How Balloons Blew Up (2022)

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The staple of children’s parties, awkward school-auditorium dances, and sporting events has taken on another life.

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How Balloons Blew Up (1)

By Mattie Kahn

(Video) How to Blow Up a Balloon

Leer en español

On the brink of 40, Gev Danielian could have gotten a Porsche; he could have gambled or had too much to drink. Instead, in June 2021, he planned a prudent celebration at his home in Los Angeles and allowed himself one mild regression. He blanketed his lawn in several hundred balloons.

Dozens and dozens of balloons in a palette of matte neutrals; several accent balloons streaked to mimic Carrara marble. At first, Mr. Danielian had been skeptical when his event planner, Edgar Hay, proposed them. “I was hesitant — I’m not a child,” he said.

But he came around. “Balloons are balloons,” Mr. Danielian said. “You can get balloons wherever, but the color combination he used?” He marveled at the effect, and so did his guests, he said. People stood up from dinner, and one after another sidled over to the installation; several dozen grown men and women, mesmerized, he recalled. These were not their children’s balloons.

Scroll through Pinterest now, and behold their omnipresence: balloon marquees and balloon chandeliers; balloon-forward photo booths and balloon-filled pools. Metallic balloons, confetti-filled balloons; balloon huppahs. The firm Orbis Research reported that the balloon market worldwide was worth $636 million in 2019, and that was before the pandemic seemed to spur an increase in interest not just in balloons themselves, but also in ever more complex designs.

The simple foil-letter balloons that Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” made so ubiquitous were cute. Globular balloons with more sophisticated geodesic patterns than some residential homes are now an expectation.

Balloons were invented in 1824, when an enterprising scientist stacked two sheets of rubber, sprinkled flour between them and sealed the sides to create perhaps the most valuable ravioli of all time. They have since become a staple of children’s parties, awkward school-auditorium dances, and sporting events. But what balloons have not tended to be is aspirational — until now.

No one explanation accounts for their cultural ascendence, but the pandemic was a factor, moving more parties outside, and from elaborate hotels and event spaces into people’s homes, where balloons can be set up and broken down like Bubble Wrap. The reliance on livestreamed events helped too; lush, screen-filling décor looks better than sparser floral arrangements. And of course, because this is a social-media-fueled trend, there’s a Kardashian at the center of it all.

A few weeks before the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic in March 2020, Khloe Kardashian hosted a shower for her pregnant friend Malika Haqq. There were pastel-colored roses, a five-tier cake, customized swizzle sticks, what appeared to be a smoke machine, and two enormous moss bears the size of kodiaks.

But when photos of the shower hit the internet, the masses fixated on the balloons: at least five balloon arches, two balloon stanchions, one balloon-studded wall and several cloudlike balloon structures suspended from the ceiling. There were pea-size balloons and balloons that could have doubled as flotation devices. Balloons in more shades of cream and caramel than CoverGirl foundations.

“We did Malika’s event and then the pandemic happened, so we don’t know what caused that impact,” said Jamie Andrade, 34, who founded the event design firm Balloon & Paper with her husband in 2011. The couple produced piñatas and other festive accouterments for almost a decade before balloon demand compelled them to focus on inflatables full-time.

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(Video) How to Blow Up a Balloon, for the One Commenter Who Asked | Basic Life Skills

The morning of the shower, the business had 5,000 followers on Instagram; 24 hours later, Ms. Andrade recalled, the number had swelled to more than 50,000. In the months that followed, requests for balloon installs poured in, the owners said, for parties and weddings and one circus-themed bat mitzvah. Since Ms. Haqq’s extravaganza, Ms. Andrade said she has built balloon set pieces for Drake, Katherine Schwarzenegger and Lizzo. Ms. Kardashian hired her for two more events. Ms. Andrade’s most involved installations can cost upward of $25,000.

In Nashville, the balloon design business Vroom Vroom Balloon decorated Amazon’s local headquarters with disco-themed inflatables to celebrate Prime Week. When Cano Health — a chain of senior care centers — opened in Miami Shores in December 2021, it celebrated the occasion with three site-specific balloon installations. Jazzmine Rivera, who started the Balloon River in New Jersey in 2019, is fielding more requests than she can accommodate, she said.

“We’ve had an uptick in weddings, corporate events, as well as sweet 16s and bridal showers,” Ms. Rivera said. “A lot more of the adult events, versus children. A lot of people are asking for just that ‘wow’ factor.”

