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10/14/2019

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Smell Of Matches Eliminates Poop Smell - Why?

Your shit stinks. You probably know that, but there really are some people who think their stuff smells like roses. It’s just silly. If you live alone, or just are alone, you can probably handle your own brand just fine. You can exercise whatever demon is brewing in your bowels without flinching. Sometimes, you won’t be alone. In fact, you might have someone over who you want to keep around, and the idea of blasting them with some paint-peeling butt fumes is unbearable. If that’s the case, you need recourse. You need something that can fight the smell and save the day.

One of the most common household remedies is to light a match. The old knowledge suggests that a single match can keep even the worst concoction at bay and allow you to leave the bathroom with head held high, rather than in abject shame. So, let’s ask the hard questions. Does a match really help with bathroom smells? Can it prevent you from sending a date running in terror? If so, how? 

The Science of Bad Smells

If you want to get to the down and dirty truth of your poop, we have to do some science. Ok, maybe we’re just nerdy and looking for any excuse to bring science into it. Either way, we’re going to explore the technicalities of bad smells, especially as they relate to poop (and farts). We’ll follow up on that with some workable remedies that are sure to help you manage offensive smells and keep your social life intact. Are you ready for this?  

What Makes Poop Stink?

Understanding the battle between matches and feces begins with a deep dive into the chemical process of foul odors. There’s a bunch of stuff in your bodily waste that makes it stink. All kinds of chemicals and bacteria are part of the overall concoction, but the bulk of what makes your nose wrinkle is a single compound. Hydrogen sulfide is the major player. It is abundant among gases that escape your anus, and it’s pretty much universally reviled. If you’re the one in a million people who actually likes the smell of this stuff, don’t tell anyone. The world isn’t ready to accept you yet. You'll have better luck finding the rest of your kind on the dark web.

Aside from hydrogen sulfide, another big stinker is methyl mercaptan. A lot of scientists undervalue how much this contributes to the stinkiness of a pile of crap, but the unique mixture of hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan is most of what enables you to distinguish your own brand.

The rest of the main contributors to poop smell are a mix of other sulfides, but their combined impact is less than either of the two primary chemicals, so we’re mostly going to ignore them.

So, mechanically speaking, when enough of these chemicals enter the air, you can smell it. The amount necessary to make your eyes water will vary from person to person, but in general, it’s actually not that much. These are very pungent chemicals (meaning they trigger a strong nasal response from a small concentration). That’s an important thing to remember as we continue.

smell of matches eliminates poop smell why

But Why Do They Stink?

Ok, these are the chemicals we don’t like, but that leaves an important, unanswered question. Why do we dislike the smell of these compounds? While no scientist would tell you they have an absolute answer, there’s a general consensus on this one. Evolutionary biologists believe that our dislike of the smell of poop is advantageous. It’s extremely easy to catch diseases from another person’s poop. Coincidentally, this is why you should clean up after your pets. It probably won’t get you sick, but it can get other pets sick.

Hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan are compounds that are abundant in feces and not all that common otherwise. You might also find hydrogen sulfide in geysers and some rotten foods, but mostly you’ll smell it when it comes out of your butt. That’s what makes it such a good identifier of something that is potentially dangerous, and it’s why biologists believe our bodies honed in on it as the source of all stink.

Basically, your dislike of the smell will keep you out of other people’s poop (which is all the more reason doctors are crazy people), and that helps you live a longer, healthier life. Pretty cool stuff. Interestingly enough, this is also why your own poop is less vulgar to you (usually) than someone else’s. You’re far less likely to contract a disease from your own stuff (although it’s still possible), and so it’s not nearly as unpleasant to you. 

Lastly, this is why sometimes your own droppings will be abnormally foul to you. When something is wrong inside your gut, the stuff it releases to the world are different from normal, and that’s what leaves you gagging on your own stench as you try not to vomit in the trash can while you’re still on the pot. Don’t worry. It happens to all of us. Just check your diet, and if it persists, maybe ask a doctor for some antibiotics.

What Does a Match Do?

Now we can get into the mechanics of burning a match. There are many theories and explanations for the match trick, but a lot of them don’t hold up to science. Consider the most common misconception. A lot of people think that the fire burns the smelly chemicals and removes them from the air. This is wrong for a few reasons.

For starters, hydrogen sulfide is flammable, and when you burn it, the byproduct is way less smelly. That said, how much air do you think a single match burns? The answer is not very much. Also, burning hydrogen sulfide doesn’t exactly remove it from the air. Instead it transforms it into a couple of new chemicals (including water). They might not smell as bad, but they’re still present.

Most importantly, the match isn’t really changing the chemistry of the poop and its farts. It’s important to understand this because some people incorrectly attribute antimicrobial attributes to the match. It is definitely not reducing the risk of disease. So, if for some reason you have to wade through sewage, a match is not going to protect you.

What’s really happening is that the match masks the smell of poop. When you strike and burn a match, it releases sulfur dioxide. Unlike hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide is an aroma most people find pleasant. It’s also more pungent than the stuff in your crap. That means the relatively small amount of chemicals released into the air from the match is enough to overpower the stuff that came out of you. It’s pretty impressive.

This teaches us two important lessons. First, if a single match ever isn’t enough, burning a couple more probably is. You’re just masking a smell, so providing more of the mask does work. That said, you hit diminishing returns pretty quickly, and burning a whole book of matches because you defiled a bathroom isn’t always a reasonable response. Try a courtesy flush.

