99% of the time, there will always be matches left over by the time the striking surface is completely useless. Buying strike anywhere matches is not a fix, since that's avoiding the question entirely and certainly isn't a "fix" or a "hack". What's an alternate striking surface for book and box matches when this happens?

  • Hi Drew Blood, Welcome to Lifehacks.SE. What have you tried and what happened?
    – Stan
    Jun 3 '18 at 19:57

The Safety In Safety Matches

The striking surface of books of "safety" matches (and on some matchbox containers) contains the necessary chemical accelerant for combustion in addition to a rough surface for abrasion.

The way it works is that "rubbing" the flammable match-head material against the accelerant-containing striking-surface "mixes" the two by friction — producing a flame.

Alone, the match head lacks the chemical activity to lower its point of combustion by most any amount of friction. The coating on the match head will crumble long before enough friction can accumulate enough heat. It is combustible, however, as holding a nearly bare match head will still flare-up.

Using any untreated rough surface alone will not work with safety matches.
You can ensure they work optimally with the minimum of effort by conserving the best storage practices.

  1. Keep the match heads and striking surface as dry as possible. Humid conditions will allow the brittle surface to soften and discourage prompt combustion energy. The water-soluble soft surface will wear off plugging the rough surface of the striking surface.
  2. Keep the striking surface clean. In addition to supplying a necessary combustion component, a rough abrasion surface loses efficiency with loss of tooth - the ability to grind - as it fills in with dirt, lint, spent match-head material, etc.
  3. Use the minimum amount of force necessary. The match head is quite soft and can rub off to fill the striking surface prior to combustion.
  4. Use the minimum amount of striking surface necessary. Stroking the full length of the surface each time it is used limits its service by the limited width.

While this might not solve your search of alternate surfaces to use for safety matches, it might make future match-overstock less of an energy rip-off.


With some brands the striking surface wears out before even using half of the matches, with others it lasts for much longer than a boxful of matches (and you can use its striking surface for any leftover matches you have). Just avoid buying matchboxes with striking surface that wears out too quickly. (My web search revealed that the active ingredient of the striking surface of safety matches is red phosphorus, and it also revealed that it is not quite a good idea to deal with it on is own).

  • Hi user18894, Welcome to Lifehacks.SE. Your "hack" is to avoid the situation in the future? Can you suggest a hack for the remaining supply now?
    – Stan
    Jun 3 '18 at 19:49

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