Is Your Yoga Mat Killing You? An Honest Look at Toxins in Yoga Mats

By Stephen Ewashkiw | December 12, 2011

Lululemon The Mat Yoga Mat

Yoga mats have come a long way since we first wrote this post. Find out about the latest best mats on the market in our guides to the Best Travel Yoga Mats and the Best Eco Yoga Mats

Don’t miss our other yoga travel posts:

Discover our picks of the best travel yoga mats

Find out about the best eco-friendly yoga mats

Dream about these best yoga travel destinations

12.16.11: Since posting this we’ve had quite a few questions about the Lululemon mats. Stephen has added some additional info in the comments.

I’m honored to have a post written by my first guest blogger, Stephen Ewashkiw, who happens to be my favorite yoga teacher. (Full disclosure: He’s also my husband.)

On the surface, this post is about Stephen’s trials and errors trying to find an eco-friendly yoga mat. But it’s much more than that. It’s also about consumer responsibility, corporate green-washing, and not being afraid to ask the hard questions. So even if you think down dog is something couples do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, there’s something here for you.

Over to Stephen…

I love yoga. I practice daily. Which means I have my hands, bare feet, forearms, back, and my face (oops!) on my yoga mat all the time. That’s why it matters what’s in my yoga mat.

I love the earth. I love trees, people, animals, and the air that we breathe. That’s why it matters what’s in my yoga mat.

My first mat was an all-natural rubber biodegradable yoga mat made by JadeYoga. I figured once I was done with it, it would break down quickly, without leaching toxic chemicals into the world.

However, I didn’t know that it would start to break down BEFORE I was done with it. Eighteen months after buying it I had worn out both sides and needed a new one.

I decided that my second mat better last A LOT longer.

Yoga mats have come a long way since we first wrote this post. Find out about the latest best mats on the market in our guides to the Best Travel Yoga Mats and the Best Eco Yoga Mats

A Mat With Added Metal
At the time, many of my friends used the Manduka PRO mat. It is guaranteed to last a lifetime and the company website says all the right things when it comes to environmentalism: “Zero-waste”; “sustainable”; “OEKO-TEX certified*”; “emissions-free manufacturing”; “committed to environmentally friendly practices and products”…

These claims all made me feel that Manduka takes their environmental responsibilities seriously.

But, as I was doing some more research, I came across a blog that claimed that the Manduka PRO mat contains heavy metals.


This was pretty hard to believe. After all, Manduka said they were super-enviro so I thought “Well, that can’t be true”.

I emailed Manduka to find out.

Their first response was vague. It said that they are environmentally friendly and do their utmost to limit their impact on the earth. That’s great, but clearly NOT what I asked. So I asked again. The reply came back. The Manduka PRO, they told me, is made with PVC but does not contain heavy metals.

Because of my research, I knew this to be impossible.

In order to make PVC stable, heavy metals MUST be added to the recipe.

What’s All The Fuss About Heavy Metals?
This seems like a good time to stop and tell you why the idea of heavy metals in my yoga mat freaked me out so much.

First of all, in case you don’t know, heavy metals include fun things like arsenic, mercury, and plutonium. The heavy metal most commonly found in PVC products is lead. Yes, the same lead that was outlawed in paint and gasoline decades ago because of its devastating effects on our health.

Exposure can cause headaches, cancer, mental illness, neurological disorders and a whole bundle of other health problems.

Want to enhance your practice? We recommend these books:

How Much Heavy Metal Is Too Much?
Of course, there are international standards about how much heavy metal content is acceptable in various products, but these standards mostly apply to packaging and textiles. The most stringent regulations are for baby clothes – and those are allowed to contain almost as much heavy metal as plastic packaging.

Editor’s note: What kind of world do we live in where there is an acceptable level of heavy metals for baby clothes?

Nobody actually knows exactly how much of this stuff we can safely be exposed to, though according to this article in the Telegraph, the US Center for Disease control says “there is no safe threshold for lead exposure”. Also, nobody really knows how much we are exposed to. A little here, a little there – it all adds up.

