How to Take Care of Your Tatami Mat or Rug

So, you bought a tatami mat or rug but don’t know how to care for it. Or maybe you’re planning on buying one but are afraid that it’s going to be too much work to upkeep. If so, then this is the article for you.

The truth is, tatami products are very versatile. They’re moisture-absorbing, antibacterial, and they eliminate bad odors. But traditional Japanese tatami mats are large, thick, and only come in standardized sizes, making them unsuitable for someone who just wants to buy a single mat or two. Newer tatami mats and rugs don’t have that problem, which is why they’re becoming more and more popular every year. In this article, we’ll discuss ways of cleaning and maintaining tatami products so that you can keep using them for years to come.

Things to Do Before Use to Ensure a Long Life for Your Tatami Mat or Rug

Wipe It With a Cloth

Image for illustrative purposes only.

Before using a tatami rug or mat, make sure to thoroughly wipe it down with a dry cloth. This is to remove the powdery feeling you sometimes get with brand-new tatami, but keep in mind that the powder is not dirt or mold. Tatami mats are made from soft rush, which is “mud dyed” to prevent color fading, and that can leave some residual substances on the finished product. That’s why tatami straight out of the box must first be rubbed down with a dry cloth.

If the Smell Bothers You, Shade-Dry Your Tatami

Brand-new tatami has a distinctive soft rush smell. Japanese people consider it a very pleasant and relaxing smell, but those not used to it might find themselves disliking it. If that happens to you, wipe down the mat with a dry cloth and shade-dry it in an airy area for one day. This should remove a lot of the rush smell. If it still bothers you, dry it for an additional day. Please do not spray the mat with deodorizers as that can interfere with the rush’s natural odor-removing properties.

Caring For Your Tatami Rug or Mat

Use a Vacuum for Regular Cleanings

Image for illustrative purposes only.

After you first get your tatami product, it’s best to wipe it down, but after that, you can perform regular cleanings with a vacuum. However, be mindful of the direction that the mats are woven and make sure to go along the grain and to use a light touch.

For example, in the picture above, the tatami on the right should be vacuumed in the horizontal direction, left and right across the mat. If it were to be vacuumed up and down in the vertical direction instead, the vacuum would drag along the weave, which can weaken and damage your mat. You can also damage the rush by vacuuming it with too much force, so be sure to use a gentle touch.

What to Do About Spills on Tatami

If you spill juice or water on your tatami mat or rug, simply wipe it dry using a cloth. If the liquid has begun to seep into the tatami, do your best to dry it as much as possible by dabbing it repeatedly with the cloth. If the cloth is not sufficiently dry, you risk the rush becoming moldy, which will weaken its fiber, so be sure to use a dry cloth. Also, make sure to wipe it up as quickly as possible, because if the liquid gets absorbed into the weave, it can permanently change the tatami’s color.

Generally speaking, products made from soft rush are sensitive to moisture. If you put a tatami mat or rug in a place with a lot of moisture or humidity, it can easily get moldy. To prevent this, make sure that the air in the room is frequently circulated and keep it as dry as possible. If the worst happens and your tatami mat or rug gets moldy, move it somewhere shaded, wipe it down, then shade-dry it in an area with good ventilation.

Storing Your Tatami Rug or Mat

The best place to store away a tatami rug or mat is somewhere dry and out of the sun, preferably in an upright position with a little room to breathe. Tatami mats can be rolled up for storage as long as it’s not too tight. Soft rush should not be stored with other items stacked on top of it. Before you put the tatami away, wipe it down and make sure that the storage space isn’t too humid. Also, do not store tatami in the sun as that can cause a permanent change in color.

Can You Wash Tatami Rugs or Mats in the Washing Machine?

As a tatami rug or mat is used over a long period of time, you might notice the accumulation of dust or dirt. Unfortunately, however, sticking the whole thing in the washing machine to clean it is not possible since—as mentioned above—soft rush is very sensitive to moisture.

So, what is the correct way to clean a tatami mat? The best method is to use a dry wiper such as a Swiffer to gently wipe in the direction of the weave. To finish everything off, you can spray a little gentle household detergent* on a cloth and gently wipe down the mat. This should get rid of all the accumulated dirt and leave your tatami looking pristine.

* Household detergents will vary by country, but try to avoid any that are overly strong. Stick to only mild cleaners and be sure to use just a small amount with gentle pressure so as not to stain the tatami.

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First appearing on the market over 30 years ago, My Pet is one of Japan’s bestselling household detergents. It’s good for tatami as well as for windows, floors, walls, doors, furniture, and other surfaces. To save money, buy a bottle and refill set. But remember, when using My Pet on tatami, do not spray the rug or mat directly with it. Spray it on a cloth, and only once. At first, to test it out, wipe down an area that won’t be too noticeable if the product ends up staining it. After using My Pet on your rug or mat, dab it with a dry cloth, always being vigilant about possible staining.

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Maintenance: Comparing Tatami Products with Regular Rugs and Mats

Regular mats and rugs usually have a tag that says they can be washed with water using a household washing machine. First, though, they need to vacuumed to get rid of all the surface dirt. Then comes the washing, which can be difficult. A rug or mat larger than two standard tatami mats (about 3.65 m2) will take a long time to wash and dry in a regular washing machine and drier. And, if the rug or mat cannot be washed with water, it will have to be taken to the cleaners, which is an extra hassle.

