It’s a crucial compound when it comes to supporting life, but water has so many amazing properties that there’s a lifetime of experiments to try with what comes pouring out of your faucets. It’s common knowledge that water is an effective tool for dousing a flame, but did you know that you can use water to start a fire too?
In this video, Steve Mould demonstrates a simple experiment where water is first boiled to create steam, and then as it flows through a metal coil, the steam is superheated so that its temperature far exceeds the temperature of a flame. Heat energy will always move from a warmer object to a colder one, which is how water can be used to put out a fire. But in this case, the transfer of heat goes in the other direction, as the superheated steam is able to ignite a match.
It’s a neat experiment, but not necessarily a handy trick for starting a fire should you find yourself without a match. Water has a high heat capacity, and is quite effective at absorbing heat energy from its surroundings with only minimal increases in its own temperature. To create steam that’s hot enough to start a fire, you’ll need an even hotter flame to superheat it—like from a blowtorch. And if you already have access to a blow torch, you might as well just skip the steam experiment altogether and start your fire that way.