We also know it’s not possible to avoid heavy metals completely – they’re everywhere**. When it’s possible to avoid them, I want to.

Remember, I use my mat EVERY day. With my bare hands and feet (and face). However little lead is in there, do I really want it soaking into my skin?

Yoga mats have come a long way since we first wrote this post. Find out about the latest best mats on the market in our guides to the Best Travel Yoga Mats and the Best Eco Yoga Mats

Waste Capture and Release
I continued to ask questions of Manduka, until I made enough of a nuisance of myself that I got a call from Sky Meltzer, their CEO. He was very nice, wanted to hear what I had to say, and told me that yes, in fact The Manduka PRO and PROLite mats DO contain heavy metals, because they contain PVC.

He also told me that Manduka participates in waste capture so that any heavy metal waste from making their mats is stored and doesn’t get released into the environment. Where is it stored? He couldn’t tell me. What happens to it once you capture it? He couldn’t tell me.

So, even if you think the government regulations are to be trusted (you also think pizza is a veggie, don’t you?), remember that the use of heavy metals in manufacturing is creating toxic waste so bad that it has to be stored instead of thrown away. I couldn’t even find out where the waste is today, let alone what is going to happen to it 50 years from now.

And then, there’s the other stuff that PVC makes necessary. According to Lead Action News, “In many cases, the final PVC product will contain relatively little raw PVC. Additive chemicals acting as stabilizers, plasticizers, pigments, optical brighteners, flame retardants, biocides, foaming agents and lubricants can make up over 50% of the final product.”

This is not what I want to be thinking about when I’m in savasana.

Exploring Other Options
Fortunately, I had plenty of non-PVC mats to choose from. I looked at several natural rubber and organic plant fiber options. Finally I found what I think is the ultimate eco-friendly yoga mat.

The mat below is no longer my recommendation! Check out my complete guide to eco yoga mats for this year’s picks of the best eco yoga mats!

I bought The Mat from Lululemon. The Mat contains no PVC, is made with Polyurethane, and contains recycled luon (their own-brand fabric). No lead, mercury, or Black Sabbath to be found.

The bonus is that it’s also a great yoga mat. It still looks like new, is super-sticky, and absorbs sweat. It’s also pretty good with spilled coffee and knocked over bottles of water. I just wash it once a week with lemon juice diluted in water. I love it!

More Info On Heavy Metals
*What the heck is an OEKO-TEX?
The Oeko-tex standards are standard for the AMOUNTS of heavy metals and other nasty things manufacturers are allowed to put in their products. At best, yoga mats adhere to the standards for baby products, Class I. At worst, Furnishings, Class IV. Either way the standards vary little between classes.

**Where else should I look for heavy metals?
As far as consumer products go, heavy metals turn up in the most unexpected places. Here are a few examples:

Yoga mats have come a long way since we first wrote this post. Find out about the latest best mats on the market in our guides to the Best Travel Yoga Mats and the Best Eco Yoga Mats


  1. Comment by Gypsy

    Gypsy May 19, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Amazing, thank you for that information! I’m still waiting for a reply from Manduka, so I’ll let you know the response.

  2. Comment by Gypsy

    Gypsy May 17, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    For anyone still researching this (as I am), and considering the Jade Harmony as an option, please think again, and see this article.

    The relevant section is as follows;

    “Also, a German magazine published test results that revealed that Jade Harmony yoga mats contain nitrosamines, which are linked with cancer, which brings me back to the point that we do not fully know what chemicals are used in the production of natural rubber.”

    I’m considering the Manduka eKo – but again have no idea if it is a similar story to the Jade Harmony (in terms of seeming great on the surface, but having harming chemicals within). If anyone knows beyond what is on their website, please let me know.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen May 19, 2018 at 1:21 am

      Hi Gypsy. I have reached out to JadeYoga and a representative has confirmed that nitrosamines are NO LONGER found in their yoga mats: “We changed our production process approximately 2 years ago to eliminate all nitrosamines in our mats.”