The founders of Airigami, a design firm in Rochester, N.Y., have been building immersive, large-scale balloon sculptures for clients as far as the Emirates and Japan since 2005.

In 2017, the artist Lauren Messelian invited them to produce a “flower” wall for New York Fashion Week at Spring Studios. Hundreds of balloons were twisted and “planted” in different shapes and sizes to create a vertical garden. For a mall in Qatar, Airigami constructed a pair of heels made out of fist-size balloons. The finished shoes measured over six feet tall.

It’s not uncommon for the Airigami partners, Larry Moss, 51, and Kelly Cheatle, 45, to recruit a mathematician to calculate the precise dimensions of a proposed sculpture. Once Ms. Cheatle has the specs, she’ll use Adobe Illustrator to map out patterns and construct a model for scale. Then, an order is placed for the particular balloons a sketch requires. Qualatex and Tuftex are two of their preferred popular brands. Ms. Cheatle is partial to Anagram for foils.

Mr. Moss and Ms. Cheatle do their best to travel with their balloons. When work takes them overseas, Ms. Cheatle will pack the bare minimum in clothes and fill the rest of her checked suitcase allotment with latex. Mr. Moss has sometimes found it cheaper to hire an extra crew member to travel with additional balloons than to ship the material via international mail.

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When it’s time for the installation, dust is a constant antagonist. Balloons are so static-filled that Ms. Cheatle sometimes has to lint roll them one at a time.

When one of their events is over, the fun starts. After almost two decades in business, Mr. Moss and Ms. Cheatle have perfected the art of the pop. The couple has tried a range of sharp objects — scissors, box-cutters, even a small spike-covered ball, which makes quick work of large-scale sculptures.

If an event hasn’t concluded when it’s time for Airigami to load out, the staff can enact a “quiet pop,” snipping the tops of balloons with a blade to minimize noise. Mr. Moss often invites the catering crew to join his team. It can be a good outlet for their frustration at the end of a night, he said.

But the new balloon fervor does not come without a cost. Climate activists point out that even biodegradable balloons are slow to decompose, and popular “balloon releases” are just a form of photogenic littering.

Balloons Blow — an organization that aims to educate the public about the effects balloons have on animals, people and the environment — opposes all balloons and advocates the use of streamers, flags and kites for event décor instead. (“Blow bubbles!” said Mary Vosburgh, one of its founders, in an interview. “You’ll get the same lift without the harm!”)

And while most balloon installers use air and mechanical fixtures rather than helium to keep their work in place, those who do need helium will find it’s harder than ever to find. “Helium Shortage 4.0,” declared Gasworld, the self-declared “market-leading news portal for the global industrial gas sector.” Prices have been on the rise, driven up because just a few countries, including the United States and Qatar, produce most of the world’s reserves.

Even Spencer Pratt, erstwhile villain on the MTV show “The Hills,” who made a habit of participating in preplanned paparazzi shoots with dozens of balloons, is chastened. His wife, Heidi Montag, has eliminated single-use plastic in their home, making balloons verboten. “I’d be canceled if I did that now,” Mr. Pratt said. “I need them to find a reusable replacement.” Overhearing him, Ms. Montag at least conceded the decorative charm: “Balloons are celebration.”

That sense of delight seems to be overwhelming environmental protestations for the time being. The demand for balloon installations in Houston is so great that not even increased competition has dented the sales of Kelsey Onstott, who owns That Balloon Girl. Ms. Onstott, 32, faced backlash on TikTok in October 2020 when she revealed that each of her installations costs several hundred dollars, but she said the uproar hasn’t affected her bottom line. Her clients see her garlands and balloon-laden “mosaics” at friends’ parties and then want to hire her.

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“In Houston, it’s kind of like keeping-up-with-the-Joneses,” Ms. Onstott said. The fracas over her prices — a steal compared with what celebrities are spending! — hasn’t blunted interest in her own work. She’s never been busier.

Her success is a testament to an improbable transition. Balloons — once the cheap-metal core to florals’ 24-karat gold-plated shine — have become their own status marker at parties nationwide.

“From a business perspective, at some point event planners found balloons to be a great source of a supplement for the flowers,” said Mr. Hay, 35, the event planner who sold Mr. Danielian on the balloons for his bash and has organized parties for Sharon Stone and Kim Kardashian.

Clients, he said, would call and tell him, “I don’t have that budget. I don’t want to spend that much.’” Mr. Hay would ask himself, “How can I fill the space in order for me to make it look good and luxurious or excessive or grand, but at the same time not spend $50,000 on the flowers?”

