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How do Safety Matches Work?

  • Last Updated : 06 Aug, 2021

We all know that we require energy to complete our daily tasks. Food, burning fuels, and electricity are all sources of this energy. This energy is used for cooking, car fuel, and industrial processes. Because coal and petroleum take hundreds of years to develop. Fuels are the most essential source of energy. A flame is a zone where a gaseous substance is combusted (or burned). When combustible materials burn, they form a flame. The combustion of the chemicals’ vapours produces a flame.

When a substance is burned, heat is produced. The heat is generated as a result of a chemical process. Before we go into matchsticks and how to regulate fire, let’s look at the chemical process of burning and the different types of flame.

Conditions required for Combustion

For combustion to occur, the following criteria must be met:

  • Flammable Substances,
  • Oxygen Gas is a Combustion Supporter, and
  • The temperature of Ignition.

Before, understanding more about let’s know how substances are separated into two categories are Combustible and Non-combustible substances.

  • Combustible Substances: Combustion is a chemical reaction in which a material combines with oxygen to produce light and heat. Combustible is a term used to describe a substance that can burn. e.g. Kerosene, Petrol, Magnesium, Charcoal and many more.
  • Non-Combustible Substances: A substance that will not ignite, burn, or sustain combustion is referred to as non-combustible. When exposed to fire or heat in the form in which it is used and at the conditions expected, it does not emit flammable fumes. e.g. Cement, Concrete, Sand, Steel, Gravel, etc.

Ignition Temperature

The minimum temperature at which a substance catches fire for spontaneous combustion is known as the ignition temperature. The ignition point is also known as the ignition temperature.

e.g. Kerosene is a type of oil. If a match is lit in a room with kerosene oil, the kerosene will immediately catch fire. At room temperature, wood, on the other hand, does not catch fire on its own. However, if the wood is heated just a little, it will catch fire. The only difference is that Kerosene catches fire immediately, whilst wood takes longer to catch fire.


For centuries, matchsticks have been used. Modern matchsticks are made from a mixture of antimony trisulphide and potassium chlorate, with glue and starch applied to the match’s head. The rubbing surface is made up of powdered glass and red phosphorous. When a match is struck against a rough surface, red phosphorous is converted to white phosphorous, which interacts with potassium chlorate to ignite antimony trisulphate, resulting in combustion.

History of Matchsticks

The fire was the foundation of modern humanity and a stimulus for our forefathers’ spread beyond the African continent. It gives us the ability to survive in hostile circumstances, metabolise food, and alter the structure of our surroundings. As the millennia passed and the human species began to build complex tools and form the first Neolithic civilizations, the ability to produce food became ubiquitous all throughout the planet. However, the procedure was still lengthy, unreliable, and subject to a variety of variables. Because of these issues, many early human civilizations’ scientists, chemists, and engineers (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China, Greece, and Rome) strove to devise a technique to make fire easy to make, portable, and dependable. Their early attempts were unsuccessful due to a lack of chemical and physics expertise. 

The sole moderately successful early example of fire control comes from China in the 5th century AD when sulfur-coated wooden sticks were employed as a catalyst to start fires. By the 10th century, these “light-bringing slaves” or “fire inch-sticks” were being manufactured all throughout China, but the self-igniting match had yet to be discovered.

  • Hennig Brandt, an alchemist who spent his entire life dreaming of making gold from other metals, invented the current match technology in the second half of the 17th century. He was able to extract pure phosphorous and examine its intriguing incendiary qualities during his work. Despite the fact that he did not use Phosphor in his alchemical experiments, his writings proved to be a valuable resource for future inventors.
  • Jean Chancel, a Parisian, invented the first match in 1805. This primitive match has nothing in common with the contemporary “striking” matches we utilise today. Rather than using phosphorus, Chancel coated a wooden stick with potassium chlorate, Sulphur, sugar, and rubber before dipping it into a small asbestos bottle filled with sulfuric acid. The connection between the acid and the concoction on the stick would cause a fire and release extremely toxic fumes into the user’s face.

Working of a Matchstick:

  • The principal component of a matchstick’s bulb is red phosphorus, which when heated transforms into white phosphorus.
  • The matchstick begins to burn when white phosphorus spontaneously ignites, raising the temperature of the wooden stem to the ignition point.