      Here is all the information:
      “I can assure you that there are no nitrosamines or other carcinogens in our mats. We are familiar with the report regarding nitrosamines. I would like to provide you with some additional information that you might find helpful. First, the test you mention is several years old. Second, the potential harms associated with nitrosamines are related to ingestion (eating/drinking) or inhalation (through smoking and tobacco and specifically tobacco specific nitrosamines), not contact exposure. Third, the level of nitrosamines in our mats was found in that study to be .248 ppm which is 40 times below the level allowed in infant pacifiers and baby bottle nipples in Germany (which has very stringent health laws). Finally and most importantly, even though our mats were safer than baby bottles, we changed our production process approximately 2 years ago to eliminate all nitrosamines in our mats – so while the levels of nitrosamines in our mats were well below the stringent German requirements for baby pacifiers, we removed the precursor from our process (we did not add nitrosamines, but they were created from reactions of other substances in the manufacturing process) so that there are no nitrosamines in our mats now.”

    • Comment by Gypsy

      Gypsy May 19, 2018 at 8:48 am

      Amazing, thank you for that information! I have reached out to Manduka about their eKo mats with a similar question, so i’ll let you know the response.

  3. Comment by Jane

    Jane January 9, 2018 at 3:29 am

    Hi Bada, I do practice without a mat 90% of the time, because I travel full-time and don’t carry a mat with me. I do agree that there is something special about practicing outdoors in the grass, too! However, I don’t agree that yoga mats are un-yoga-like or that you should never practice with a mat. First of all, in my opinion, everyone’s practice is unique and so it’s their choice if they should use a mat or not. Second, some people have issues with joints that makes it necessary to have a mat or not practice at all. Third, not everyone has a nice floor or grassy space to practice on, so a mat can be a great way of making practice more appealing. Finally, a sticky mat can be very helpful for a student’s practice. So, maybe mats aren’t true to the origins of yoga but neither is most yoga we practice today.

    Finally, there are some very good environmentally friendly mats on the market now (no, they aren’t perfect because any consumer product, including cotton and wool, is destructive to animals and the environment). We’re about to publish a post about that so keep your eyes open for it!

    Happy practice, J

  4. Comment by Kelly Loves Yoga

    Kelly Loves Yoga April 13, 2017 at 7:08 am

    It must have been quite a conversation with the CEO of Manduka. I understand that there are company policies that include not giving out certain information, but I think people deserve to know what their yoga mats are really made of. Thanks for sharing this very informative article with us.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane April 16, 2017 at 5:06 am

      You’re welcome. We are working on an update for 2017 since the yoga mat landscape has changed quite a bit.


  5. Comment by Irina

    Irina February 15, 2017 at 5:35 am

    Hello, I know, natural rubber yoga mat was discarded already due to its short shelf life, but even if their life would have been longer – are they really that environmentally friendly? To process natural rubber you need chemicals. Natural rubber industry is huge and water waste and odor have dramatic impact on the environment, not to mention health issues which workers of natural rubber processing plants are exposed to…

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane February 25, 2017 at 12:48 am

      It’s a great question. The rubber industry is very destructive… I guess it’s a matter of which mat does the least harm. Buying one that will last a long time is crucial and not buying a new one to match every outfit, too. As yogis, I think we can sometimes get a little holier-than-thou and it’s good for us to be aware that our choices have a huge impact.

  6. Comment by Natalie

    Natalie May 15, 2016 at 3:30 am

    Hi there! It’s been a number of years since the writing of this article, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on TPE as a yoga mat material. I also love the Lululemon mat, but as others have mentioned, I have concerns about polyurethane. I’ve heard that TPE is a more eco-friendly option, and it doesn’t present the latex allergy issues that natural rubber does.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane May 16, 2016 at 12:26 am

      Hey Natalie,
      Thanks for your question. As you know, it’s very hard to get complete information from companies about their products. Though TPE is thought to be better than PVC and Green Peace doesn’t include it in its toxic pyramid of plastics, it’s still not the best thing on earth ;). I would strongly suggest that you get in touch with Lululemon and ask them directly – the more of us who express concerns, the more chance for improvement.

