What Makes a Match Light?
The tips of ordinary wooden matches are coated with special chemicals that burst into flame at a relatively low temperature. When the tip is rubbed across a rough surface, friction makes the chemicals hot enough to ignite.
Matches known as “safety” matches will light only when they are rubbed on the specially prepared surface of the matchbox. The head of a safety match is made of sulfur, glass powder, and an oxidizing agent.
An oxidizing agent is a chemical that takes electrons from another chemical. Oxygen gas is a common oxidizing agent. When a chemical loses electrons we say it has been oxidized. An oxidizing agent is necessary to keep a flame lit.
The secret to safety matches is that the striking surface has one kind of chemical on it, while the heads of the matches have another.
When the two chemicals are rubbed together, they give off sparks that light the match and start a chemical reaction that uses the oxidizing agent to produce oxygen gas.
The heat and oxygen gas then cause the sulfur to burst into flame, which then catches the wood of the match to catch on fire.