The second thing the match trick suggests is that there might be a reason we like the smell of sulfur dioxide. This is less understood than why poop smells bad, but the general idea is that we associate this smell with fire in general. It could be that it encourages us to cook our food. It could also be that we genetically associate the protection and value of fire with its smell. It’s hard to say for sure. But, we did warn you this was going to get science-y.

smell of matches eliminates poop smell why

Is a Match the Best Solution?

We’ve discovered that matches really do help with smelly toilets. That’s great news, but now we have to ask another important question. Is it the best solution? Here’s a spoiler alert. We aren’t going to come to a definitive answer, but we are going to discuss all the ways you can beat a terrible stench. 

Scented Oils

It’s a classic solution for controlling the aroma of a room. Scented oils date back to antiquity, and there are good reasons for that. Essentially, oils work by the same principle as lighting a match. You’re using pungent, pleasant odors to mask gross ones. This is also how cologne, perfume, scented soap and deodorant work. It’s a trick humanity understands pretty well.

In general, scented oils are vaporized so they can spread across a room. That can be done through modern technology (like plug-ins) or through burning a scented candle. You can use sprayers and all kinds of things, but no matter how you look at it, it’s all the same thing. You’re simply finding the odor and delivery method you like best. Preference is all that matters if you choose to combat smells with scented oils.

With that in mind, we’re big fans of automatic misters. Who has time to stop and spray something every time they take a dump? We live in a modern world; let’s make the most of modern solutions and get something that automatically delivers the oils we need to hide our crap.  

Air Filtration

On the other hand, there’s a method that actually removes hydrogen sulfide from the air. This is the opposite approach. Instead of masking a smell, you’re actually getting rid of it. Contrary to what some unnamed odor-fighting products may claim, it is not a matter of “cleaning” the smell out of things. Cleaners that combat smells still use the oil method. Actually removing smells from something is achieved by pushing the offending chemicals through a membrane that can trap them (although they can also be chemically transformed, but we’ll play with that in a minute). While that sounds complicated, it’s not a big deal.

Simply running central cooling or heating does this to a pretty good extent. The filters built into that system will trap at least some of the stench. It also spreads the chemicals out more so they don’t smell as strongly. If you combine your central system with a fart fan, you can remove odor from the air pretty fast.

You can also look into dedicated air purifiers. They’re working on the same principle, but they can do the job a little more thoroughly. That’s especially true if you put the purifier in the bathroom. One thing worth looking into is ionizing purifiers. Instead of just using a filter, they actually trap offending chemicals through electric or ionic properties. Without bogging you down in some really dense science, suffice it to say that ionic filtration is a little more effective for poop smells than just running the air conditioner. You know, now that we’re on the topic, it might be time for someone to invent some kind of window unit specifically for bathroom smells . . .

smell of matches eliminates poop smell why

Lots of Fire

The other way to remove odors from the air is to chemically change the stuff that stinks. We already mentioned that hydrogen sulfide is flammable. It’s not concentrated enough for you to get it with a single match or candle, but if you’re aggressive enough, fire really can remove the stink from your bathroom.

This doesn’t mean you should light a dozen candles and leave it at that. You’re not thinking nearly big enough. Even with a healthy air flow, it’s going to take hours for a few candles to get all of the hydrogen sulfide. It’s likely to disperse into anonymity before the candles can solve the problem. No, if you’re going to burn the smells out, you need a lot more fire. And fire insurance. Don’t keep reading if you don’t have fire insurance.

The obvious solution is to drop 10 grand and run an air duct system to a fireplace. You’ll channel the hydrogen sulfide directly to a large flame, and it’ll be handled in no time. As a bonus, you’ll have a nice warm air return for the winter months. It might be a little smoky, but we like smoke smells, so what’s the problem? Also, don’t worry about getting too hot in the summer. It’s just motivation to spend a little less time on the pot. You probably need that.

If you’re feeling more aggressive, then you need to find a way to get more fire in the bathroom itself. It might be violating some laws and international treaties, but the old aerosol flamethrower might do the trick. As long as you get enough flame into the air, it’ll find those stinky chemicals and set them ablaze. Just be careful with your scented oils in the process. Some of them may be pretty flammable too. Let’s not burn any buildings down just to hide a little stench. Then again, you do have that handy fire insurance.

Hopefully, the combined creativity of all mankind will lead us down the path to some better technology. It’s on all of you to play with fire and find a way to burn the smell out of your bathroom. You should share your best ideas in the comments. 

Or, Open a Window

As fun as it is to get a little crazy on the problem solving, let’s not overlook the most basic of truths. The easy way to get smelly chemicals out of the air is to replace it with fresh air. Close the door and open the window. You might wrinkle your face in disdain at the simplicity of this idea, but you shouldn’t lie. You were getting excited about ways to burn the stink out of your bathroom too. In truth, a simple air flow is always going to be more effective than any scented oil or advanced filtration system. It’s why humanity has been using this trick since we invented roofs. 

That about covers everything you need to know about the smell of poop. You know the chemical process. You understand the underlying science. You also know the simple remedies. Until we find the ultimate solution, maybe burning a match isn’t so hard. It works. It’s cheap. You can carry a matchbook on your person and have it handy when you poop away from home. It also serves as a bit of an admission of guilt, and that’s really the most mature way to deal with smelly poop. As a man, you have to own your best work in the bathroom. 

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