      We’ve been working on an update to this article and (spoiler alert!) the Lifeforme Mat comes out way on top in terms of environmental sustainability + it’s a really great mat to practice on. The Jade mats have also come a long way since we first wrote this too!


  7. Comment by Bruce

    Bruce September 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I have to agree with the Polyurethane is really, really bad crowd. The EPA likely based it’s findings on perfectly mixed and cured samples over a short period of time and does not account for the process of creating it or what happens to it as it decomposes. A quick search for illnesses caused by urethane foam insulation will give you loads of information about what happens when the mix ratios are off by just a fraction. Assuming that Lululemon isn’t perfect….remember the see through pants?….you can assume that some fraction of the mats will have manufacturing defects and will off-gas horrifying chemicals…into your lungs. Just hope you don’t get one of those.
    Best option: natural material…repurpose once it starts to shed.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane May 16, 2016 at 12:29 am

      Agreed, the best option is natural material – except we’ve ridden our bikes through the countryside where they grow natural rubber in several Asian countries and it is damaging in its own way. Rubber plantations are often on land that was once virgin jungle… so, my point is… the best mat is probably the one you can keep forever and not replace every year or so. Minimize our consumption is the only way to ensure we are causing minimal damage.

  8. Comment by kevin

    kevin August 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    You are completely wrong. Some PVC containes Pthalate, not lead. Pthalate is present in lead and provides the maleability in lead and many other elements. There is PVC that is Pthalate free. Additionally, the CPSC and California Prop 60 prohibits Pthalates in products so all companies are beholden to test and assure all materials PVC and otherwise, are Pthalate free. You should do more research before you put out wrong information.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen August 15, 2014 at 2:19 am

      That, or PVC manufacturing adds lead as a stabiliser.

  9. Comment by concerned

    concerned April 24, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Do some research on how polyurethane foam is made and I think you will be shifting your view on the lululemon yoga mats.

    Look up words:
    polyurethane foam

    It is one of the most toxic chemicals that you have been discussing.

    • Comment by Martha

      Martha July 1, 2014 at 11:44 am

      My instinctual reaction to the chemical smell and taste on my hands after using a lululemon mat and after thoroughly washing my hands over ten times just to see if I could get rid of it is that there is something unsafe and just not right about whatever is used to make that mat

  10. Comment by Stephen Ewashkiw

    Stephen Ewashkiw December 16, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Article Update:

    Jennifer Grayson, Eco-Etiquette journalist ( asked me some questions in response to this article. I checked it out and here’s what I found out.

    1. Does lululemon have a mat recycling program?

    They do not have a company-wide program. This is left to each store to organize. My local store at the Americana in Glendale doesn’t have a program in place, but I’m now working with them to set something up with Donation Yoga Los Angeles.

    2. What is Ultra-Fresh and how safe is it?

    Ultra-Fresh 50 is added to The Mat as an anti-bacterial. The Mat (and The Travel Mat) contains approximately 90mg of the active ingredient, Tributyltin maleate (TBTM), in the polyurethane. Anything with a name like that can’t be awesome for you. However, the EPA studies I have read show that for this amount of TBTM to be toxic you would have to consume the entire 90mg and weigh no more than 500g.
    Some studies have linked TBTM to endocrine disruption, however, according to the information I found, you’d need to consume 500 times more TBTM in one go that is in the entire mat for there to be the possibility of any problems.
    With Ultra-Fresh DM-50 impregnated fabrics, primary sensitization patch tests indicated no sensitization at the highest level tested, which is higher than the amount used in The Mat.

