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Perhaps we've all heard this, but if not:

There's a common belief that lighting a match after using the bathroom (in a particularly odoriferous way, mind you) will "burn up" or extinguish the fiendish fragrance.

So the skeptical question is, is it true that lighting a match snuffs the stink (or does it just hide it)?

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This is commonly done at least around the Chicago area. –  Monkey Tuesday Jun 2 '11 at 22:44

1 Answer 1

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Here's a study:

When a match is struck, the first thing to burn is the head. The head of a match contains a chemical cocktail that includes a lot of sulfur. In the initial burst of combustion products there is therefore a lot of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is an extremely pungent substance, to which the smell receptors are extremely sensitive. But it also has a very efficient numbing effect on the sense of smell. You can smell a minute amount of sulfur dioxide, but when you have done so, you will not smell anything else for a while. Sulfur dioxide is a gaseous combustion product, so if this is the main factor no-one wins the bet. It is not flame (plasma) nor smoke (solid aerosol). You can easily test this one, because if it is the main factor, other flames, like a spirit stove, a cigarette lighter, or a candle will not mask smells nearly as effectively.

Taken from aother forum

The TV show "MythBusters" covered this topic and concluded that matches mask the methyl mercaptan found in flatulence and feces. So, a match may not eliminate odors, but it will push them to the background. Most of the time, that's good enough.

So, I assume it is just covered up, not burned up, as shown in the Mythbusters experiment.

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can you find a chemical reaction between sulphur dioxide (or even carbon dioxide) and methyl mercaptan that can be initiated and completed in the environment of a burning match head? If so, there's at least a chance that SOME of the odorous substances would get chemically converted into something else by striking a match :) –  jwenting Mar 21 '13 at 7:11

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