Basic chemistry

How do matches ignite?

How do matches ignite?


How do matches ignite?

Summer is the season of barbecues. And to light the fire, nothing like matches. Little things that have been going on for a long time in our daily lives, without really worrying about the many researches that were needed to develop them.

To crack a match:

we all have already done that. To light a candle, gas stove and barbecue . In a few tenths of a second, the little red tip ignites. In a process that seems extremely simple but yet requires a lot of research and improvements. The result of the match safe and nontoxic which ignite by friction and stay on long enough.

Let’s first examine the different compounds involved. On the box of matches, a scraper made of glass powder and red phosphorus . Red phosphorus, because it is not flammable and nontoxic. The match, meanwhile, is made of poplar wood . It is impregnated with ammonium phosphate and its end is covered with paraffin. The binder is also deposited with an adhesive, a mixture of potassium chlorate (KClO 3 ), antimony trisulphide (Sb 2 S 3 ) and ammonium phosphate ((NH 4 ) 3 PO 4). Note in passing that the red of the end of the match is only due to a dye chosen only … to look good!

With each compound, its role

Now let’s look at the role of each of these compounds. Ammonium phosphate, first, is a retarder that helps the match not to burn too fast. It also prevents the release of too much smoke at the end of combustion . Paraffin, for its part, as a good fuel , will notably act as a guide for the flame , part of the match’s head, to move towards its tail.

When the match is cracked on the scraper, the glass powder heats up. An increase in temperature that turns red phosphorus into white phosphorus. However, it is particularly flammable. And it is he who will serve to start the flame. On the match head, the potassium chlorate decomposes, releasing oxygen useful for combustion. As for antimony trisulphide, it is used as fuel.

The chain of chemical reactions that then occurs releases sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ). It is this molecule that will give this particular smell of burnt match.

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