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The 13 Very Best Play Mats for Babies and Kids

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A lot of baby gear can be garish — bright colors and eye-popping designs stimulate a child’s development but might not fit your more subdued home aesthetic. Baby play mats, with their large surface area, can be some of the primary offenders, but lately, you can find plenty of options that are both padded (i.e., comfortable, protective, and safe for baby) and actually look nice enough to keep out. As a mom of two rambunctious young boys, I’ve tested a few myself over the years and also spoke to 12 editors, bloggers, and fellow parents about their favorites. Below, the 13 best play and floor mats out there for both babies and toddlers, any of which, I should note, would look great not only in a nursery but in your living room, too. While these mats are not to be confused with activity gyms, which typically come with an overhead structure that holds hanging toys, we included two for their versatility. You can remove the structure and use the mats on their own. And if you’re looking for other products for your nursery, we’ve also written about the best glider chairs, stylish cribs, and toy organizers.

What we’re looking for

Material

Depending on your child’s age, you’ll want to get a mat that is made of either fabric or foam. For babies, I prefer a cotton mat because I like the idea of putting them on something more natural when they’re young. And they don’t necessarily need the extra padding since they’re not mobile yet. Most fabric mats will be machine washable. Toddlers, on the other hand, will benefit from the cushion provided by foam for their more active playing.

Still, using a foam mat for children at any age has its perks. Practically speaking, foam mats are easier to clean than fabric mats because they’re typically waterproof, so you can simply wipe down any spills or spit-up. Most will be perfectly safe for babies and tots to play on as they’re likely made of nontoxic materials with minimal off-gassing, so you won’t have to worry about exposing your little one to harmful chemicals. They’ll be free of harmful chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, lead, latex, PVC, and formaldehyde, but check out each manufacturer’s note about their mat’s composition for details.

Size

Size matters, too. A fabric mat will be smaller and therefore easier to fold up and store, while foam mats are a lot larger and thicker (and heavier), like an area rug, which probably means they’ll stay out. Putting them away takes effort as you’ll have to roll them up and stick them in a closet. Foam mats made out of puzzlelike tiles are lighter with pieces that can be stacked.

Design

I only included nice-looking — or at least inoffensive — mats on this list with designs and color schemes that would work in most living rooms and nurseries. While style is subjective, there are a few other considerations to make, including whether you want something that’s reversible, giving you two design options in one, or something you can put together yourself, like one made out of tiles. A couple of our picks for babies come with activities, if you’re looking for something more interactive.

Best play mats for babies

Best play mat for babies overall

Material: Cotton with polyester fill, machine washable | Size: 40-inch diameter | Design: Reversible

For babies, a padded cotton mat like this one from Pehr, a brand I personally love for its sweet linens and storage baskets, is a soft, safe, and gentle option for tummy time and hanging out. Two of our experts — Ashlee Neuman, the Bump’s content director, and Fatherly deputy editor Matt Berical — recommend this round one, and it’s made of a quilted cotton and filled with a fluffy polyester fill, making it more like a blanket or a quilt. It has a diameter of 40 inches, so it’s compact, easy to pack up, and throw in the wash. Says Berical, “This is a very plain, design-friendly play mat with no bells and whistles, and it has a really nice hand-screen-printed design.” This particular style has delicate line drawings of sea creatures on one side, while the reverse is patterned with stripes. Berical adds that the quilted cotton mat is available in a few styles, telling us, “A lot of parents like it because it fits in everywhere.” While I haven’t tested this mat myself, I own this Pehr blanket in the “magical forest” print and love how soft it is, and can imagine how nice the mat feels, too. It’s something that can be passed down, too, almost like an heirloom. For that reason, combined with the fact that it’s easy to wash, portable, and the right size for infants (and most living spaces), it’s my top pick for best play mat for babies under one year of age.

