My yoga mat is hands-down the most used athletic gear I own, especially now that I'm working out at home. It's not just yoga days anymore; push-ups, crunches, donkey kicks, and more require a soft padded mat on my hardwood floors, and my faded pink yoga mat does the trick. But recently, I've been thinking about the fact that I've literally shed blood, sweat, and tears on that mat through the years. So, I spoke to a doctor and personal trainer to find out just how often I should be replacing it. The answer surprised me, and it may surprise you, too.
How Often Should You Replace Your Yoga Mat?
The answer depends on the person — and the yoga mat. Be honest with yourself: Are you pulling it out once a month for some light stretching? If so, it will likely last longer than a mat that's used daily.
Depending on the type and frequency of your workouts, your yoga mat should last about six to 12 months before needing to be replaced. "A good yoga mat should last a full year after its purchase and not wear down," John Fawkes, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition-certified nutritional counselor, and manageing editor of The Unwinder, told POPSUGAR. "Past that, you'll probably notice changes to its surface, firmness, or other conditions that are a pretty good indication it's reached the end of its usage." If you're using your mat as a surface for higher-intensity workouts, "[it will] wear down sooner, lasting around six to eight months," Fawkes said.
Minh Nghi, DO, an internist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth and with the Texas Health Physicians Group, explained that you should watch for signs that your mat is past its prime. "If the mat is worn, doesn't cushion anymore, is too slippery, or is torn, then it should be replaced," Dr. Nghi said.
What Happens If You Don't Replace Your Yoga Mat?
Simply put, things can get gross — and even dangerous — if you use a yoga mat longer than you should. "It won't cushion as well, and you could develop aches that weren't present before. You could slip," Dr. Nghi told POPSUGAR. "It can also cause infection from the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that the mat harbors."
The germs may be the worst part of all, because they're not as obvious as signs of wear and tear. "What you won't be able to see quite so easily are germs, dirt, and debris buildup accumulating as a yoga mat ages," Fawkes explained. "Yoga mats are basically the perfect breeding ground for bacteria contained in our sweat. That's especially true if you rarely clean your yoga mat and roll it up immediately after each use, trapping the bacteria and leaving it to party." Um, ew.
How Often Should You Clean Your Yoga Mat?
Even if you're replacing your yoga mat consistently, you should still clean it frequently. Most gyms and studios have sanitizing spray and towels you can use to wipe down your mat before and after your workout. If you're just working out at home, you can probably push it a bit longer.
Fawkes recommends that his clients clean their yoga mats once or twice a week if they're the only ones using the mat. However, if it's a shared mat, he suggests wiping it down with warm water and soap after every use. "Another great disinfectant tip? Air out your yoga mat," Fawkes said. "Hang it outside just like you would towels or bed sheets, ideally on a warm, breezy day with plenty of sunshine. The fresh air helps aerate the materials while the direct sunlight can kill pathogens and help sanitize your mat further."
Dr. Nghi added that you should make sure you clean both sides of the mat, "as when you roll it up, the clean and dirty sides come into contact with each other."
If you love your yoga mat (and your health), then you should be buying a new one once or twice a year. I'm immediately throwing mine out — yikes! — and treating myself to something new. You should, too!