What are Strike Anywhere Matches?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Strike anywhere matches are matches that are designed to ignite when struck against a wide variety of surfaces. As anyone who has experimented with these matches knows, the name is a bit of a misnomer; they work best when struck against rough, dry surfaces, and they will not literally ignite when struck against anything. Because they are easy to ignite, however, they can be somewhat dangerous, and in some regions they are restricted out of concern about spontaneous ignition or careless handling.

In some cases, strike anywhere matches can be volatile and are therefore dangerous.
In some cases, strike anywhere matches can be volatile and are therefore dangerous.

The earliest matches appear to have emerged in China, where people coated sticks with sulfur for the purpose of creating an igniter for fires. In Europe, lengths of cord that were saturated in flammable material were known as matches; these were designed for igniting cannons and guns, and such devices are now known as “fuses.” The modern friction match was invented in 1827 by John Walker, a British chemist, who realized that a mixture of certain chemicals would catch fire when struck against a surface. He got the idea of dipping a piece of wood in the mixture to create a self-contained lighting device.

Strike anywhere matches are designed to light when rubbed against most rough, dry surfaces.
Strike anywhere matches are designed to light when rubbed against most rough, dry surfaces.

These early versions were strike anywhere matches in the sense that they would ignite when rubbed against a variety of things. In fact, they were a bit volatile and sometimes ignited spontaneously, leading to the development of safety matches in the 1840s. Safety matches have flammable materials but no chemicals that will ignite them; in order to get them to light, people must strike them against a specially designed surface that will create a spark.

After the invention of safety matches, those that could be ignited on nearly anything became less common, although there were still plenty of uses for them. In the late 1800s, chemists developed a less volatile version, using a form of phosphorus that was not poisonous or explosive. Today, several companies still make strike anywhere matches for consumers who prefer the convenience.

Some matches are specially treated so that they will light when damp or in high winds. These are known as storm matches, and they can be especially useful. Many camping supply stores sell storm matches, and they are stocked in emergency kits in lifeboats and in other survival kits. They tend to be more expensive than other types of matches, but their versatility can be well worth the cost.

In addition to strike anywhere matches, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.
In addition to strike anywhere matches, an emergency kit should contain bandages and gauze.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Can you legally buy strike-anywhere matches in New Zealand?


@W00dchuck -- I think that @SushiChamp has it right -- a fireproof box will solve your problem. Personally, I prefer waterproof matches because I always fish when I go camping by lakes. I usually take matches and a couple of tins of cedar wood chips to start my campfires. The match sticks can get wet, so the wood chips are a life saver. There's nothing like fresh caught and cooked fish. Good eating, if you ask me.


I have a little bit of a story about these and a warning.

Me and my buddies went hiking. We hiked up into the mountains for a few hours to camp out. Well, we had a couple of beers before we started hiking and were goofing off a little. I started hopping up a hill on the rocks that were sticking out -- but what I didn't realize was that the match boxes were in MY backpack.

When my pack started getting hot, I threw it off, but my laptop was in there and ended up getting toasted on the top. The point of all this is, if you do take strike anywhere matches with you, make sure that they have been secured and won't strike on each other in the box -- in your backpack!


@omgnotagain – Yes, you can make your own. I make them and it’s pretty easy to do.

Buy a large pack of safety matches and scrape the red phosphorous off the striking surface of the box. Put on some gloves to protect your hands, and put the phosphorus in a shallow container and add some water. Stir with a glass stirrer.

Next, dip some of the safety matches into the solution and set aside to dry. Make sure the heads of the matches don’t touch anything while they’re drying.

Take out some new matches (some fresh safety ones right out the box) and pull the heads of the matches off with pliers. Crush the heads of the matches into a fine powder.

Mix the powder and water in a second shallow container, using a clean glass stirrer (make sure there’s no phosphorus on the stirrer or in the container).

After the phosphorous-covered matches have dried completely, dip their heads into the new solution and set aside to dry. Once dry, you have strike anywhere matches!

Please be very careful with the phosphorous, because it is poisonous!


Can I just make my own strike anywhere matches? I can’t find any at the stores here and I don’t like to order things off the internet. Is there a way to make them?


@parklinkz – You can buy strike anywhere matches at a few websites online for like $2. Just do a search for “buy strike anywhere matches” in your favorite search engine. You should also be able to get them at some “big box” stores, hardware shops, and hunting supply stores.

You may have a hard time finding some if you don’t buy them from a website. They’re more dangerous to ship than safety matches because of the high possibility of combustion. That makes them more expensive to ship, and some stores don’t want to pay that extra expense.

I buy them for camping trips because I like the convenience. I keep them in a fireproof box, though, just in case they decide to catch on fire.


Can someone tell me where to get strike anywhere matches and how much they cost? I need them for a storm kit. It never hurts to be prepared.

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