Why does a Match Burn More Quickly when Held Downward?

Match will burn more quickly

A match will burn more quickly when facing downward.

Why does a match burn more quickly when facing downward? When lighting a birthday candle, it is very convenient to use a long match to light the candle, but it is not as easy to use a short match. Why is that?  When using a downward-facing matchstick or a lighter, the flame will contact the stick more, and the fuel will be more accessible, so it will burn more quickly. If the head of the match is facing upward, it will not react as quickly with oxygen and so will take a longer time to reach your fingers.

Although it looks like the wood of the matchstick is burning, this isn’t the case. Combustion is a gas phase reaction, and what actually happens is that the heat of the flame heats the wood and decomposes it so it gives off various flammable gases. This is what reacts with oxygen to give the appearance of a “flame.”

When you hold a match upward, the flame travels up away from the unburnt wood, so the wood is not heated as much as when the match is held horizontally. Depending on exactly how the match is designed, the heating of the unburnt wood may still be insufficient and the match will go out. You’ll find a sufficiently thick match will continue to burn because it does generate enough heat, while a thin match with a correspondingly small flame will go out.

So try using a 3″ or 4″ match to light candles or a fireplace where you will need to hold the match for more than a few seconds — it will save you matches and possibly a burnt finger.