Do matches actually burn off fart smells?

John Hopton for – Your Universe Online

Let’s be honest, farting isn’t all bad. It can be (should be) a source of amusement, no matter what age you are. Or if you’re not in a humorous mood, you can use your partner’s farting as a source of righteous indignation and superiority. “How can you possibly be right about which mortgage to choose when you can’t even control your own sphincter?”

But on those occasions when we simply want the whole sorry incident to be over and the smell to be quickly banished, help is at hand. Happily, it is true that lighting a match is a quick and efficient way to get rid of fart smells. Assuming, of course, that you keep matches lying around for this or some other purpose – it would be a hell of a hefty release if it was still lingering after you had been to the store.

The smell in farts comes from hydrogen sulphide (sulphur), which can be burned away and decomposed into other, less offensive elements. Sulphur will ignite at around 250 degrees Celsius, which luckily is around the same as the ignition temperature of phosphorus–the ingredient in a match head. Another stroke of good fortune is that when sulphur breaks down into water vapor and sulphur dioxide, the sulphur dioxide smells the same as a burnt match, leaving other smellers believing that there is no trace of the bodily gas left at all.

What caused the offending item in the first place? Scientist Wendy Zukerman from ABC News Australia explains:

A fart (or flatus in the science terminology) is gas from our intestines. Gas gets into our intestine through several sources: when we swallow air, the chemical reactions in our guts (from when we breakdown food), and gas made from bacteria living in our intestine. How the gas entered our belly (and out of our bottom) will determine what type of chemicals our fart is made of, and how badly the fart smells. Flatus that came to our intestine from the air we swallow is mostly made of nitrogen (because the oxygen in air is absorbed by the body before it gets into the gut). Farts made from gas in bacteria are mostly made from hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide.

Methane and hydrogen are flammable gases, and Wendy says that burning fart gas is just like burning gas on a stove–although presumably she does not advise using it to fry up bacon.

She also tells us that foods jam-packed with sulphur, like cauliflower, eggs and meat, are the prime suspects for a smelly fart, while beans, although notorious as fart-producers, don’t have a lot of sulphur in them, so they actually don’t really cause stinkiness.

It should be noted that there are two reasons why we would want to get rid of a fart. One of them is the fact that the smell is unpleasant, which the match takes care of, but there will also be times when we need to act quickly so that our those around us never knew there was a fart at all, for example on a date. A possible solution here, when your date wonders why you have suddenly struck up a match, is to say “I hold a tiny vigil at this time each day for all the little baby seals killed by trawler fishing.”

Or you could confidently pull out the new phrase: “He who smelt it dealt with it.”

Or you could just stop farting so much, you animal.


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