Surely, your garage gym is not exploding with the smell of fumes from your rubber flooring. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you took all the necessary steps to ensure your garage doesn’t need the garage door open at all times just to breathe.
But, just in case, by some off chance, you are here because, in fact, your garage is unusable because of your home gym flooring - I’m talking you are losing gains by the hour, you haven’t bench pressed in weeks, and you can’t even squat below parallel anymore - I’m here to help. Judgement free of course.
The truth is almost all rubber flooring gives off some odor.
While some certainly give off more than others, and we will discuss which ones do so, the truth is that it is almost unavoidable that your rubber flooring will have some odor, whether you are looking at rolled rubber flooring, interlocking rubber floor tiles, or horse stall mats.
The question then becomes how do we remove as much of the odor as possible?
Before we jump into the solution, let’s first discuss the problem.
Types of Rubber Flooring
When you were looking at your home gym flooring options, it probably didn’t take long for you to realize there is one flooring option that is clearly better than the rest - rubber gym floors.
Sure you could go with a foam, wood, or even turf floor but for many, many reasons these just simply are not ideal for a home gym.
Rubber flooring is king.
Whether using it for your home gym flooring or commercial gym flooring, rubber flooring is almost always the best option. However, not all rubber is the same. In fact, there are three main types of rubber we will look at.
This is of course how rubber first came about.
Natural rubber comes from the sap of, you guessed it, the rubber tree.
This process began in the 1600s and one thing you may not be aware of is that this sap is more commonly known as latex.
Natural rubber is great, however, synthetic rubber has some pretty big pros when compared to natural rubber. One of the biggest is that latex causes allergic reactions in some people, so using a gym floor made of latex could be a health risk, especially in a commercial gym flooring setting. Synthetic rubber is also more durable which is a huge plus when it comes to gym flooring.
The creation of synthetic rubber is somewhat complex. Honestly, I think I may need a Ph.D. to even begin to explain it to you. Okay, maybe not, but if you are reading this article, I imagine you are much more concerned about getting rid of that awful smell than you are about the molecular composition of synthetic rubber - so we will keep it moving. Basically, the jist of it is that it has the same chemical makeup as natural rubber, it just is obviously created synthetically.
No need to worry about allergic reactions to latex either.
Technically this is just a recycled version of either natural rubber, synthetic rubber, or both. However, recycled rubber makes up the vast majority of all rubber used - not just rubber flooring.
The biggest contributor to recycled rubber is the tire.
If you just take a second to consider just how many cars are on the road and how often tires must be changed, not to mention the incredibly frustrating flat tire that can’t be patched, you can begin to see why recycling tires into recycled rubber is a win-win for everyone.
Recycled rubber is also called crumb rubber, which you may be more familiar with when it comes to bumper plates. Recycled rubber or crumb rubber is primarily what you will find when looking at rubber gym flooring tiles, whether with commercial gym flooring or home gym flooring.
Okay, now that we covered that, let’s dive into what exactly causes rubber flooring to smell bad.
What’s That Smell?
Contrary to what you may have thought, the odor coming from your rubber gym flooring is not actually caused by the rubber.
If you took a really close look at rubber, well you’d probably need a microscope, but what you would find is that rubber is quite porous. Now what fills these gaps in rubber and rubber flooring is chemicals.
These chemicals come from the manufacturing process and are necessary from recycling and binding the rubber together.
Now, there is some disagreement about whether or not all of these chemicals are safe, but I’ll give you some tips later on for how to make the safest decision for your rubber flooring.
Basically, these chemicals are known as VOCs or volatile organic chemicals and if you want to get mad at someone for the smell in your home, it’s these bad boys. There are fancy names for some of these chemicals, but we won’t get too deep in the weeds with that one.
Some manufacturers also use sulfur in their rubber gym flooring, so of course that doesn’t help the smell.
So what do you do now?
You’ve already bought rubber flooring and installed it. There’s no way you want to go through the process of uninstalling it, returning it, and buying a new rubber gym floor. You bought subpar lemons, let’s make incredible lemonade.
So What, Now What?
This really depends on just how bad the smell is, and for that matter, I guess how well your sense of smell works.
