best in class

The 11 Very Best Play Mats for Babies and Kids

Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

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 sophisticated design scheme — and baby play mats can be some of the primary offenders. For those looking for play mats and floor mats that are both padded and good-looking (and safe for your child to spend a lot of time on), we spoke to 11 editors, bloggers, and parents about the ones they use. Below, the 11 very best (aesthetically pleasing) kids’ play mats — which are not to be confused with activity gyms, though we did include two recommended styles of those that come with non-offensive play mats for good measure — any of which would look great not only in a nursery but also in your living room.

Best overall for babies | Best (less expensive) for babies | Best foam for babies | Best with removable activity gym for babies | Best (less expensive) with removable activity gym for babies | Best overall for toddlers | Best (less expensive) for toddlers | Best reversible for toddlers | Best (less expensive) reversible for toddlers | Best for toddlers (or babies) that comes in multiple sizes | Most stylish reversible for toddlers

What we’re looking for

Material: Depending on your child’s age, you’ll either want to get a mat that is made of fabric or one that is made of 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 also 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. Most foam mats will likely be made of nontoxic, non-BPA materials with minimal off-gassing, so you won’t have to worry about exposing your little one to harmful chemicals. Practically speaking, they’re easier to clean than fabric mats because they’re typically waterproof, and you can simply wipe down any spills or spit-up.

Toxicity: As I mentioned above, most foam mats will be perfectly safe for babies and tots to play on. 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.

Design: I only included nice-looking — or at least non-offending — 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. A fabric mat will be smaller and therefore easier to fold up and store. Foam mats are a lot larger and thicker (and heavier), like an area rug. Putting them away takes slightly more 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. A lot of these mats are reversible, too, giving you two design options in one.

Best overall play mat for babies

Cotton with polyester fill | Round, 40-inch diameter | Reversible | Machine washable

This round mat from Pehr, which was recommended by two of our experts, is made of cotton 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 and easy to pack up. Says Fatherly deputy editor Matt Berical, “This is a very plain, design-friendly play mat with no bells and whistles,” and he notes that “it has a really nice hand-screen-printed design” of delicate line drawings of sea creatures on one side, while the reverse is patterned with stripes. Berical adds that the quilted cotton mat is gentle and available in a few styles, telling us, “A lot of parents like it because it fits in everywhere.” Ashlee Neuman, the Bump’s content director, also recommends Pehr’s play mat — she likes the Noah’s Ark pattern that has colorful animals on one side and stars on the other.

Best (less expensive) play mat for babies

Fabric | 5’ x ’3’ mat | 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.