I found this recipe on how to make a stink bomb:

The recipe basically says to mix ammonia and match heads to create ammonium sulfide. However, I am skeptical, because

  1. It seems that match heads have mostly phosphorus, and only a negligible amount of sulfur.
  2. I can't find any reference for synthesizing ammonium sulfide from ammonia and sulfur; rather, I found that it is synthesized from hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Would this recipe still work?

Would it also make malodorants other than ammonium sulfide?

If so, would these other malodorants be safe? Or would it be better to use a different process to create a stink bomb, like using actual sulfur, or something entirely different?

  • $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Is this reaction safe? $\endgroup$
    – Michiel
    Apr 1, 2014 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Michiel possible duplicate of a comment :P $\endgroup$ Apr 1, 2014 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin - Interesting, apparently if you flag it as a duplicate it also puts the comment there. I didn't know that $\endgroup$
    – Michiel
    Apr 1, 2014 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Michiel In my opinion the questions are quite different, this is a better question covering multiple aspects of the procedure. Are related but not duplicates. $\endgroup$
    – G M
    Apr 1, 2014 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


Not all the matches have sulfur but only some types in The Preparatory Manual of Black Powder and Pyrotechnics by Jared Ledgard see page 191, you can find the best matches for your needs, classic matches are okay.

You are right, no reaction is reported between sulfur and ammonia. However if you put in a closed box a compound containing sulfur and a little bit of organic matter Sulfur-reducing bacteria (SRB) reduce sulfur in sulfide anion.

$$\ce{S + 2e- -> S^{2-}}$$ $S^{2-}$ is a base and reacts with water to produce hydrogen sulfide: $$\ce{S^{2-} +2 H2O -> H2S + 2OH-}$$

$H_{2}S$ is a conjugate acid of $S^{2-}$ so now can react with ammonia with an acid-base reaction:

$$\ce{H2S + NH3 <=> NH4SH}$$ or: $$\ce{H2S + 2NH3 <=> (NH4)2S}$$

Of course like many ammonium salts it can easily decompose into the two odorous gasses.

Others odorous substances are skatoles, mercaptans, indoles however I don't think that these are present in great quantities in this case. See this site for further informations.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ (+1) Since you have a water based solution, it is probably more likely to form ammonium first and react with sulfide later: $$\ce{NH3 + H2O <=> H4N+ + {}^-OH}\\\ce{2H4N+ + S^{2-} -> (H4N)2S}$$ Those strike anywhere matches usually have $\ce{P4S3}$ so the sulfur is already partially reduced (decomposes with formation of $\ce{H2S}$). $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2014 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin thanks a lot Martin, you are right, I think you should write a little answer... $\endgroup$
    – G M
    Apr 3, 2014 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is sufficient to have it in the comments as an extension to your answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2014 at 3:23

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