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Balloons were an answer. For small-budget events, he used them to compensate. But this was back when balloons came in standard colors and were associated more with pizza parties in movie theaters than poker nights at Charlize Theron’s house.

“It’s turned into something else,” he said. “It’s not the regular balloons that we knew — 20 in a bag. No. These are balloons that are customized for that date, colors that are customized.” When he looked back at old invoices, he found receipts for installations that cost his clients between $25,000 and $35,000.

In “The Book of Circles,” the lecturer and author Manuel Lima — who specializes in visual culture — traces a centuries-old human obsession with waves, curves, rounds and spheres: The cross-section of tree trunks, fat water droplets, infant cheeks the size of golf balls. In his research, Mr. Lima cites studies that showed babies exhibited clear preferences for undulating lines, compared with straight ones. He also writes about research that found that when asked to draw negative emotions, people tend to draw sharp, rigid lines; others, like happiness, elicit curves.

Of course, Winnie the Pooh once provided a simpler explanation: Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.

The events of the rich and famous have their hallmarks — rooms straining under the weight of pillar candles and 12-piece bands. Flower budgets that top $100,000. Those designs elicit awe, sometimes amazement, Mr. Hay said. But joy? A lifted spirit? He’s not so sure.

“You might impress the person,” he said. “But at the same time, I notice that the person doesn’t smile.” When someone sees a balloon installation, “even if it’s small — even if it’s not $30,000, but it’s just $2,000 — it still makes them smile, because what does it do?” he prompted. “It reminds them of their childhood.”

FAQs

Is there a trick to blowing up balloons? ›

If a balloon seems difficult to inflate, don't keep blowing forcefully into the balloon. Instead, try stretching it to reduce the resistance. To inflate a balloon by mouth, pinch the neck of the balloon with your index finger and thumb. Then, take a deep breath and blow air from your mouth into the balloon.

Can balloons burst on their own? ›

Ideally, if a balloon is used properly, it should hold up to inflation and slowly deflate, without popping, over time. A lower quality balloon is most likely made with thinner latex material. The latex may weaken much faster, causing the balloon to pop unexpectedly.

How long will balloons stay blown up with human air? ›

Latex and foil balloons can be inflated with air; however, they will not float. If you're inflating balloons yourself, good news is you can save your lungpower by using a handheld balloon pump or an electric balloon bump. In general, most air-filled balloons will last for 6-8 weeks.

Why my balloons are bursting? ›

A balloon pops when the material that makes up its surface tears or shreds, creating a hole. Normally, there is a balance of the balloon skin's elastic tension in which every point on the balloon's surface is being pulled by the material surrounding it.

Do balloons blown by mouth float? ›

A balloon blown up by mouth will not float since the air and the fabric of the balloon weigh more than the air around it. Balloons filled with helium are a different story. Helium is a gas which occurs in very small percentages in our air. It is very light.

How do you air up a balloon without helium? ›

HutzlerMulti-Purpose Plastic Funnel Set with Mini-Funnel and Canning Funnel (Set of 7)
  1. Gather Materials.
  2. Prep the Bottle & Pour in Vinegar.
  3. Fill Balloon with Baking Soda.
  4. Secure Balloon onto Bottle.
  5. Watch the Balloons Inflate.

How big can a balloon get before it pops? ›

Toy balloons burst at around 10km, while professional meteorological balloons reach heights of 30km. The ultimate limit is set by Archimedes's Principle, which says balloons will stop rising once their density matches the surrounding air.

Can blowing up balloons hurt you? ›

Blowing balloons by mouth can raise your blood pressure slowly as you work. The headache that you feel is a cumulative result of the higher blood pressure. If you start to get a headache, take a couple of slow, deep breaths in between each balloon.

Can blowing a balloon hurt you? ›

Balloons mold to the throat and lungs and can completely block breathing.

How many balloons does it take to lift a human up? ›

The difference is what a litre of helium should lift: 1.11g. So 1000 litres lifts a little over a kilogram, and a 70kg human needs around 70,000 litres: very roughly 10,000 normal balloons, or approximately 300 of those party balloon cylinders at supermarkets.

Can balloons lift a person? ›

This would require a balloon with about a 15.5 foot diameter. If instead you used small spherical (one foot diameter) balloons (which holds about 0.526 cubic feet of gas), it would take over 2754 of them to lift the 100 pounds. Therefore a handful of small balloons will not lift you off the ground.

