4 Ways to Clean Sushi Mats

Sushi mats are an integral part of making sushi rolls, which means you need to know how to keep them clean.

How do you clean a sushi mat? There are four mains ways to do it, or rather, four steps. The first is to wipe it down every time you use it so as to prevent the accumulation of gunk. Once you’re done making sushi, you put it under running water or soak it in warm water. Then you scrub it with soap, rinse, it, and then dry it.

There are a few things about handling sushi mats that you need to be aware of, including the possibility of rot, unpleasant smells, and mold. With the right information, those won’t even be a problem.

How to Clean a Sushi Mat?

Keeping your sushi mat clean is one of the most important steps to making good sushi that you can do. Think of it the same way you would consider a serving plate. It will be touching the food directly and it will then be affecting how that food tastes. More crucially, it will affect how safe that food is to eat.

Never forget that sushi is served fresh. It will undergo no further cooking processes after it has been rolled. As such, whatever you do with it during that point has a good chance of contaminating the dish. It could even become a health hazard.

If you want to avoid all of that, you will then need to learn how to clean a sushi mat. However, it’s worth remembering that there are different types of sushi mats that you can find on the market. What’s more, there can also be mats that might look like sushi mats but are actually for different purposes. As such, you might want to familiarize yourself with the different types:

Type of Sushi MatDescription
BambooThe most common type. It’s made of either thin or thick strips of bamboo, tied with a string to form a mat that is normally 25cm x 25cm in size. It is never varnished or colored.
PlasticSimilar to that of bamboo, plastic sushi mats are often more colorful with images of flowers, food, and the like.
MetalMade of stainless steel or aluminum strips, metal sushi mats are the rarest types. Not often seen in supermarkets, this type of mat is used because of metal’s superior ability to retain cold temperatures.

So, there you have it, the different types of sushi mat you can find in the market. Well, technically, there are more. However, the remaining ones are far too rare and inconsequential to bother with. Most of them are more decorative in nature than anything else.

With that said, the types that are included in that list above will obviously come with different demands with regards to cleaning protocols, along with the storage methods. After all, you need to worry about such things as:

·         Rust

·         Dried leftover particles

·         Mold

·         Foul odor

·         Contamination

·         Food poisoning

·         Rot

·         Residual gunk

As you can see, taking care of a sushi mat isn’t as easy as you might assume. So it’s always best to carefully consider your options before you make a decision with regards to what kind you are going to get. To that end, let’s take a look at your options.


The cheapest option that you can go for when shopping for sushi mats, bamboo is the mat of choice for even professional sushi chefs. The fact that it is so affordable is to your advantage as well because you can easily throw it away and purchase another one if it becomes unusable. On that note, being wasteful is not exactly something to aspire to, so let’s discuss how to clean too.

As already mentioned before, every single time you use a sushi mat to roll sushi, you need to wipe it down with a damp cloth afterward. This is intended to get rid of any piece of rice, nori, or filling that might have stuck to it. Not only will this make rolling the next sushi easier, but it will also prevent disasters like the nori getting torn because a rice grain got stuck to it.

Just imagine what it would be like to roll sushi with a mat that has a build-up of all those things. It would be a mess. On top of that, if you just allow the pieces to accumulate, they might become harder to remove later.

This is why you must place the mat under running water or soak it in warm water, which will soften any particles that have stuck to it. Once you are satisfied that it has been thoroughly moistened, you must then scrub it with a sponge or a cloth to remove any residue, but without a soap first. You don’t want to waste soap by scrubbing again and again.

Please do make sure to check the threads that are holding the sticks together to make sure that they are clean. People often overlook them, thinking only the bamboo sticks mattered. After making sure that the mat is pristine again, you can go ahead and wash it with soap. At that point, you can feel assured that you won’t have to worry about any gunk or spot you might have missed.

You can then rinse the mat with warm water to get rid of all traces of the soap. Make sure that this is the case because you don’t want the mat to dry with some detergent particles remaining. Once that’s done, you can place the mat on a drying sheet or just on a dry spot of the counter.

Make sure to set it upright, with the mat forming a crescent shape. This will allow the water to drip down and away from the bamboo sticks. Check every once in a while to make sure that it has dried and if it has, you can put it away.

One thing to avoid when dealing with a bamboo sushi mat is to place it somewhere with a wet surface and just leave it there. Water is a bad place for anything wooden since mold and other harmful organisms could settle in.


The next common sushi mat option on the list this time is a bit more expensive is the plastic kind. You should note that the difference in price is not exactly that big, but this one does stick around for longer. The one disadvantage of using plastic over bamboo is that it warps when exposed to heat, so be careful about that.

Another thing that you need to remember is to check if the mat is for practical use or for decorations. You can tell by the color and how meticulous the decoration is. If it looks too fancy, you probably should put it on display instead of using it.

