Use Eco-friendly and PVC-free Yoga Mats to Avoid Phthalates and Other Toxic Chemicals

Once I began exercising again after my third child was born, I decided it was time to retire my decade-old yoga mat and invest in a new one. My old yoga mat was very thin and not very high quality (it came free with a yoga DVD), but still usable. However, after years and years of using it, it dawned on me that it was almost certainly made of vinyl (PVC).

PVC is arguably the most toxic plastic. It's made with toxic chlorine which results in toxic dioxin being released into the environment. PVC products are also made using toxic additives such as lead and endocrine-distrupting phthalates, additives which readily migrate and off-gas during the use of PVC products. I especially wasn't comfortable with exposure to phthalates, which are added to PVC to make it soft and flexible (like a yoga mat), and which readily migrate to the surface of PVC products in which they are found. Phthalates also readily pass from mother to fetus through the placenta and are also found in breastmilk.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and have been linked to:
  • lower testosterone levels
  • decreased sperm counts
  • poor sperm quality
  • malformations of the male reproductive tract and testicular cancer
  • obesity
  • reduced female fertility
  • preterm birth and low birthweight
  • a worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms
  • behavior changes

Natural (PVC-free) Yoga Mats

Ten years ago, I'm guessing it was pretty difficult to find a PVC-free yoga mat. But now, thankfully, there are many PVC-free options. I wanted a natural rubber mat, and also a thicker one that would give me some decent cushion on top of my hardwood floor. I ended up purchasing the Gaiam Sol Power-Grip Yoga Mat made of natural rubber (note: I remember that it smelled strongly of rubber initially). It is pretty thick (4 mm) and has a nice grip to it too. I use my mat for beginning yoga but also for general exercise (while barefoot on hardwood) that includes pilates, weights, cardio, and stretching. I do not get super sweaty when I workout and am not terribly concerned about slippage. If you are a serious yogi, see the reviews below by yoga experts.

Some other natural (PVC-free) yoga mats include:

TPE and PER Plastic Yoga Mats

There are also less expensive synthetic yoga mats made from Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and Polymer Environmental Resin (PER). TPE is a synthetic rubber that is touted as a healthy alternative to PVC. According to Thinksport, TPE is "free of BPA, PVC, Lead, Phthalates, Dioxins, and biologically toxic chemicals." What exactly TPE is I couldn't tell you. But I feel confident stating that it is far better than traditional PVC.

Yoga Mats Made from Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) 

Probably the least expensive alternative to traditional PVC is Polymer Environmental Resin (PER), which is touted as a less-toxic form of PVC. According to one manufacturer, which describes PER as "clean PVC," PER is free of "phthalates, dioxins and furans, phenal, or heavy metals and has a ecologically safer method of production which is better for the workers and the environment."

Yoga mats made from Polymer Environmental Resin (PER)

For my daughter, who often likes to "exercise" with me, I got a smaller mat so it wouldn't take up as much room. I purchased the Namaste Kid's Eco-friendly Kids Yoga Mat (made of PER). It measures 24" by 48" and is much thinner than mine, but suitable for my toddler, 4yo or even 6yo. It's main purpose is really to keep them off my mat and out of my way. I actually didn't realize PER is a form of PVC when I bought it. I couldn't find a small-sized rubber yoga mat. In retrospect, I would have preferred a TPE mat such as the Little Yoga Mat for my kids, but I don't feel strongly enough about it to stop using the PER mat.

Looking for additional PVC-free products? Check out these posts that describe and review PVC-free:
Stay tuned for additional posts about PVC-free alternatives to traditionally vinyl products.

Additional Eco-friendly Yoga Mat Reviews for Serious Yogis

How do you avoid PVC?

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  1. There should be some way to make your own cheap eco yoga mat with non-toxic materials. Like out of leftover cotton fabrics not from China?

  2. There should be some way to make your own cheap eco yoga mat with non-toxic materials. Like out of leftover cotton fabrics not from China?

    1. Yes, there should. Although I'm not sure it would be usable on a wood floor. If you do it, let me know how it works!

  3. This PER -- how do we know if it's really eco-friendly as opposed to more fake claims? When you launder it, do micro-plastic particles get into the wastewater? I've been reading about pollution of oceans from the laundering of fleece blankets and garments. Won't this do the same thing?

    1. Anything made of plastic is certainly problematic. I don't tout PER as an ideal solution, but it's probably better than PVC, esp. in terms of toxicity to the user. I don't launder my yoga mats (rarely wash them at all really), and fleece readily sheds, so I'm not sure it has quite the same risk of pollution. I think the concerns would be more with manufacturing or disposal of product. It sounds like an all rubber mat would be a better choice for you.

  4. I'm allergic to carbamix, which is a chemical used in the manufacture of natural rubber, it gives me eczema on my hands and feet, so unfortunately rubber mats are out for me :-(. I may look into the cotton ones.


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