What happens to balloons when they fly off? ›

All released balloons fall back to the earth as litter, even if they burst and fall in many fragments. Balloons travel with the wind and have been found hundreds of miles from their original release location.

How do you know if a balloon is about to pop? ›

Once adequate pressure builds up in the unstretched balloon, it begins to stretch and expands at a constant pressure as you blow more air into the balloon. As you blow, keep an eye on the drip point (the thick portion opposite the neck) and keep a hand on the balloon's side to gauge how tightly stretched it's becoming.

Can balloons float in heaven? ›

So, latex helium balloons don't go on space, heaven, to the moon or to the sun. They reach a point where the atmospheric pressure is less than the pressure inside the balloon itself.

Can you choke on a balloon? ›

Even pieces of broken balloons pose a serious potential choking hazard because they are easily sucked into the throat and lungs. Uninflated balloons and pieces of broken balloons are particularly hazardous because of the way they can stretch and mold to a child's throat, making it impossible to breathe.

Why do balloons not float? ›

The main reason a balloon wont float is if not enough helium has been added, check the correct size of your balloons and add helium until the balloon reaches its correct size.

How do you make homemade helium? ›

Pour two teaspoons of baking soda into your balloon, and pour half a cup of acetic acid into the bottle. Don't add too much soda! Insert the bottleneck into the balloon's neck and straighten the balloon: the baking soda in the balloon will fall into the bottle and meet the vinegar.

What can you use if you don't have helium? ›

Here are our top 10 ideas:
  1. Fill The Floor. One of the easiest options by far is to simply fill balloons and let them float around the floor. ...
  2. Hang Balloons from the Ceiling. ...
  3. Big Top. ...
  4. Balloon Bunches. ...
  5. Balloon Backdrop. ...
  6. Balloon Garland. ...
  7. Balloon Sticks. ...
  8. Use a Net.
23 Apr 2020

Do all balloons float with helium? ›

But contrary to popular belief, it is simply because they are too small to float. All balloons can surely be filled with helium but not all of them will float.

Can a balloon go to space? ›

A helium-filled balloon can float very high up into the atmosphere, however, it cannot float up into outer space. The air in Earth's atmosphere gets thinner the higher up you go. The balloon can only rise up until the atmosphere surrounding it has the same weight as the helium in the balloon.

Will a balloon pop if it touches grass? ›

Balloons may or may not pop on grass. It depends on the balloon quality and how fully inflated it is. Mostly it depends on the grass. If the grass blades are rigid with spiky tips, or you have thorny weeds in your lawn, then yes, it will pop your balloon.

Do balloons float with human air? ›

BALLOON FAQ

No, only balloons inflated with helium will float.

What happens if you do balloons too much? ›

If you take too much nitrous oxide you risk falling unconscious and/or suffocating from the lack of oxygen. People have died this way. Dizziness, which might make you act carelessly or dangerously. Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and to a form of anaemia.

Why you shouldn't let off balloons? ›

A rising problem. When a balloon rises high enough, the low air pressure in the atmosphere causes it to burst. If it gets high enough and cold enough it can shatter into thousands of tiny pieces and fall to the earth.

What happens if a balloon pops in your face? ›

When a balloon pops, the latex material from which it is made tears and shreds, which can not only hurt if it strikes someone's skin, but it can cause injuries such as lacerations, damage to or loss of eyesight.

What happens if you breathe in a balloon? ›

Breathing in pure helium deprives the body of oxygen, as if you were holding your breath. If you couldn't breathe at all, you'd start to die in minutes—as soon as your body exhausted the supply of oxygen stored in the blood.

Is balloon air toxic? ›

The helium gas danger is not that it is poisonous, as helium is an inert gas. The helium gas danger is as an asphyxiant, when inhaled instead of normal air. Inhaling helium is dangerous because it can cause your body's oxygen level to drop to dangerous low levels, initiating Hypoxia.

Are balloons toxic to smell? ›

Though balloons are one of the most common celebration decorations in a child's life, they can also emit harmful pollutants such as benzene and carbon disulfide, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology report.

Can helium balloons lift a baby? ›

It can hold: For a baby, you would need fewer than 4,000 balloons. It would only take four of those to give you the same lift. One balloon that is 30 meters (about 100 feet) in diameter displaces 14,137,000 liters, so it can lift 14,000 kilograms (about 31,000 pounds) -- this is roughly the size of a large blimp.

