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Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) are one of the most common materials used to make yoga mats. In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into TPE yoga mats and learn where they are made, how they are sourced, their advantages and disadvantages, and how the qualities of TPE yoga mats compare with other yoga mat materials.
If you’ve been eyeing that colorful TPE yoga mat in the store but are still in the dark on its qualities, then this article is perfect for you.
We’ll start by learning the basics about what TPE is and how it’s made, then we’ll dig into the details about TPE Yoga Mats. If you want to skip the science of TPEs, you can jump to the TPE Yoga Mats Section using this link.
What Is TPE?
TPE stands for Thermoplastic Elastomers. According to the Condensed Encyclopedia of Polymer Engineering Terms, TPEs are defined by ASTM D 1566 as “a family of rubber-like materials that, unlike conventional vulcanized rubber, can be processed and recycled like thermoplastic materials” [1. Cheremisinoff, 2001]
TPEs are polymeric materials. This means that they exhibit flexibility at room temperatures but they can be processed like plastics by a technique called the melt-processing method [2. Drobny, 2014]. When TPEs are heated they can be reprocessed and molded easily. This gives freedom to manufacturers to design and fabricate different products.
TPEs have achieved commercial success since their introduction to the market. They were introduced as novel raw materials but their unique manufacturing properties have made them a top choice to create a wide variety of products, including yoga mats.
Some of the most common products that are made from TPEs are the following:
- Yoga mats
- Sneaker soles
- Pet toys
- Baby teethers
What are the properties of TPE?
TPEs have a dual property. It exhibits the properties of plastic at high temperatures. This means that TPES can be molded and processed like plastic. However, at room temperature TPEs manifest the properties of rubber, meaning that they are flexible and durable.
According to the British Plastics Federation, TPEs are fast-growing raw materials used in the production of yoga mats and other products because of the following reasons:
- TPEs provide the perfect marriage between rubber and plastics. At room temperatures, TPEs exhibit the common properties of rubber. This includes the look and feel of rubber as well as rubber’s elasticity. However, when subjected to heat, TPEs manifest plastic-like properties. This allows manufacturers to form them into different molds or designs.
- TPEs are designed through a process called melt-processing and one of their main properties is their melt-processability. It is also because they can be remolded into different designs that TPE yoga mats can also be recycled to form other products.
- TPEs also have high elasticity just like rubber. This makes TPEs quite durable and resistant to fatigue/use/wear and tear.
Some of the main characteristics of TPEs are the following;
- Resistance to fatigue
- Resistant to abrasion, wear, and tear
- Resistant to chemicals
- Can be recycled
- Can be dyed/colored
Where are Thermoplastic Elastomers Sourced?
Thermoplastic Elastomers are composed of two or more materials called polymers, monomers, or copolymers. These materials are created separately in a laboratory or industrial setting and when combined they create TPE.
There are various types of TPEs created by combining different copolymers. Some of the most common combinations are as follows as identified by the British Plastic Federation.
- TPE-S is also known as Styrenic Thermoplastic Elastomers. These are the most common type of TPEs and are often made of the combination of any of the following Styrene-Butadiene, Styrene-Isoprene, and Styrene-Ethylene.
- TPE-O also known as Thermoplastic Elastomer Polyolefins, are relatively new, lightweight, and non-toxic. This kind of TPE is made up of polyethylene and nitrile rubber.
- TPE-U is also known as Thermoplastic Vulcanizates. This kind of TPE combines silicon rubber with other TPEs.
- TPE-E is also known as Thermoplastic Copolyester Elastomers. It contains a crystalline component and an amorphous or soft segment.
- TPE-A is also known as Thermoplastic polyamide elastomers. It consists of soft segments such as polyesters and hard components of polyamide.
How Is TPE Made?
There are multiple ways to produce materials from TPEs. Some of these methods include extrusion, injection molding, blow molding, and rotational molding [2 Drobny, 2014]. All of these methods fall under an umbrella term called Melt-processing methods.
The Melt-processing method relies heavily on the flow of materials when they are heated at very high temperatures [2 Droby, 2014] An overview of the different melt processing methods can be found e below:
|Melt Processing Method||Description||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Injection Molding||This manufacturing process involves injecting the molted TPE into a mold. The TPE material would then take the shape of the mold and come out as the finished product.||-Low cost of labor -Fast production -Design flexibility -Durable products -Reduced waste||-Expensive initial costs -Must follow strict design guidelines to ensure part design consistency -It is not advisable to be used when producing a low volume of products.|
|Blow Molding||This manufacturing process involves melting the TPE into a tube. The tube is pinched at the end and the air is blown into it. Because of the air, the molten TPE then expands to take the form of the tube.||-cost is lower than injection molding -costs of the manufacturing machinery are lower than injection molding||-can only be used when the design of the product is hollow – the resulting product is less durable than products made by injection molding|
|Rotational Molding||This manufacturing process also involves melting TPEs. The process starts with the TPE in powder form put inside a mold. The mold is then rotated on two axis and heated in an oven. Once the powder melts, it should take the form of its mold.||-the process does not make use of a lot of pressure -low cost of manufacturing machinery||-can only be used to make hollow products -only resin can be used as input material for rotational molding.|
|Extrusion||This manufacturing process involves melting TPEs and molding them to take the specific design of a product in a continuous process||-ideal for making high volume products – products are durable – product designs are flexible||-high initial costs of machinery -may result in size variances of the final products|
Is TPE sustainable?