Tatami rugs and mats, on the other hand, are not great with moisture, so they cannot be washed in a washing machine. But their maintenance is actually quite simple. First, wipe them down to remove surface dirt, then shade-dry them. Simple as that.

So, it’s clear that tatami products are much easier to maintain. However, if this is your first tatami product, it can be easy to forget about regular maintenance if you’re not used to it. However, in exchange for taking care of it, your tatami rug or mat will provide you with something that other products can’t: moisture-absorption, antibacterial properties, and odor elimination. In the end, tatami rugs and mats will make your life easier.

What Should You Do If Mites or Mold Appear on Your Tatami Rug or Mat?

There are many types of mites and mold in various countries and regions. Every case is different, so please treat the following advice as general tips.

What Causes Mites and Mold to Appear?

Mites and mold tend to appear when the following conditions are present:

  • High humidity
  • High temperature
  • Access to nutrients

In other words, to prevent mites or mold, you need to avoid those three things. The good news is that tatami mats and rugs are easy to maintain. But if you do get mites or mold, here are the steps you can take to deal with the problem and make sure it doesn’t occur again.

How to Deal with Mites

Image for illustrative purposes only.

If mites have invaded your tatami, it will need to be air-dried. On a sunny day, hang it outside, making sure that each side gets about an hour of direct sunlight. Then, brush or vacuum each side. Doing this will eliminate moisture in your rug or mat, making it difficult for mites to survive. You won’t be able to get rid of all the mites with one air-drying, but doing it regularly will make a huge difference.

However, even dead mites can be bad for your health, so after air-drying your tatami rug or mat, be sure not to skip the brushing or vacuuming step to remove the dead bugs. Also, make sure to not expose the tatami to direct sunlight for too long as this can cause discoloration.

How to Prevent a Mite Infestation

The best thing you can do for your tatami mat or rug is to clean and shade-dry it about once a week. First, hang it in an airy, shaded area, then vacuum it. This will slow down the mites’ rate of breeding as shade-drying will keep moisture levels in the tatami low, and mites need moisture to thrive. Vacuuming then removes dead mites and any particles that the mites were living off of such as grime and dandruff.

You might be wondering why tatami has to be dried in the shade. As mentioned above, direct sunlight can discolor the soft rush, so stick to shade-drying in order to maintain its color.

How to Deal with Mold

Like mites, mold can negatively affect a person’s health. In the worst-case scenario, mold can get into your lungs, which can lead to severe allergic reactions or pneumonia. Thankfully, unlike mites, mold is easy to spot and should be taken care of as soon as you find it.

Removing Mold from Tatami Rugs and Mats

Ethanol works best on mold. You might be tempted to use specialized mold remover, but those kinds of products are too strong for something that comes into frequent contact with your body.

In order to remove mold, you’ll need the following:

  • Ethanol
  • Spray bottle
  • Toothbrush
  • Vacuum
  • Dry cloth

First, put the ethanol into the spray bottle, then spray the moldy part of the tatami with it. After that, use a toothbrush to gently scrub the area, brushing with the weave. If you go against the weave, you might end up damaging the fibers, so remember to use gentle pressure.

As you continue to scrub with the toothbrush, the mold should start to come off the mat or rug. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck up the mold while making sure that it doesn’t get inside the weave. If it does, use the vacuum brush attachment.

Finally, give the tatami another spray of ethanol and dab it dry with a dry cloth. Your rug or mat should now be mold-free. Remember that liquids can discolor soft rush, so make sure that the cloth you’re using is dry.

How to Prevent Mold

One of the great things about soft rush is that it absorbs moisture, helping to balance indoor humidity levels. However, this special property can also lead to mold if tatami is kept in an overly humid place for too long.

That’s why regular shade-drying and airing out of your tatami is important. As we mentioned previously, shade-drying in place with good ventilation lowers the moisture in a tatami rug or mat, which prevents both mite infestations and mold, and should preferably be done about once a week.

Airing your room out and keeping moisture levels steady will not only help prevent mold but also improve the conditions in your house. During summer or winter, when many people crank up the air conditioning and close all the doors, it’s surprisingly common for moisture to accumulate on the floor. Periodically airing out the house will help prevent that while also preserving your tatami rugs and mats.

With Some Easy Routine Upkeep, Tatami Can Last a Long Time!

Tatami mats and rugs are sensitive to moisture, which can cause discoloration and mold. However, simply by being careful about keeping them dry, you will be able to use your tatami mat or rug for years to come. They are very easy to maintain, only requiring the occasional wiping down or vacuuming, followed by shade-drying, and one more round of vacuuming.

This kind of regular maintenance might seem like a lot, but it will help preserve your tatami mat or rug for 3-4 years. And who wouldn’t want to use something they like for as long as possible? With just a little elbow grease and the methods discussed in this article, you will be able to keep your tatami mats and rugs looking pristine for years.

▶ Baby Safe! Japan-Made Tatami Rugs and Mats

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▶ Japanese Crafts: The Ultimate Tatami Guide

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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