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How does a matchstick catch fire? | The science behind it

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Hello YouArmy,

Good Morning,

Happy New Year 2022!!!

Wish your loved ones and colleagues a warm welcome of New Year Eve through this amazing image collection:

Now, back to the question you asked!

Most of us use matchsticks to catch fire in our kitchen or anywhere else. But do you know how does a matchstick catch fire? Today we will know about this! Here we go…

Mainly there are two types of matchsticks-

  • Safety Matches
  • Strike Anywhere Matches

The difference between the twos is that the Phosphorus component contains in the match head of Strike Anywhere Matches. Though this strategy is convenient, it is also much more dangerous than Safety Match. So, let’s comes to the point.

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Normally, How the fire starts? Well, We will need three things to make fire!

Fuel + Heat + Oxygen = Fire

In Matchsticks –

Fuel comes from (Sulfer, Wax) contained in the head of the matchstick.

Oxygen comes from Potassium Chlorate contained in the head of the matchstick & from the outside Air.

The heat comes from Friction when we scratch the matchstick head with the matchbox stripe.

Let’s explain it in detail! How all of these are works?

How does a matchstick catch fire?


To learn how the match can catch fire, we first need to know something called “friction”.

For instance, Rub your hands together on a cold morning to warm. Do you know how these warm your hands? Here comes the Friction. In this case, Friction converts your kinetic energy into thermal energy and that’s why your hand gets warmed!

Friction is important for the first part of lighting a match. You rub the match head against the red stripe on the side of the matchbox.

This strip on the box contains a bit of Powdered glass to make it extra rough. Scratching the rough match head against the rough strip leads to friction. That creates just enough heat to start a series of chemical reactions.

Chemical reactions & Heat

There are a lot of chemical reactions involved in the lighting of a match. Surprisingly, the first chemical to react is not on the match, it is on the box!

This chemical is called “Red Phosphorus”. When you rub the matchstick on the box, you get friction, which means you get heat. This heat causes a small amount of the Red Phosphorus chain to be broken apart.

When this happens, some of the Red Phosphorous changes into another chemical called “White Phosphorus”. It reacts immediately with gas in the air called oxygen. This will create a lot more heat.

How does a matchstick catch fire?


Friction and white phosphorus have provided the starting heat, and now the match needs fuel and oxygen to continue to burn.

The fuel comes from the Sulfur and wax in the head of the match. It also comes from the wood in the matchstick.

When it comes to oxygen, the match head has another chemical called “Potassium Chlorate”. When it gets hot, it releases a lot of extra oxygen and heat. This makes the match head burn quickly and strongly.

That’s it! Hope you understand how does a matchstick catch fire! Leave your thoughts below comment! Thanks for reading! See you soon 😉

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