But seriously, it is a smart idea to work to remove the smell not only for your enjoyment of working out but probably for the good of your overall health.
There is one major way we can combat the nasty smell.
Wash and air out your rubber gym flooring, preferably in the sunshine.
This is the way. After all, when something stinks, wash and dry it. However, do be aware that even the greatest cleaning job will likely leave some odor behind.
It really depends on the quality of the rubber you are starting with.
To wash your rubber gym flooring, use water and vinegar. You want to gently scrub your flooring on both sides. After you finish scrubbing the gym flooring, you are going to want to air it out. Ideally, you want to do this outside for the sake of your nose and for the best results. Be sure to position the flooring in such a way that airflow can reach both sides. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having large sections or even one giant piece of rubber covering your entire space this obviously may not be possible. You can still scrub the floors and use fans to get increased airflow in the space.
Now, one area we haven’t talked about yet is the importance of sunshine here.
What sunshine does to rubber gym flooring is open up those pores we talked about earlier. This allows a greater amount of those chemicals (VOCs) to be released and ultimately helps reduce the odor coming from your mats. How much time is needed in the sun again varies depending on the quality of the rubber to begin with but probably anywhere from a couple of days to multiple months before you see some significant progress. One thing you want to be aware of is that while sunshine is great for the odor, extensive exposure is not great for the mats.
Extensive exposure can cause the mats to crack.
You probably want to leave them outside for no more than a week or two. Be sure to flip the mats and get the same air and sun exposure on both sides for the best results.
So if that was you, you are all set to try and fight back against bad odors. However, if you are considering buying new rubber gym flooring or if the smell is just too bad to take and you need to reevaluate, here are some tips for higher-quality rubber gym flooring that will smell better from the start.
After all, you were reading this for a friend right?!
Tips Before You Buy
Note that there is certainly a tradeoff here. We’ve talked about horse stall mats in the past and while they are great for size and cost, they are not going to be of the same quality as pure synthetic rubber gym flooring.
Neither is necessarily right or wrong, it is just something to consider.
Functionally speaking, you will get many of the same benefits regardless of which type of rubber mats you buy, the biggest differences are going to be with odor and cut.
If your gym is small with little to no airflow, I would definitely recommend investing in higher-quality rubber flooring; however, if you are looking at flooring for let’s say a CrossFit gym with multiple garage doors open all day or maybe even in commercial gym flooring, you are obviously in a much different situation.
Let's look at some things to consider when buying gym flooring:
Virgin rubber is going to be better for odor and has fewer chemicals as opposed to recycled rubber.
Thinner rubber gym flooring
This is also going to help because, at the simplest level, it’s less rubber flooring so there is less to off-gas.
Finding gym flooring that also has a mix of latex
This can help with the odor, however, you then have to consider if someone with latex allergies may come in contact with it.
Adding turf on top of the rubber flooring can also help but this may defeat the purpose of your rubber flooring depending on where you have it. For instance, putting turf underneath your squat rack is not a great idea; however, if you have a large enough space and want to add turf over part of it for plyometrics, sleds, and stretching that could work well.
When it comes down to it, the cheaper the rubber mats the more likely they are going to have a more distinct odor.
Luckily, there are steps to take to reduce the odor, namely wash, air, and sunshine.
However, the best way to prevent odor is to buy high-quality rubber flooring, whether that is interlocking rubber floor tiles, rubber gym flooring rolls, or just some recycled rubber floor mats.
Haas, Kayla. “Is Rubber Flooring Toxic? Answers on Rubber Flooring Safety.” Flooring Inc, 19 Jan. 2022, www.flooringinc.com/blog/rubber-flooring-safety-5-questions/.
Segura, Corinne. “Non-Toxic (Low-VOC) Gym Flooring.” My Chemical-Free House, 5 Apr. 2023, www.mychemicalfreehouse.net/2020/08/non-toxic-low-voc-gym-floors.html
Steward, Tim. “Getting the Smell out of Your Rubber Gym Floor.” Gym Crafter, 29 Mar. 2023, gymcrafter.com/get-smell-out-rubber-gym-floor/.