You might also want to check if it is free of toxic chemicals, both with the plastic and the paint. If the origins of the mat seem questionable, don’t even let it near your sushi. With that out of the way, let’s discuss how you can clean this.

The process is quite similar to that of the bamboo type. You do everything with plastic sushi mats as instructed above, but make sure to use warm water and not hot water. You won’t have to worry about plastic being as susceptible to hosting harmful organisms as bamboo, though, so you can store it anywhere. That’s one less thing to keep in mind.


Finally, there are the metal sushi mats and it is worth repeating that this type is quite rare. You will hardly find them at sushi restaurants since chefs don’t really like to use this type of mat. With that said, there are advantages to using this kind of mat over the other two and that has to do with temperature.

Placing this mat on ice or in the refrigerator will allow it to become colder. If you are dealing with super fresh ingredients, you will, of course, want to make sure that it encounters lower heat whenever possible. This is especially important when making California rolls where you might need to coat the rice surface with caviar.

In terms of cleaning, it isn’t much different from the other two, except you need to store this one in a place where it won’t be exposed to liquids or moisture. Remember that metal rusts, which is why it can be such a pain to maintain and why a lot of chefs don’t think that it is worth it.

With all of those things out of the way, we can delve deeper into the concerns that you should keep in mind when cleaning sushi mats.

Rust – This only really applies to the metal type of sushi mat, which is why it needs to be cleaned, dried, and stored properly. Unlike with the bamboo and the plastic, you can’t just store this somewhere exposed to the open air. This is especially the case when you are not using it all that often.

As to why rust can be a problem, the most obvious reason is safety. Rust is not the healthiest substance to ingest, especially when doing so via fresh ingredients. That’s just a recipe for disaster. There is also the matter of the color of rust.

It doesn’t exactly make for a fetching look when you find that your sushi has rust on it. You would be wasting the dish because you would have to throw it away. When you spent a fortune on the ingredients, you aren’t exactly going to feel too good about that, will you?

Dried Leftover Particles – A lot of people leave their dishes for washing later, especially when they have company. Many food enthusiasts likely understand the notion of “Making and eating the food is the fun part, not the cleaning.” On that note, if you leave the cleaning of your sushi mats for later, there is a chance that the food particles you left on it could dry up due to air exposure.

When this happens, it can be difficult to get rid of them later. If even a small amount of rice or filling remains on the mat after washing, it can still invite bacteria and the like to start living on it. When this happens, you might not even notice that you are rolling your sushi using the abode of harmful organisms.

So be sure to check both the surface of the mat and that of the threads to make sure that absolutely nothing remains. If you have to wash it again, go ahead. It’s worth spending the extra energy to avoid food poisoning.

Mold – Leave your bamboo mat on a wet surface for too long and you will quickly see discoloration build up at the part where it was submerged. Even if it is just a small part, once you see mold form on the mat, you simply have to throw it away. There is no sense in risking it.

This can happen when you place the mat in a place where humidity builds up quite often, as well. The discoloration might not be as pronounced, but when you take a closer look, you can easily see it.

Foul odor – Foul odor can build up when you don’t clean the mat properly, especially if it came into contact with a particularly smelly ingredient. If this is the case, you might need to submerge the mat in a solution of water, vinegar, and soap for a few minutes. This will ensure that no foul odor remains for when you need to use it again.

Contamination – Improper washing or storage of the mat could lead to foreign particles, smells, and tastes becoming an issue. These could then be transferred to the sushi, which could result in an unenjoyable dining experience.

Food poisoning – Sushi mats that are not washed properly will lead to the bacteria building up. When this happens, the sushi could be contaminated. This could then lead to food poisoning for anyone who eats the dish, which can be particularly troublesome if you fed it to the guests.

Rot – Your bamboo sushi mat could star exhibiting symptoms of rot when you don’t clean or store it properly. Rotting sushi mats are a perfect home for harmful organisms and are quite unpleasant to look at. You might also notice that they will start to smell.

Residual gunk – Finally, there’s the matter of residual gunk. When you begin to notice that your sushi tastes and smells funky, check the threads of your sushi mat. Gunk might have built up there, resulting on a surface that is slimy and smelly. This hardly makes it safe for use when making a dish as fresh as sushi.

Why Keep Sushi Mats Clean?

Now that we have dealt with the how, let us delve into the reasons as to why you would want to clean your sushi mat. At first, they might seem obvious, but this is not always the case. In fact, cleaning the sushi mat can even be considered part of a ritual, depending on your perception. With that said, here are some of the biggest reasons for cleaning your sushi mat:

·         Hygiene and health

·         Efficiency

·         Maximum enjoyment

·         Craftsmanship

Let’s start with the basics first. Ultimately, the most important reason why you would want to clean your sushi mat properly is so that you won’t have to deal with health risks later. Contaminated or dirty tools are not the best to work with when dealing with things that you put in your mouth. This goes doubly true when they are fresh like sushi tends to be.