Best (less expensive) play mat for babies

Material: Lyocell | Size: 3 by 3 feet | Design: Wavy quilt pattern, 2 colors

If you prefer a plain play mat that still looks nice, consider this quilted one from Lalo that Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo started using when her son was 6 months old. She likes it for several reasons. “It’s Lyocell, which is a plant-based synthetic, so it’s ecofriendly,” she says. “I love the sheen of the fabric and the wave pattern. Spit-up washes out of it so easily. I don’t put it in the dryer, but it dries really fast hanging.” Corsillo adds, “I have washed it a bunch already, and it’s pretty tough despite looking fancy.” The only downside is that it is on the thinner side, so she pairs it with the Lovevery mat (see below) for extra padding. Available in two colors — blueberry (shown here) and grapefruit — it folds up nicely, too, according to Corsillo, who likes to bring it to the park.

Best memory-foam play mat

Material: Memory foam | Size: 3 by 3 feet | Design: Velcro handles

While the previous two mats are made of fabric, if you’re looking for a baby-friendly one made of foam, I recommend this one from Squishy Mats, which I’ve personally used with both of my kids. (I rotate this with the Skip Hop activity gym below.) It’s made of memory foam and has a supersoft Minky top layer and a nonskid backing that make it plush and comfortable for baby to lie — and play — on. And according to the brand, it’s been certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. While it doesn’t come with any bells or whistles in terms of patterns or design, it conveniently folds up thanks to a Velcro handle. Plus its small size — three feet by three feet — makes it perfect for infants and really easy to throw in the wash when it gets dirty. I put a colorful swaddle blanket on top of it to make it look a little more interesting, and the extra protection means I don’t have to wash the mat as often (it helps that the mat is slightly smaller than the average receiving blanket, allowing you to cover the entire thing with one if you please).

Best play mat with built-in activities

Material: Fabric | Size: 5 by 3 feet | Design: Built-in activities

A lot of play mats for babies include a fabric base with an overhead “gym” attached (and are commonly known as play or activity gyms). But for those looking for just a mat, Berical recommends this extra-large one from Tiny Love that features built-in activities and a variety of textures. “It’s a large quilted mat that works as a portable play space for kids,” he says. “It’s made to help kids move around and interact, and it folds up really small, so it’s easy for parents to pack in a bag whenever they go somewhere. It’s also machine-washable.” It comes with a peekaboo tree, a mirror to encourage tummy time, a variety of textures, a crinkly foxtail, a teether, and shiny satin ribbons.

Best play mat with removable activity gym

Fabric: Polyester, machine-washable mat | Size: Approximately 4-foot diameter | Design: Removable overhead gym

If you want the dual function of an activity gym and a play mat, check out Lovevery’s play gym, a favorite among parents and my friends. Designed by the child-development experts behind the Strategist-approved age-targeted play kits, it features a removable overhead gym made of sustainably sourced wooden legs, and has accessories like an organic-cotton Montessori ball, wooden batting ring, and teether — all of which are washable. The mat itself is slightly padded like a blanket, making it comfortable for baby, and each accessory is designed to promote developmental milestones. There are flaps open to reveal color tabs, textured ribbons, pockets, and graphic cards, all to stimulate the senses and encourage tummy time. I’ve seen it an action many times, and babies love this thing. I also own several of the play kits and can attest to the quality of all of Lovevery’s products. The mat itself is made from baby-safe polyester materials, and the mouthable accessories are made with 100 percent organic cotton and silicone, and all fabric components are machine washable (you can wipe down the wooden and plastic parts).

Best (less expensive) play mat with removable activity gym

Material: Fabric, machine-washable mat | Size: 3-foot diameter | Design: Removable overhead gym

This activity gym from Skip Hop is a more affordable option than the Lovevery and one that I used with both kids when they were babies. It features a cloud-shaped padded, machine-washable surface with multiple textures as well as an overhead gym with adorable dangling toys that can be set up and removed in two minutes (it’s BPA, PVC, and phthalate free). Both boys especially loved looking at the light-up star, lullaby-playing lamb, and sun mirror. I liked that it had a pretty muted color palette with pops of (subtle) neon accents that were stimulating. It also comes with a removable tummy-time pillow. After using it with two kids (and lending it to a friend in between), it’s held up surprisingly well. After multiple washes, it always came out looking like new. (Unfortunately, the hanging toys are not washable, but they stayed decently clean.) “It’s a really nice padded activity mat with additions that everyone really likes,” Berical adds. “The consensus is that even after kids have passed that stage, there’s still a use for it. It packs up really small, is comfortable, and is made with friendly materials.”

