Behind The Striking of a Match

Have you ever wonder what actually happened when we strike a match? Eventually, so many chemical reactions happened within that short period of time, within the blink of our eyes. In this episode, we will try our best to explain it.

This 2 minutes video by Reactions Channel on YouTube is so awesome in describing what happened. Check it out!

What a cool SlowMo, brother and sister. So, it’s actually far more complex than we thought isn’t it. As mentioned in the video, apparently the head of a match consisted of several ingredients:

  1. Antimony Trisulfide as fuel
  2. Potassium Chlorate to help that fuel burned
  3. Ammonium Phosphate to prevent excessive smoking once the flame extinguished
  4. Paraffin Wax to help the flame travel down the match stick
  5. Glue to hold stuff together
  6. Dye to make it look pretty

In the other hand, the striking surface on the matchbox consisted of:

  1. Powdered glass to create friction
  2. Red Phosphorous to ignite the flame

When we strike a match against powdered glass on the matchbox, friction is created. This friction creates heat which convert Red Phosphorous to White Phosphorous. This White Phosphorous is extremely volatile and reacts with oxygen in the air, causing it to ignite.

This additional heat ignites the Potassium Chlorate which create the flame that we see. Potassium Chlorate is an oxydizer which produce more oxygen to help the fuel (Antimony Trisulfide) burns. This oxygen combines with Antimony Trisulfide to produce long lasting flame. And because the whole thing is coated with paraffin wax, the flame can easily travel down the match stick.

As Antimony oxidizes, Sulfur Oxides formed, creating the burning smell. Meanwhile, smoke that we see, is actually small un-burned particles which produced by incomplete combustion. Individually, it’s too small to be seen. But together in group, they are visible as smoke. There is also some water vapor in there.

And all of that reactions, happened within tenths of a second. So amazing! Little, but incredible!


Cover image by Wilfried Pohnke from Pixabay

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