As such, you should clean your sushi mats so that you prevent bacteria and molds from building up. It also gets rid of bad odors or off tastes that might result in the person eating it to experience nausea. After all, it’s not the most pleasant feeling when you take a bite out of something and it either tastes or smells funky.

Next is efficiency. When working with fresh food, it is always best for you to move fast so as to reduce the amount of time for bacteria to build up. This won’t happen if you pick up your sushi mat and discover that there is gunk or hardened particles that you were unable to get rid of.

When this happens, you will either need to clean it again, which would waste time or you might even need to buy a new one depending on how bad the situation is. You will then have to wait before you can finally work on your sushi, which might have already given the harmful organisms a chance to take hold.

You could always store the ingredients in the fridge while you take care of this problem, but the resulting sushi later will not be as good as it could have been. So there you have it. You need to work as fast as you can.

Another reason why you would want to clean your sushi mat is for maximum enjoyment. Basically, if you can clean your sushi mat properly, you will prevent it from becoming tainted with bad smells and strange flavors. These aspects can be transferred to the sushi when you roll it using the mat, which would then ruin your enjoyment of the sushi.

You have to remember that sushi is just as much an olfactory experience as it is a palate one. This means that you enjoy it with both your nose and your mouth. Anything that can interfere with that will naturally result in a reduction in the level of enjoyment.

Finally, the last reason why cleaning the sushi mat is simply so important is because it can be a form of showing your dedication to the craft. Making sushi is something that many chefs have devoted their lives to in every aspect.

You don’t need to aim that high, yourself, but it can certainly be quite the meditative process to maintain the equipment that you use. It can be an extension of your enjoyment of sushi, whereby you loved making it, eating it, and then preparing for when you make it again.

How to Store a Sushi Mat?

After cleaning the sushi mats comes the question of where you are going to store it. Without a doubt, the easiest to deal with in this situation is the plastic rolling mat. After all, you can just store it somewhere dry and it will be fine, even if it is exposed to the open air.

However, it’s a different matter when we are talking about the bamboo and the metal variety. One rots and the rusts, which are two conditions that no one wants to deal with. In the case of the wooden mat, you would need to place it in a storage area that is dry, cool, and free of humidity. Any exposure to dampness or wetness could result in a contaminated mat.

As for the metallic one, you need to put it somewhere dry and protected from air. Your biggest concern with regard to this particular mat is oxidization. If you can coat it with a neutral oil that doesn’t smell or taste of anything, that would be good too. You can just wash it again later before putting it in the refrigerator if you need to use it.

Related Questions

How Do You Use a Sushi Mat?

You place the nori on the mat and spread the rice on top of it evenly. If you are making a maki, then you just place the ingredients on the base end of the mat and start rolling from there. If you are making a California maki, flip the nori before following this process.

Is Sushi Mat Needed for Sushi?

If you are making a maki, then you need a sushi mat. However, if you are making a nigiri, which is basically a rice ball or block with toppings, then a sushi mat is not necessary. The same goes for when you are making a hand roll, which only requires you to form nori into a cone.

How to Choose a Sushi Mat?

Choosing a sushi mat is basically just about you considering your options based on your needs. Apart from the type that you are going to use, there is also the question of the brand. To that end, you will have to consider the following:

·         What you will use it for

·         How often you will use it

·         How much you want to spend

·         The quality of the material

·         The reputation of the brand

The kind of sushi that you are going to make will inevitably affect the kind of mat that you will need. If you are just making regular maki or California maki, then just get the usual bamboo mat. However, if you are making something more special that requires colder temperatures, the metal one might be the better option.

On the other hand, if you are not going to use the mat that often, the plastic option might be more your speed. You can keep it for longer and it is less susceptible to contaminants. It’s not that expensive either, so it should not go above your price range. With regards to quality, this shouldn’t be too hard to determine if you just look at its appearance and brand.

Speaking of which, you might also want to look into the reputation of the brand that made the mat that you are thinking of buying. After all, they might not be that trustworthy based on their track record. Sushi mats might be cheap, but money is still money and you don’t want to waste that.

When to Throw Away a Sushi Mat?

Knowing when you should throw away the sushi mat that you might have had for a while is important, especially if you value being able to eat safe food. Recognizing the signs is something that any competent cook should be able to do.

To start with, if the bamboo mat that you have has started to become moldy, even a little bit, then you should get rid of it right away. The same goes for your metal mat if it has become rusty, though, you might want to try if you can get rid of the rust first. If you can’t, then it needs to go to the trash can.

You need to keep an eye on the gunk that might have started building up in the threats. Examine them carefully every time you are about to use them. The threads are bound to change color over time, but they should never become black or green. Those are clear signs that they are contaminated.

Finally, if your sushi mat has gone on for too long being unused and it was exposed to the air, then you must replace it. You never know just what has happened to it while you were not looking. So it is always best to play it safe. 

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