Whether TPE is truly sustainable is still apt for debate. TPEs are still made from synthetic materials. TPEs are often touted as environmentally friendly because it is the lesser evil as compared to their alternative, PVCs. One thing is for sure though, manufacturing TPEs leave less carbon footprint as compared to PVCs.
Sustainability is defined as a process that is regenerative and kind to the environment. Sustainable processes ensure that environmental resources are respected and restored for future use of the generations to come.
TPEs are environmentally friendly because they can be recycled and it requires less energy to be manufactured. But, this does not mean that TPEs is the ultimate sustainable material that yoga mat manufacturers can use. There is still much research and study to be done to seek out the most sustainable material for yoga mats.
Is TPE recyclable?
TPE is technically recyclable. But, according to the United States Environment Protection Agency, only 8.7% of worldwide overall plastics are recycled last 2018. Most recycling efforts are focused on PET plastics. This means that more innovation should be done to encourage TPE recycling.
TPEs and in turn, thermoplastic elastomer yoga mats, can be recycled. It is hard though to recycle something that is both made of rubber and plastic even though it is not entirely impossible. TPEs have a lot of potential as environmentally friendly materials. People just need to be creative and innovative to maximize this potential.
TPE Yoga Mats
Since TPE, Rubber, and PVC are the most common materials used in yoga mats, we’re going to compare ThermoPlastic Elastomers yoga mats to both of the other common materials.
How Do TPE Yoga Mats Compare To Rubber And PVC Yoga Mats (table)
|TPE Yoga Mats||Rubber Yoga Mats||PVC Yoga Mats|
|Generally recyclable and environment-friendly||Generally, a natural resource that can be harnessed from nature||Harmful to the environment|
|Highly resistant to fatigue as well as chemical wear and tear||Because it is from nature it is less harmful to the environment than PVC materials||Often a choice for yoga mats because of its sticky surface|
|Exhibits the same properties as rubber at room temperature||Has good elasticity||Can releases harmful chemicals to the environment when being processed|
|Can be molded like plastic at high temperatures||Can not be easily molded into many designs||Can releases harmful chemicals even when subjected to any kind of heat (washing machine dryers)|
|Because of its dual property, it can be used to make many materials||Can trigger latex allergies||Has good durability and high flexibility that can be molded into different materials.|
Thermoplastic Elastomer Yoga Mats have increasing popularity due to their more environmentally friendly characteristics which means that your TPE yoga mat is less likely to end up in our landfills.
Here are the following advantages and disadvantages of Thermoplastic Elastomer Yoga Mats
Advantages of TPE Yoga Mats
- More eco-friendly than other materials for yoga mats
- Has very high elasticity
- If the combination of rubber and plastic materials is done right, TPE yoga mats are not toxic.
- Is durable and is very resistant to wear and tear.
- Easy to clean
- Usually affordable
- Does not contain latex materials, does not trigger latex allergies
Disadvantages of TPE Yoga Mats
- Degrades very slowly when in landfills
- A synthetic product made from a mix of synthetic materials
- Takes a long time to break in
- Tends to be very slippery at first use
- Heavier than other yoga mats that are made from other materials.
Are TPE Yoga Mats Eco-Friendly?
Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) Yoga Mats are more eco-friendly because they are made with non-toxic and recyclable materials, and are themselves theoretically recyclable.
The carbon footprint for manufacturing TPE Yoga mats is also lower because it requires less energy to process than common PVC yoga mats.
Thermoplastic Elastomer Yoga mats are widely available in the market today. It is more environmentally friendly than PVC but is still made up of synthetic materials. One needs to do their research before buying TPE yoga mats.
Be careful when purchasing any yoga mat, including TPE mats. Some yoga mat companies are guilty of practicing “greenwashing”. This means that their commitment to eco-friendly products and sustainability is mostly lip service.
TPE Yoga mats should also be able to detail the combination that makes up the TPE used in their products. We’ll go into greater detail about what to look for in TPE yoga mats later in this article.
Are TPE Yoga Mats Non-Toxic (Natural)?
TPEs are generally non-toxic. However, TPE yoga mats are usually composite materials and any of the materials used can be toxic. Because TPE is a copolymer, it can contain any arrangement of various kinds of plastics and rubbers, which could be natural or not.
Because TPE yoga mats are all made of composite materials, it is important to research the specific type of TPE used in the yoga mat that you are considering buying.