Types of Combustion

The following are the three different forms of combustion:

  1. Spontaneous combustion- It’s combustion that happens on its own at room temperature. Substances with an ignition temperature lower than room temperature demonstrate this. For instance, consider the burning of yellow phosphorous. Yellow phosphorous, even at room temperature, catch fire in the summer. This type of combustion has caused numerous disastrous fires in coal mines. This type of combustion could be caused by the sun’s heat rays or a lightning strike.
  2. Rapid Combustion- It happens quickly, releasing a large amount of heat and light in a short amount of time. For instance, LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas), kerosene oil, coal, and so on. Bring a burning matchstick or a gas lighter close to a gas stove in the kitchen, for example. Turn the gas stove knob to the on position. We discover that the gas burns quickly, producing both heat and light. Coal burns quickly and produces a lot of heat and light. This energy is used in a variety of ways.
  3. Explosive Combustion- It is a type of combustion that occurs very quickly and produces a lot of heat, light, and a lot of noise. Crackers, for example. When a firecracker is lit, a rapid explosion of heat, light, and sound occurs because of the enormous amount of gas present.

How do we Control Fire?

The method of limiting a fire’s heat output, reducing the region over which the fire exists, or suppressing or extinguishing a fire by denying it of fuel, oxygen, or heat is known as fire control

We can control fire by using Fire Extinguishers, Water and Sand. There are mainly two types of fire extinguishers, which are:

  1. Foam type Fire Extinguisher: It is made up of two cylinders: Metal is used for the outer cylinder (contains baking soda). Inner cylinder: The inner cylinder is made of glass that contains aluminium sulphate, which is combined with saporin. A common knob connects both cylinders. The glass cylinder splits when the knob is pressed. Then both chemicals, including baking soda and aluminium sulphates, are combined together, react, and form carbon dioxide, which is released under enormous pressure, cutting off oxygen supply and extinguishing the fire.
  2. Soda Acid Types Extinguisher: It is made up of two cylinders: Outer Cylinder: The outer cylinder is constructed of metal and contains baking soda and Inner Cylinder: It is constructed of sulfuric acid-containing glass. A common knob connects the two cylinders. When the knob is pressed, the glass cylinder splits, allowing both chemicals, baking soda and sulphuric acid, to mix, react, and form carbon dioxide, which is expelled at high pressure, cutting off the oxygen supply and extinguishing the fire. The carbon dioxide produced in this process is in the form of a gas.

Soda Acid type Extinguisher

A fire bucket is a bucket that is filled with water or sand and used to put out fires. Fire buckets are typically painted bright red with the word “fire” stencilled on them. A convex, projecting bottom is common. When water is thrown at the fire, the rounded bottom produces a strong, directed stream of water. A rounded-bottom bucket is far more efficient than a flat-bottom bucket at launching water at the fire. Although fire buckets are a low-tech means of putting out minor fires, they do have certain distinct advantages and are still the favoured method for putting out small fires in particular instances. 

The main advantages of fire buckets are that they are inexpensive, dependable, and simple to use, as well as the fact that they can be rapidly replenished and restored. Although oil fires are resistant to water, tiny fires can be efficiently extinguished by dumping the sand in the bucket on the fire, depriving it of the oxygen it needs to stay alight. 

Modern foaming chemicals have mostly superseded this way of extinguishing liquid fires. A fire bucket’s sand can also be used to absorb flammable liquid spills and make them less dangerous by minimising the risk of ignite and explosion. At gas stations, fire buckets are frequently provided to absorb any minor fuel spills.

Sample Problems

Problem 1: What do you mean by flammable substances? Give examples.


Flammable substances are those that have a low ignition temperature and can easily catch fire when exposed to a flame. Flammable substances are also known as combustible substances. Petrol, kerosene, and LPG are among examples.

Problem 2: What are the circumstances that allow combustion to occur?


For combustion to occur, the following criteria must be met:

  • Flammable Substances,
  • Oxygen Gas is a Combustion Supporter, and
  • Temperature of Ignition.

Problem 3: Define Ignition Temperature.


The minimum temperature at which a substance catches fire for spontaneous combustion is known as the ignition temperature. The ignition point is also known as the ignition temperature.

Problem 4: Why doesn’t a matchstick burn by itself?


Because the ignition temperature of a matchstick is higher than the room temperature, it does not catch fire and burn on its own at room temperature. When you rub a matchstick on the side of the matchbox, the heat produced by friction heats the chemical at the matchstick’s head to its ignition temperature, causing it to catch fire.

Problem 5: Why Does The Fire Department Use Water To Put Out Fires?


Water is utilised by fire departments to put out fires because it cools the combustible material, lowering its temperature below the ignition threshold. This stops the flames from spreading farther. Water vapours also envelop the combustible substance, assisting in the cutoff of air supply. As a result, the fire has been put out.

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