    I see the benefit of having my yoga mat be anti-bacterial. I sweat on my mat all the time, and I wash it, at most, once a week. The amount of Ultra-Fresh added to the mat is minimal, the studies are inconclusive that exposure to these levels has any effect to my health, and having no bacteria on my mat is a good thing.
    I do not see the benefit of having heavy metals in my yoga mat if they don’t have to be there. The American Health Association says that current “safe” levels of heavy metals cause serious health problems.
    Why use a PVC-based mat when other options exist?

    • Comment by Fernanda

      Fernanda February 8, 2012 at 2:36 am

      Very interesting article, thanks!! Do you know exactly what the Lululemon “The Mat” is made from. I know they say the bottom layer is ‘natural rubber’ but it seems more thick and ‘foamy’ than e.g. the jade rubber mat that i also had previously! do they not use any chemical foaming agents to produce that rubber layer, and wouldn’t those agents include harmful substances? And what is the top so-called ‘polyurethane’ layer actually made of? it seems like a very unusual material, very grippy and rubbery…are you sure there are not harmful additives in there? I also am very conscious and concerned about what might be in the mat i stand and sweat on most days! Thanks again for such an interesting article!! Fernanda

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM February 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Fernanda,
      Of course it is very difficult to be “sure” that there are no harmful additives in anything, so I can’t promise this mat is free from harmful substances. In fact, I would hazard a guess than anything that goes through a modern manufacturing process has been in contact with something potentially harmful.

      Polyurethane is a plastic material that can be made into many forms (hard, soft etc). The one on The Mat is similar to a tennis racket grip according to Lululemon.

      The bottom layer is a mixture of natural rubber and Lululemon’s own fabric, luon (90% rubber, 10% luon). Luon is a nylon/lycra blend that they also use to make their workout clothes, and the luon in The Mat is recycled.

      So, to sum up, I would never promise that a product is 100% clean and perfect. However, I agree with Stephen (who wrote the article) that when compared with the other options out there, The Mat is one of the best (if not the best) in terms of environmental friendliness, health consequences, and sustainability (because it lasts so much longer than many cheaper mats).

    • Comment by Dave

      Dave October 9, 2013 at 10:05 am

      I’m sorry, I’d have to wholeheartedly disagree. Polyurethane is one of the most toxic substances mankind has ever produced. It is formed from approximately a 1:1 ratio of isocyanate and polyol. Isocyanate is manufactured by reacting amines and phosgene, a chemical so dangerous that Wikipedia has this to say: “Owing to the hazards associated with phosgene, the production of isocyanates requires special precautions.”

      Isocyante also decomposes into hydrogen cyanide, which is the form of cyanide that everyone associates with the death of humans. In fact, the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, in which thousands of people were killed, and tens of thousands seriously injured, was the result of a leak from a facility that produced methyl isocyanate, and the gas cloud contained that substance as well as hydrogen cyanide. It is widely considered to be the worst industrial disaster of all time, by a good margin.

      Although the finished product is stable, it is highly flammable, and therefore usually requires heavy amounts of flame retardant to be added to the polyurethane foam. Sofas containing polyurethane foam in the cushions can reach over 1400 deg F in a short time, evolving toxic gas that is the usual cause of death in house fires.

      So, the question we should be asking ourselves, as yogis, is: Do we wish to contribute to the continuing production of these toxic chemicals that cause injury and death to the workers who make them (most often in developing countries), as well as polluting our water supplies and damaging the environment, all in the name of comfort and convenience?

      Incidentally, what is wrong with the natural rubber Jade yoga mat? Is it really such an issue that you had to replace your after only 18 months? Considering the cost of yoga classes, clothing, and other fitness expenses, buying a new mat every year or two is small potatoes. Personally, I’d gladly pay more money to avoid contributing to the demise of our planet, my kids, and all the other living beings. We should never put our own health above the well-being of the rest of the planet. With natural materials, harvested in a sustainable way, we don’t have to.


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