Helium balloons have become synonymous with parties. From birthday parties to high school dances to weddings, a colorful bouquet of balloons signifies festivity. However, because of their delicate nature, most helium balloons last less than a week. Learn the best conditions for inflating and preserving helium balloons as well as other tips to help keep them floating long after the party ends.
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Helium is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and nontoxic inert gas that is often used to inflate party balloons because it is lighter than air. According to the law of buoyancy, as long as the weight of the helium and the balloon are lighter than the weight of the air, the balloon will float. Helium, which makes up approximately 0.0005 percent of the air we breathe, is the second lightest element. It weighs 0.1785 grams per liter. Hydrogen is actually the lightest element, but it is extremely flammable.
Early balloons were made of animal intestines. According to Helium UK, a leading supplier of helium in the United Kingdom, professor Michael Faraday made the first rubber balloon in 1824, which he inflated with hydrogen. Helium was first used to inflate balloons some time after World War I, according to Beginnersguide.com. Google's history of helium balloons reports that the giant helium balloons that appear in parades, such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, debuted in 1927. Twister balloons, popular with balloon sculptors, appeared on the scene in the 1950s, and foil Mylar balloons were introduced in the 1970s.
Helium is sensitive to temperature changes. Cold air causes the helium to shrink, which makes the balloon appear to deflate, although it still floats. Heat can cause the helium to expand and the balloon to burst. Latex balloons are also sensitive to light, and balloons of any kind are weakened by dirt and dust. Therefore, the best place to store a helium balloon is a cool, dark room absent of wind and dust.
Other Performance Tips
Ultra Hi-Float and Super Hi-Float are liquid products designed to provide a thin layer of protection inside the balloon that helps helium balloons float 10 to 25 times longer, according to Hi-float.com. Additional ways to lengthen the life of a helium balloon include coating the outside with a silicone spray or hair spray, inflating the balloon at the same temperature as the area of its intended use, and pre-stretching a latex balloon by inflating it with air before inflating it with helium.
Although helium is nontoxic and nonflammable, inhaling large quantities of helium from balloons can be dangerous and can cause asphyxiation. Even inhaling small quantities can cause injury, as the drop in oxygen can cause a person to lose consciousness and fall.