What Is a Match Head Made Of?

Written by joan reinbold
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What Is a Match Head Made Of?
Box of matches (match box image by Adrian Hillman from Fotolia.com)

Matches have been around for more than a thousand years in various forms. Today there are two main types of matches, safety and strike-anywhere. The match heads of these matches differ from each other in composition.

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Safety Matches

Safety matches are made of potassium chlorate (KClO3,), sulphur (s), diatomite Ca(OH)2, silica (SiO2.nH2O), glue, starch, and either of these: zinc oxide (ZnO) or calcium carbonate (CaCO3).


Lighting a safety match is done by striking it on a strike pad made of red phosphorus, powdered glass for a rough texture, carbon black to neutralise the combined chemicals, a binder. It may or may not include antimony trisulfide.

Strike-Anywhere Matches

Strike-anywhere matches are composed of powdered glass to provide friction, phosphorus sulphide (P4S3), oxidising agents which are held together with glue.

When a strike-anywhere match is struck, the friction created generates enough heat to ignite the chemicals.


When heat is generated during the striking of a safety match on the strike pad, a portion of the pad's red phosphorus changes to a vapour of white phosphorus. This chemical burns when it hits the air and starts the breakdown of potassium chlorate, freeing oxygen. The sulphur starts to burn and then the match wood.

Strike-anywhere and safety matches reactions are similar.


In 1827 the "friction light" was invented by John Walker and in 1844 a patent for a safety match was granted to Gustaf Erik Pasch.

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