Ask The Expert: Is The “New Yoga Mat” Smell Toxic?

Yoga expert Mike Schade says the 'new yoga mat' smell does not necessarily indicate toxic chemicals. More and more companies are manufacturing without the use of harmful chemicals.

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My new yoga mat smelled for several days after I unrolled it. Should I worry about off­-gassing chemicals?

The smell of your new mat may not indicate that it contains toxic chemicals. Many mats that are free from harmful materials and dyes contain natural rubber, which can be pretty stinky at first. A better way to gauge the safety of your mat: Check its material. Yoga mats made with vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can contain chemicals like phthalates, which are used to make PVC flexible. Phthalates are linked to reproductive issues including shorter pregnancy duration and premature breast development in girls, and they can leach out over time, especially in warmer temperatures like those found in many hot yoga studios. Phthalate particles then cling to dust, which can be inhaled.

Although research specifically examining yoga mats is limited, studies of other household products made with PVC materials have found that they can emit chemicals that pollute the air. Also, in order to make yoga mats with PVC, potentially harmful chemicals like chlorine gas, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, mercury, and dioxins may be used and released into the environment.

The good news: As awareness of potential PVC dangers grows, more companies are manufacturing mats without vinyl. Seek a mat that specifically says PVC­-free, or look for mats made with safe materials like natural rubber or jute, such as Barefoot Yoga’s Original Eco Yoga Mat, Manduka’s eKO Mat, or Jade’s Harmony Mat.

–Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Further Chemicals, Healthy Families, New York

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