There are three basic classes of TPEs that are used in yoga mats: NEW TPE, Thermoplastic Blends & Alloys, and Block Copolymers. However, in addition to these three basic classes of TPEs, there are combinations used to form TPEs that can be carcinogenic such as TPE-S. TPE-S can, at certain temperatures, emit toxic fumes.
The TPE-S is made of Butadiene and Styrene. Butadiene gives this type of TPE is rubber-like property while the Styrene gives it its plastic-like property. Butadiene is identified by the National Cancer Institute (NIH) as carcinogenic when breathing contaminated air.
While we’re not medical professionals here, we have to guess that planting your face on a TPE-S in a yoga pose might not be in your best interest. But PLEASE, do not take our guess as the truth. Do your own research or talk to your medical professional about things regarding your health.
With all that being said, we’re big fans of TPE yoga mats as long as you are very careful about what kind of TPE your yoga mat is made from. It is imperative that you know what kind of materials makes up the TPEs used to make your yoga mat, so do your research!
The materials that a yoga mat is made from are usually included on the label tag of the product or on the paper that is used to wrap around yoga mats when it is new and you should carefully examine those ingredients lists.
TPE Ingredients To Avoid In Yoga Mats
- TPE-S / SEBS / Styrene-Ethylene/Butylene-Styrene
It should be noted that some TPE yoga mat producers choose to list just a generic TPE as the material. In these cases, we encourage you to contact the manufacturer to learn the specific type of TPE used.
How to take care of TPE Yoga mats
TPE yoga mats are easy to clean. TPE Yoga mats are not recommended to be run through the washing machine and dryer, make sure to read the labels on your mat for its cleaning instructions. A solution of water, vinegar, and tea-tree oil is usually used to maintain its integrity.
To clean a TPE yoga mat, mix 4 parts water with one part vinegar and tea-tree oil, and spray the solution on the surface of your mat. Let it soak for about 5 minutes and thoroughly wipe down your mat with a damp cloth. Let your mat air dry, do not let the mat dry in direct sunlight.
Using yoga towels on top of yoga mats is also advisable as it will keep your yoga mats cleaner and smelling fresher for longer periods. Washing mats can expedite their wear and tear.
How to break in TPE Yoga Mats
New TPE yoga mats can be a bit slippery when new, but the same is true of nearly all types of yoga mats. However, once a TPE yoga mat is broken in, this material has an excellent grip.
Spraying your mat with a mist of clean water will make it grippier during practice until it’s broken in.
What are The Best TPE Yoga Mats
TPE Yoga mats are common in the market today. They are better alternatives to more environmentally harmful PVC and are also quite durable.
We’ve always mentioned how yoga mats are a yogi’s best friend and that investing in a high-quality yoga mat can and will do wonders for one’s practice.
Here we list some of our tried and tested yoga mats whatever budget you may be!
Best Premium TPE Yoga Mat
The best premium TPE Yoga Mat available is the Manduka X Yoga Mat. There are more expensive TPE mats, but our team hasn’t tried one that’s better than this mat.
This high-quality yoga mat is made from TPE materials and is generally considered to be eco-friendly. It is free of any latex and chemical solvents that are non-toxic and is made from factories that save on energy for a lesser environmental carbon footprint.
The Manduka X Yoga Mat is marketed as a brand made for athletes. It is 5mm thick and can be used for a number of practices such as yoga, pilates, barre, and other floor exercises.
Manduka is a well-respected and trusted yoga gear company, and those yogis who have tried their yoga mats tend to stick with them as long as they fit within their budget.
Best Midrange TPE Yoga Mat
The Heath Yoga Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat is admittedly more expensive than the other models of Heath Yoga mats. But, the price increase is due to its TPE material which makes this yoga mat non-toxic and a lot more environmentally friendly.
This TPE yoga mat is made to include a body alignment system that helps new yogis to perfect their form and practice which makes this a great beginner’s yoga mat.
It is also made to be wider and thicker than a standard yoga mat to accommodate all sizes of people and levels of practice. For example, this yoga mat is 6 mm thick (instead of the 5 mm standard) and is 72″ by 26″ whereas the premium yoga mat we love is only 71″ by 24″.
Best Budget TPE Yoga Mat
Just like the Heath Yoga Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat the Ewedoos Yoga Mat is a more affordable yet eco-friendly and durable alternative to PVC yoga mats. This yoga mat is flexible and durable and also comes designed with alignment lines to guide practice making it a very good choice for a new yoga student on a budget.
The Ewedoos Yoga Mat comes with a free carry strap so that you can bring your practice anywhere you go.
This affordable TPE yoga mat has a nice grip for good stability, but it’s not as grippy as the higher-end TPE yoga mats above.
1. Cheremisinoff, N. (2001). Thermoplastic Elastomers. Condensed Encyclopedia of Polymer Engineering Terms (1st ed, 2001).
2. Drobny, J. G. (Ed.). (2014). Introduction. In Handbook of Thermoplastic Elastomers (Second Edition) (pp. 1–11). William Andrew Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-22136-8.00001-6.