Smoking fingers trick

Rubbing fingers leads to the appearance of white smoke.

Scientific name: Mixture of phosphorous trioxide and white phosphorous is oxidized producing phosphorous pentoxide.

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Safety

Wear eye protection goggles and gloves. Perform this experiment outside or in a fume hood.

Always follow general safety recommendations. Please note that conducting chemistry experiments you must comply with the relevant legal procedures in your country.

Reaction formula

4P(red) + 3O2 → P4O6

P(red) -(sublimation)→ P(white)

P4O6 + 2O2 → P4O10

4P + 5O2 → P4O10

Reagents

  1. Red phosphorus

Step-by-step instruction

  1. This experiment should be performed outside or in a fume hood. Wear gloves.
  2. Prepare a box of matches and a lighter.
  3. Cut out the striking surfaces of match box.
  4. Put the two striking surfaces together and place them into a fireproof tray. The Striking parts of the matchbox should be facing inside and the paper - outside.
  5. Light it up.
  6. When the matchbox pieces are burnt a brown substance is formed.
  7. Put the brown substance on your fingers (you should be in gloves!) and rub your fingers together.
  8. White smoke appears.

Scientific background

The striking surfaces of a match box contain red phosphorous. When it is burnt in the way described above the oxidation process does not proceed fully since the oxygen access is limited. Red phosphorous is partially oxidized to phosphorous trioxide and is partially sublimed and settles as more active (but very poisonous and dangerous) white phosphorous. White phosphorous and phosphorous trioxide reacts with oxygen of air giving phosphorous pentoxide. The observed white smoke consists of small particles of phosphorous pentoxide. The reaction is enhanced under heating caused by rubbing your fingers. The amount of smoke increases!

Danger:
Coolness:
Difficulty:

Published on 05 August 2015

  • Fire
  • Heating with fire
  • Explosion
  • Poisoned gas
  • Organic
  • Electricity
  • Solution
  • Oxidation reduction
  • Color change
  • Precipitate
  • Gassing
  • Catalyst