How much can 15 balloons lift? ›

Foil Balloons
BalloonLift Ability
36” Star32g (1.1 oz.)
16” Orbz30g (1.05 oz.)
21” Orbz90g (3.15 oz.)
15” Cubez30g (1.05 oz.)
6 more rows

How many balloons would it actually take to lift a house? ›

(Most houses weigh between 80,000 and 160,000 pounds.) Given that 1 cubic foot of helium can lift 0.067 pounds, it would take 1,492,537 cubic feet of helium to lift the house—or about as much as would be contained in 105,854 balloons, each 3 feet in diameter.

Do pilots ever see balloons? ›

Balloons have appeared at high altitudes.

However, these high-altitude balloons could potentially cause a collision — they are certainly not something a pilot wants to see at eye level when mid-flight.

Can balloons cause plane crash? ›

Investigator Thomas Wilcox said the balloons may have restricted the airflow in the engines and caused the plane to lose power. A witness on horseback heard a popping noise and saw what looked like a flare and some confetti fall away from the plane as it rolled and nose-dived, Wilcox said.

How many balloons end up in the ocean? ›

How many balloons end up in the ocean? Nearly 45-50 million balloons are sold in California each year, and according to the Ocean's Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup, almost 300,000 balloons were found along the U.S. beaches.

At what pressure do balloons pop? ›

One experiment shows that the balloon reaches a relatively constant pressure of 810 mmHg until it gets close to its maximum elasticity point and then increases to 820, 830 and finally 840 mmHg when it pops.

What balloons dont pop? ›

The balloons most resistant to bursting are the so-called "bubble balloons." They are made from a thick, stretchy plastic that withstands higher pressure, hot weather and outdoor conditions much better than latex balloons. Foil balloons are also less likely to pop than latex balloons.

How long can a balloon go without popping? ›

Depending on the environment, balloon decor blown up with air can last several days to weeks whereas helium-inflated decorations typically last for only 10 to 12 hours.

What is the easiest way to poke a balloon without popping it? ›

Dip the tip of a skewer in Vaseline and spread the Vaseline along the entire length of the skewer. If you are careful, you should be able to push the skewer all the way through the balloon without popping it.

What makes balloons stay up longer? ›

HI-FLOAT is a patented liquid solution that dries inside latex helium-filled balloons to form a coating that helps hold in the helium. A single squirt inside the balloon keeps it floating longer – up to 25 times longer!

How do you pump balloons? ›

Step 1: Find the opening in the tail, or neck of the balloon. Step 2: Push the opening of the balloon onto the nozzle of the pump until it looks airtight. Step 3: Hold the balloon in place while you press the nozzle to pump the helium into the balloon until the desired inflation level is achieved.

Does air pressure affect balloons? ›

The stronger outside air pressure compresses the balloon. As the balloon volume decreases, pressure inside the balloon increases. It eventually is able to balance the outside air pressure.

How high will a balloon go before it pops? ›

The balloon can only rise up until the atmosphere surrounding it has the same weight as the helium in the balloon. This happens at about a height of 20 miles (32 kilometers) above Earth's surface.

Does hot glue make balloons pop? ›

For the next stage I used a glue gun which had been heated and then switched off so that the glue was not piping hot (really hot glue will burst the balloons). You can use a cold glue gun or glue dots will also work well.

What to use to pop balloons? ›

Scissors, safety pins, and forks also work well to pop balloons.

Do balloon pops hurt? ›

When a balloon pops, the latex material from which it is made tears and shreds, which can not only hurt if it strikes someone's skin, but it can cause injuries such as lacerations, damage to or loss of eyesight.

Why does a balloon pop without water on? ›

It heats the rubber of both balloons. The rubber of the balloon without water becomes so hot, that it becomes too weak to resist the pressure of the air inside the balloon.

Do balloons float with just air? ›

Air-filled balloons do not float. Messages, Graphics, and Designs – One similarity between the two types of balloons is that both can be can be enhanced with written messages, graphics, and designs.

How do you pump a balloon without a pump? ›

"To blow up a balloon, start by pinching the neck of the balloon with your index finger and thumb. Then, take a deep breath and put the opening of the balloon in between your lips. When you're ready, loosen your grip on the neck and blow into the balloon opening so the balloon starts to fill with air.

Does oil prevent balloons from popping? ›

To prevent popping, try underinflating or working with a soft balloon. Use baby oil or glycerin on my hands. Glycerin will make them squeak a LOT more and baby oil needs time to soak in but both work well.

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