Horse stall mats are horribly stinky and the smell refuses to go away anytime soon. Plus, they aren’t as aesthetically appealing as the rubber tiles specifically created for gyms. Yet, a lot of homeowners still prefer to use them instead.
Horse stall mats are cheaper
They cost about half of what a good quality rubber tile set would cost. And, yes, who wouldn’t want to save that money! Why not spend that money on a good pair of adjustable dumbbells or maybe a massage gun?
For example; we bought a set of horse stall mats from Tractor Supply Co at $50 per piece. We got them delivered by paying extra because it is really difficult and expensive to rent a pickup truck these days. It cost us $79 for each piece including the delivery charges. You can buy the Anngrowy single piece large gym flooring mat for about $170 and you can get it delivered to your home for free, which saves time and a lot of effort.
They are more durable
So, maybe the price difference is not that much but you will be surprised to know that horse stall mats are much more durable, slip-resistant, and water-resistant than other gym flooring tiles available. They can last much longer than what other mats would last if you use them for weight training.
Moreover, horse stall mats are quite thick and offer excellent shock absorbency. That's exactly what you need to protect your floor as well as your equipment.
But, their stinky smell can make you doubt if they are actually safe for use at home? At some point, you may start to wonder if it is worth saving these few dollars.
This article is all about addressing these concerns. Here we will explain to you why horse stall mats have such a horrible smell and if you should be concerned about their toxicity.
What are horse stall mats?
As obvious from their name, they are rubber flooring for stables. They are used to cover the concrete and provide a soft, cushiony surface to the animals. Since they are meant for stables, you can guess how durable they are. Plus, they are easy to clean and have a grippy surface. This makes them ideal for home gym flooring as well!
Horse stall mats are made of recycled rubber
Recycled rubber is also known as tire-derived rubber i.e. TDR because it basically comes from old tires. They are grinded up to make rubber crumbs. These crumbs are then mixed with a binding agent such as urethane to form rubber sheets.
Not just horse stall mats, recycled rubber is used to make hundreds of things around us such as those welcome mats and anti-fatigue mats you have under your standing work desk, the mudguard of your vehicle, the running track on your neighborhood stadium, the synthetic turf field, etc.
Rubber floor tiles for home and commercial purposes are made of new rubber
New rubber is also known as virgin rubber. It is expensive so it is used for making bumper plates, raincoats, vehicle and aircraft tires, surgical gloves, medical devices, etc.
As expected, virgin rubber is less stinky and looks better than recycled one. It too uses a binding agent but the quality of the agent is better than the ones used for recycled rubber.
Why do horse stall mats have an unpleasant smell?
Image source: AirVeda
Both types of rubber emit an overpowering odor. But, recycled rubber smells far worse than virgin rubber. The smell comes from the binding agent and other chemicals used during the manufacturing and recycling process.
Rubber is porous. During processing, the chemicals get stuck in the spaces between the rubber particles. These chemicals then start off-gassing VOCs i.e. volatile organic compounds, which gives the rubber products that typical odor.
Generally, the cheapest form of rubber eliminates most VOCs but, as we mentioned above, all rubber eliminates VOCs.
VOCs are all around us
The word Volatile Organic Compounds sounds scary but you will be surprised to know that a lot of things that we use regularly in our house emit VOCs.
For example; air fresheners, deodorants, paints, disinfectants, cleaning solutions, and even your dry-cleaned clothes have VOCs. We get exposed to VOCs every day and everywhere.
Are horse stall mats toxic?
Well, this is exactly what we want to answer in our article.
Please understand that we are not researchers or scientists. We are fitness enthusiasts like you and we too want to create a safe and environment-friendly exercise space in the spare corner of our home. We have kids and pets. We will never expose them to something harmful only to save a few dollars. Plus, we will never misguide you only to earn a small commission.
So, whatever we tell you here is totally our own opinion that we have made after studying numerous government websites and research papers. We have spent hours studying and understanding them to ensure that we provide you with the most accurate information.
As per American Lung Association, some VOCs are harmful
Image Source: BioSweep
Since horse stall mats have VOCs, the only way to determine if they are safe to use is to determine if VOCs are safe to use.
So, we conducted an in-depth study on the effects of VOCs on us. And yes, they are harmful. Some of them cause minor discomfort such as headache, throat, nose, and eye irritation, skin allergies, etc. Some could cause dizziness and dyspnea. A few types of VOCs can cause cancer.
Not all VOCs are carcinogenic
Yes, that's what the American Lungs Association says. Further, it also states that the health risks associated with VOCs are higher only when you are exposed a lot and for a long time.
The US Environmental Protection Agency also confirms this. It states that the risks can be averted by ensuring proper ventilation in your home. If you are using something that could have VOCs such as the horse stall mat or a new carpet, you can air them out in the sun for a few days. Airing helps release the VOCs significantly, minimizing the risk of exposure.
The US government have used rubber crumbs for building safety surface in children’s parks
A few years ago, the government used rubber tire crumbs to create a safety surface in parks which provided cushioning and protected kids against severe injuries. Parents, however, didn’t like the idea and started criticizing the government for it.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission then had to conduct an extensive study on the health risks from playing on such a surface. The study concluded that there is no such concrete evidence that suggests that the products or surfaces made from tire crumbs are harmful for health.
This makes us conclude that horse stall mats are safe to use in home gyms
Since there is no concrete evidence regarding the toxicity of rubber crumbs or horse stall mats, we assume them to be safe for home use.
However, we recommend that you air them out for a few days to get rid of the odor. Plus, for extra safety, we recommend that you should use them only in well-ventilated areas. Do not use them in basements or any other area that isn’t well-ventilated. You can use a Commercial Electric 16 Inch Turbo Floor Fan or something similar in your garage to ensure proper ventilation.
You can use air quality meter to check if the VOCs emitted by horse stall mats are within safe limits
Recently, we came across a Reddit thread where a Redditor has mentioned that he used an air quality meter to find out how toxic the horse stall mats could be in his garage gym. He took measurements of his garage before and after installing the mats and both the results were within safe limits.
Please note that he had aired the mats for about 4 weeks.
Out of curiosity, we too wanted to test the horse stall mat from Tractor Supply Co that we have ordered for our new home. So, we bought the EG Air Quality Pollution Monitor from Amazon and tested it in our home under various conditions.
Here are the results:
First, we tested it on our kitchen counter. We waited for 3 minutes before reading the results to give the device ample time to check the air quality.
Here is the reading:
Then, we tested outside on the horse stall mats that were airing out. As you can see in the below image, the TVOCs dropped to 0.425, which is obvious because the air outside is much cleaner.
We aired the mats outside in the sun for about a week. Before installing them, we tested the air quality of the room where we were planning to use them. Here is the result:
Then, finally, we installed the horse stall mats to create our weightlifting platform.
After a day, we re-tested the air quality of the room. Here are the results:
As you can see in the image above, no more detectable VOCs are coming out from the mats.
To be honest, we are surrounded by VOCs and most of them are not strong enough to cause anything beyond minor discomfort.
Don’t worry about their unbearable smell. It will go away in a few days but if you want to speed up the process, do check out our article on ‘How to get the smell out of horse stall mats.’