. If you can afford the hefty price tag, want a mat that’s low in toxicity, and don’t mind the smell then this should be your go-to pick.

A Liforme yoga mat is the closest thing I’ve found that has a good balance of all three elements, but again, it’s always the user's preference. 

Thank you for reading! Feel free to comment below and tell me your favorite mat and why!