What's living on your yoga mat?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
What's living on your yoga mat?
You won't believe what we found on yoga mats in gyms and yoga studios around Houston

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- If you're still sticking to your New Year's exercise resolutions, your yoga mat is likely getting quite the workout too.

But we're through six weeks of workouts since Jan. 1, so how often have you cleaned your yoga or exercise mat? Taserra Tucker works out regularly, but admits she doesn't clean her mat often.

"I'm a mom, so I'm always cleaning other things," Tucker said.

Larry Thraen is a yoga instructor and says he cleans his every other week.

"I'm on other people's mats. My hands are on my mat. My hands are on the students," Thraen said.

To see just how clean both of their mats were, ABC-13 swabbed them for samples. We also tested a local gym's mats and a yoga studio's community mats. We brought the swabs to lab director Melanie Rech at EMSL Analytical.

Rech tested for any bacteria that would grow at 35 degrees and any fungi that were present after being incubated at room temperature.

The mats from the yoga studio came back the cleanest with 3 million counts of normal environmental bacteria.

"Almost anything can cause an infection in a person whose immune system is not working properly, but in normal healthy, ambulatory people, this shouldn't cause problems," Rech said

The mats from the popular big box gym tested positive for staph. While it was not the most dangerous form of staph, Rech said it could cause urinary tract infections.

Thraen's personal mat that he uses while teaching and during his own practice came back with a high yeast count, which is a form of fungus.

"You could get wound infections from this," Rech said of the high yeast count.

Rech said it is rare to see pure cultures of yeast like what was found on Thraen's mat, but it could be because of his job.

"Yeast lives in a moist environment, and since you work in a yoga studio, warm, lots of sweat, and since you don't take your mat out of there, you have a lot of yeast growing on it," Rech said.

Tucker's results were the most shocking. Her mat tested positive for 12 million counts of bacteria. Her mat tested positive for pantoea agglomerans, which is a coliform bacteria and fecal indicator.

"If you ingest those kind of bacteria, you could get gastroenteritis," Rech said.

The sickness is an intestinal infection similar to the stomach flu with symptoms of diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. On top of that, the mom's mat had an abnormally high count of the fungus Apsergillus. If someone comes in contact with the fungus, symptoms could include asthma, coughing, sneezing, and itchy eyes.

"I've had allergies my whole life, but they've been pretty horrific the past couple months, and it's been the past couple months that I've been on the yoga mat all the time," Tucker said. "I guess I need to really clean my yoga mat."

Rech suggests cleaning your own mat and the public mat before using it. You can use an anti-bacterial or bleach wipe or spray. Consider tossing your mat after a year of use.

A chef and yoga instructor at Deer Lake Lodge suggests using essential oils to clean your mat.

"Essential oils are antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial," yoga instructor April Reeder said.

She has created an all-natural alternative to bleach wipes and anti-bacterial spray.

"I would use about a half a cup of water in a little spray bottle, and I would do eight to twelve drops of essential oil," she said.

Reeder recommends using meluluca or tea tree oil and lavender. There's no wipes necessary - just spray the solution on your mat.

"I would stand a foot or so away and just a few sprays. Just make sure you cover your mat," Reeder said. "It would kill any germs or any fungus or anything that's lingering there that we wouldn't want to put on our bodies."