5 signs it's time to replace your yoga mat
Here’s how to tell if it’s supported its last savasana.
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Any experienced yogi can tell you the importance of a good yoga mat—it supports your every move and is arguably the one thing you need to practice yoga.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding that just right mat. But unfortunately, no matter how much you love yours, it’s not going to last forever. Practicing on an old, worn-out surface can be uncomfortable and put undue pressure on your joints. If you’ve been using the same mat for longer than you care to admit, scope out these five signs it’s time to replace it.
1. The material starts to pill
Because of sweat and friction, your yoga mat’s surface may eventually wear away. If you notice bits of mat on the floor or on your hands after class, it’s time for a replacement.
“The biggest sign that the mat is wearing through its lifespan is when the material pills or breaks down,” says Kelly Turner, a certified yoga instructor and director of education for YogaSix. “For years early in my yoga practice I used a simple 'starter mat’—the kind that you can find anywhere for $15 to $20. And all things considered, it got the job done. But after a while, the areas where I would have my hands and feet started to wear down.”
Longer-lasting mats are likely to cost more than “starter mats,” which tend to be thinner and made of polyurethane foam (identifiable by the slight waffle-like texture). Mats made of recycled materials may also wear out more quickly, according to CorePower senior yoga trainer Emily Schmookler, so if you’re looking for something that will stand the test of time, you may want to stick with regular old PVC (also known as vinyl) or rubber.
If you’re a regular yogi, a better mat is worth investing in because it’s crucial for support and comfort throughout your practice. When selecting a new mat, you’ll want to consider thickness, stickiness, and overall feel, says Michelle Baldino, a yoga instructor for Bulldog Online.
“It’s really important to consider what style of yoga you mainly practice when purchasing a new mat,” she says. “You want to feel supported physically while you are flowing from pose to pose, but also while you are holding poses for an extended amount of time.”
The gold standard per our yoga mat test is the Lululemon Reversible 5MM, which combines a denser type of polyurethane that better withstands friction with a natural rubber base for supportive cushioning.
2. Your mat is feeling thinner
Your yoga mat should be the same thickness throughout, but as you use it, certain areas where you place more pressure—like near the ends where you stand or press your hands more often—may become compacted.
“It’s common for the material of your yoga mat to compress over time,” Turner says. “Think of a mattress that wears down where you sleep. It can lessen the cushion under sensitive parts of your body, like your knees or frontal hip bones.”
Less cushioning is going to make plenty of poses uncomfortable and could lead to pain or discomfort after class. When areas of your mat start to feel thinner and less supportive, you should invest in a new one.
3. Your mat loses its grip
The grippiness of a yoga mat is important to keep you upright and stable during your flow. A slickening surface means your hands and feet won’t hold firm, which could be annoying or even dangerous, should your foot or hand slide during a more challenging pose.
“Just like the tread on shoes, some mats have a bit of texture to them that support a steady grip," Turner says. "Also like the tread on a shoe, it can wear down through excessive use, making you prone to slipping."
If you’re a fan of hot yoga or get particularly sweaty during your practice, a cork yoga mat can be a great investment because the material absorbs moisture and can feel stickier when wet. The Gaiam 5mm performance cork yoga mat impressed our writer with its absorbency, springy consistency, and noticeable lack of the rubbery smell that typically accompanies new yoga mats.
You could also try a yoga towel. Typically made of microfiber, this mat-sized fabric can go over any type of mat and will absorb your sweat to give you some extra grip even if your mat no longer provides it. One with great reviews is the Pefi yoga towel, which happy customers say stays firmly in place during hot yoga and makes sweaty classes much more comfortable.
4. It starts to smell
If your mat starts to smell, it’s time for it to go. Aside from making face-down child’s pose unpleasant, a funky odor can be a sign of lingering mildew, bacteria, or fungi, which could make you sick.
Sometimes a smell is just a smell and can be washed away. But once bacteria starts to grow on your mat, it can be difficult to remove. If your flow of choice is a sweaty hot yoga session (or if you’re known to skimp on the sanitization), you have another reason to consider a cork yoga mat. Cork is naturally antimicrobial and can keep the germs at bay.
In order to avoid a germy surface, clean your mat every time you use it. Most studios offer sanitizing wipes after class for you to use, but you can also wash your yoga mat with some soapy water and a spray bottle, or a designated yoga mat cleaner. Some mats are machine-washable, just check the washing instructions to ensure the material won’t get damaged in the washer or dryer.
Many brands advise against rolling up your yoga mat while it’s still damp to avoid any bacteria growth. This is especially important if you do hot yoga (or other activities) where you’re likely to sweat a lot. You may also want to avoid leaving your yoga mat in the car, as the changes in temperature can contribute to a smelly mat, according to Baldino.
No matter what your mat is made of, if no amount of cleaning diffuses the funk, it’s time to replace.
5. Your mat has rips or tears
If your mat starts to rip or tear, say goodbye. The rips will only get worse, and you could injure yourself in class if it fully splits underneath you.
“Yoga practice involves many standing and balancing poses and if we have rips, tears, and mat shedding due to overuse, we might not be able to stand and balance that well,” Baldino says.
In certain types of yoga where you find yourself moving more quickly or occasionally slipping in sweat, such as vinyasa or bikram, your mat may be more prone to tears. If you use your mat for exercise that has you moving around a lot, be sure to thoroughly check your mat for damage before practicing.
How long will a yoga mat last?
There's no exact timeline for how long you can keep using a yoga mat. Most will last about one year, but this can change depending on the quality of your mat, how frequently you use it, and how you take care of it. No matter what type of yoga mat you prefer, keeping yours in tip-top shape by cleaning and storing it properly can help prolong its life and let you get your flow on comfortably.
“A quality yoga mat is paramount to set you up for success in your yoga practice. Not only will it help you maintain balance and have the correct posture in a pose, it will keep your joints and muscles safe so that you can maintain your practice for years and years to come,” Baldino says. “The good news is that there are so many great yoga mats out there, finding the right one for you should be as easy as downward-facing dog.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.