Best play mats for toddlers

Best play mat for toddlers overall

Material: Foam, waterproof | Size: Customizable sizes | Design: Jigsaw tiles, rug pattern

For older kids who simply need a protective surface to play or learn to crawl on, foam floor mats are your best bet. House of Noa makes play mats that resemble rugs. Instead of being one piece, though, they are made of two-foot square jigsaw tiles that seamlessly interlock and are expandable. After my younger son aged out of the Skip Hop activity mat, I tried this mat in the Ula pattern. The hand-illustrated design inspired by Moroccan Berber rugs looks quite sophisticated — even fooling a couple of visitors who thought it was a rug from afar. The foam is thick and on the firm side and has held up well to the shenanigans of my almost-5-year-old and 21-month-old, who especially loves removing the edge pieces and swinging them around like batons. It’s also a favorite of experts, including including former Babylist editor-in-chief Rebekah Otto and Neuman. According to publicist Alisa Richter, it’s lightweight and thus portable: “When we traveled, we often brought some of the squares so our son had a safe place to play.” Speech-language pathologist Ellice Kim Lacerda used the Noa mat for her kids. While she admits it’s on the pricier side, she says it looks nice and that the customer service is top-notch. “We had a few squares start peeling. When I contacted them, they sent us free replacements quickly,” she says. (She adds that the mats may not necessarily be great for households with dogs or cats, as their claws can scratch up the surface.) For publicist Sonya Li Casino, it’s the mat’s adaptability and expandable nature that won her over. “I found it practical, and I have since ordered two more sets because I keep wanting to cover more spaces,” she says.

Each piece measures 24.8 inches, and you can choose a mat size depending on your space, starting at four by six feet and all the way up to ten by twelve feet It’s made of premium, nontoxic EVA foam with nontoxic dyes and inks, and it’s free of phthalates, lead, BPA, PFAS, PVC, formaldehyde, and latex.

Best (less expensive) play mat for toddlers

Material: Foam, waterproof | Size: 70 by 56 inches | Design: Jigsaw tiles, multicolor

If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, this jigsaw-style play mat from Skip Hop is a hit with parents and comes recommended by Otto, Neuman, and Greenpoint store Flying Squirrel’s owner, Kate Schmitz. “Skip Hop play mats are very tasteful instead of being horrible primary colors,” says Schmitz. They’re the most adaptable, too. Because the pieces are not square, “you can arrange them to create a pattern of your choosing, like chevron stripes,” adds Neuman. Otto calls out the flexibility that the pieces offer: “Because they can be reconfigured, you can change the look of them” depending on your child’s needs, she says, like arranging them into a longer piece to create a hallway for a crawler. “And there’s enough range in the colorways where if you have a gray couch and you want something to match, you can find something,” Otto adds. Speaking of colorways, the mat comes in gray and white or white, peach, and gray combinations. Each set comes with 40 triangle tiles and 32 edge pieces, all made with baby-safe EVA foam.

Best reversible play mat

Material: Foam, waterproof | Size: 72 by 49 inches | Design: Reversible

A rug-like foam mat is also great choice if you intend to keep it out. When Corsillo’s baby became more mobile, she switched to this reversible mat from Totter and Tumble that she says is “very cushy but also firm so it doesn’t shift around at all.” It’s also definitely padded enough for bonks and falls. “He sits, crawls, and is starting to stand on it, and he has fallen pretty hard but hasn’t gotten any bumps from falls,” she says. “It’s nice for me too because I hang out in there with him and it cushions my knees.” Corsillo chose the “Harvester” pattern that has a design inspired by an ancient textile inspiration in olive one on side and a lunar-eclipse pattern on the reverse, but there are 16 other colors and patterns to choose from as well. “I picked it because I wanted something that was kind of neutral, and I also thought a lot about how often I might photograph him on the mat and picked something that was cute but not too busy,” adds Corsillo.

