The main use of the petate is for sleeping. It can be extended on the ground for lying down or sleeping. During the day the petate normally rolls up and hangs from the wall, freeing up space in the room. In very warm places it is used to sleep outdoors. Also it is used for drying seeds, grains, tortillas, and other foodstuffs in the sun, to prevent their touching the ground. In several places in México, pumpkinseeds dried on a petate and then roasted are commonly called "semillas de calabaza." Other items made from the fibers of the palm are known as "artesanias de petate" (handicrafts made from the fibers of the palm) including toys, dolls, masks, hats, and baskets.
The petate's diverse characteristics and uses have inspired a number of colorful Spanish idioms:
"Ya se petateó" ("He's already dead") is Mexican slang from the colloquial word "Petatear" to be dead, recognized by the RSA as a synonym for dying. This is because the petate also is used to lay and to bury the dead, mainly among those too impoverished to afford coffins.
"Llamarada de petate" ("Petate in a blaze") refers to an emotion or brief and intense love affair, as in "the love among them was like a petate in a blaze."
"Huele a petate quemado" ("It smells like burned petate") is used to refer to the smell of marijuana.
"Mujeres, 'pal metate y 'pal petate" ("Women, for kitchen and bed") is a machista saying that states that women's only roles are to serve as cook and sexual partner.
"Mala pal metate pero buena pal petate" means "Bad in the kitchen but good in bed"