Best (less expensive) reversible play mat

Material: Foam, waterproof | Size: 83 by 51 inches | Design: Reversible

For something slightly less expensive, registered dietitian Shirley Kim recommends Baby Care’s reversible foam mats, which feature ruglike patterns on one side and more kid-friendly prints on the other. “They are relatively light, so they’re easy to move around,” she says, adding that they’re a cinch to clean and comfortable for kids to sit and crawl on. Mother of two Julie Kim agrees, adding that the mats are low maintenance and durable. “We don’t baby a lot of our stuff — our mats have been folded up countless times in the past four years for all of our moves and still look fine, without creases,” she says. Julie Kim has a dog that walks over her mat daily and says “it has held up with that, too.” Available in a handful of patterns, the mats are waterproof, nontoxic, and free of phthalates, BPA, lead, latex, and formaldehyde.

Most stylish reversible play mat

Little Bot Ofie Mat
$149
$149

Material: Foam, waterproof | Size: 6.5 feet by 4.5 feet | Design: Reversible

While all of the play mats on this list are nice-looking, Little Bot’s reversible mats, in our opinion, stand above the rest — at least when it comes to the sides that are meant to look more like rugs. They come recommended by Neuman, who says the “superchic foam mats feature high-contrast geometric patterns in neutral tones.” Little Bot sells a circular mat, too, should you prefer something round. The fire-retardant mats are nontoxic (that is, free of heavy metals, BPA, lead, formaldehyde, phthalates, and PVC), easy to wipe clean, and vacuum safe.

Best folding play mat

Material: Silicon-coated vegan leather, foam, water-resistant | Size: 6.5 feet by 4 feet | Design: Folding, reversible, 2 colors

I’ve wanted this folding play mat ever since I saw a version of it at a friend’s house many years ago, but she had ordered it from South Korea and that felt like too much work for me to figure out. Now, it’s finally available in the US thanks to Wunderkids, distributor of ALZip Korea mats, the same brand my friend had. This is more like a gymnastics tumbling mat, but instead of a vinyl cover, it’s made of the smoothest silicon-coated vegan leather cover that feels so nice underfoot. Inside, there are nine layers of foam that are firm but cushiony, which has been perfect for my gymnastics-loving kids. The mat also comes in two neutral colors, sand and stone, which blend seamlessly into any space. It’s just a very inviting mat. Everytime in the playroom, I want to plop myself down on it and play with the kids (or read a book while they play nearby).

Best play mat that comes in multiple sizes

From $55

Material: Vegan leather, water resistant | Sizes: Multiple sizes | | Design: Available in multiple colors and patterns

While they aren’t padded, Gathre’s play mats, which come in three sizes, are so versatile and can be used in a variety of settings, including in your living room, the kitchen, or at the park. I kept my mini size under the high chair to catch mealtime messes but it’s just as easy to fold up and take with you outside, as Claude Viard, the owner of Chalet de la Lune and a member of Mater Mea, a community for Black mothers, likes to do it. Other sizes include the smaller micro (which doubles as a changing pad) and the larger maxi. (The brand recently started selling padded mats too but I haven’t tried them yet.) All the mats are made of durable vegan leather and can be used for other activities in addition to playtime. Viard, who owns a large maxi Gathre mat, notes that even its biggest size is portable: “I can take the mat up to the lake or even just have a picnic on the deck or yard, and it’s comfy,” she says. In addition to a range of sizes, the waterproof mats come in lots of beautiful colors, plus they’re free of toxins, PVC, phthalates, and lead.

Some Strategist-approved toys for babies and kids

Our experts

• El Abad, founder of Happy Mom Land
• Matt Berical, Fatherly deputy editor
• Sonya Li Casino, publicist
• Liza Corsillo, Strategist senior writer
• Julie Kim, mother of two
• Shirley Kim, registered dietitian
• Ellice Kim Lacerda, speech-language pathologist
• Ashlee Neuman, the Bump content director
• Rebekah Otto, former Babylist editor-in-chief
Alisa Richter, publicist
• Kate Schmitz, owner of Flying Squirrel
Claude Viard, owner of Chalet de la Lune and Mater Mea member

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The 13 Very Best Play Mats for Babies and Kids