Balloons are made of two substances latex and Mylar. Most people are familiar with latex (rubber) balloons, so we'll cover these first.
Balloons are made of 100% biodegradable latex, which "breathes" and breaks down over time. Latex balloons should only be released into the environment with care however ribbons and seals are not biodegradable and should always be discarded correctly. If you are releasing balloons, use a crepe paper or cotton ribbon that will biodegrade.
The quality of the latex will determine the durability and appearance of inflated balloons. I recommend that you purchase your balloons from a reputable party shop. Balloons purchased from a supermarket are generally OK for air fill, but either too small or lacking in quality for helium filling. As helium is the most expensive component of your balloon decorating, dont waste your money buying cheap balloons to use with helium gas - you are likely to be disappointed. Store balloons out of light and away from heat to maintain their quality. Leave them sealed in the packet until needed.
Making balloons last longer
Balloons filled with air will last for days to weeks, and can be filled the day before your function. Balloons filled with helium gas usually last less than a day, and need to be inflated on the day of your function. If you are DIY, always do a test inflation the day before to determine the flying time of the balloons under your conditions.
Flying times will depend on the size and quality of the balloons, and the conditions on the day you inflate them. A standard size helium balloon is 28cm (11") and should fly for 12-18 hours, but this is highly dependant upon local conditions. Balloons are adversely affected by heat, wind and sun, so keep them in a cool, dark place until needed. Australia is a hot country, so I am always conservative with balloon flying times, and any extra is a bonus. Dont leave helium filled balloons in your car while you shop for the party pay the extra for delivery or DIY at the venue just before the function.
Professional balloon decorators use premium quality balloons because they consistently perform better whether filled with air or helium. They have a more uniform shape and size, are less likely to break, and the neck is longer to allow easier tying off. I only use balloons made in Australia and America for balloon decorating, such as Premier (Australian) or Qualatex (American).
If you need a cheap balloon, try the Alpen 25cm balloons, which are smaller than recommended for helium filling, but give reasonable performance (around 6-12 hours flying time with gas). Alpen 30cm balloons give quite good performance when filled with helium, but their neck is short which makes tying difficult. Be careful not to over-inflate lesser quality balloons, as larger than recommended size will have a much higher breakage rate than better quality balloons.
All shapes and sizes
Latex balloons come in an enormous range of colours, sizes and prints. Printed balloons are available for all age birthdays, and every other event imaginable. Balloons are printed in two directions: neck down for helium gas fill or air fill on sticks, and neck up for air fill only with the balloon hanging down. When you purchase balloons, make sure the print direction will suit the purpose, or they may be upside down!
Balloons printed neck down for helium fill can also be air filled and placed on cups and sticks. These balloons will not fly, but can be used to make table centrepieces or topiaries. Push the stick into a vase of sand, florists oasis, or a cup of plaster of paris. Dress it up with wrapping paper and ribbon, and you have an attractive and cheap alternative to helium filled balloons.
Party Plus stores can make professional topiaries and table centre pieces for you at a reasonable cost, ensuring your function day is hassle free.
More maintenance tips
A bunch of 40cm balloons is triple the size of the same quantity of 28cm balloons, with three times the impact, without being three times the price. Obviously, the bigger the balloon, the longer it will fly with helium. Air filled balloons make fantastic topiary balls, either hung from the ceiling or placed over a stick or pole.
Many balloon shops are not open on a Sunday therefore you have three options for Sunday functions:
- Order a gas cylinder and inflate the balloons yourself on Sunday.
- Have balloons inflated on Saturday by a balloon shop and pay extra for a treatment to make them last longer.
- Decorate with air filled balloons, which can be done the day before.
A knot is the most effective way of sealing a balloon, however, if you have lots of balloons to do, there are alternatives. A balloon seal or clip can be used to tie off balloons, and has the advantage that the ribbon can be pre-tied to the seal beforehand, making the job quicker on the day. The disadvantages are the extra cost of the seals, and if the balloons are not sealed completely, gas or air will escape and the balloons will deflate. The neck of the balloon must be twisted through the seal 3 or 4 times do a test the day before to make sure youve got it right.
- Whether air or gas filling, try to size your balloons so they are all the same. With practice this can be done by eye. Two other options are:
- make a sizer from cardboard in the shape of a horseshoe (or a "toilet seat" as it is affectionate known). Cut the correct size hole out e.g. 28cm, then cut a notch in one side to allow you to pull the balloon through.
- place two high-backed chairs back to back and measure so they are 28cm apart. Now inflate so that the balloon just touches both chairs.
That professional touch...
Your decorations will look more professional if all balloons are the same size, and sizing is crucial for flying time with helium filled balloons. Overfilling balloons stretches the latex and allows gas to escape more quickly; it also makes the balloons pear shaped and harder to tie off. Under-filling affects the spread of colour over the balloon, and will severely affect the flying time.
If you purchase helium gas or a balloon kit from a Party Plus store, a balloon sizing template is included free-of-charge.
Improving balloon presentation
Balloons usually have curling ribbon attached, and the length will depend on what the balloons will be used for. Most helium filled balloons are left to fly on the ceiling with the ribbons hanging down, therefore 1.5m of ribbon per balloon is recommended. Tie a loop in the ribbon approximately 15cm from one end, tighten the loop behind the knot of the balloon and curl the 15cm tail. The longer tails can also be curled once the balloons are in place, or trimmed if they are too long.
If the ceilings are extremely high (3m plus) or angled, consider making bouquets instead. Gather three or more balloons together and tie to a weight adjust the height for either floor or table bouquets. This way your balloons will be seen, and bouquets can be moved to suit the event e.g. floor bouquets at the entrance can be moved to the bridal table, buffet table or dance-floor once everyone is inside.
Ensure that the balloons in a table bouquet are flying above head height when people are seated you should be looking through ribbons, not balloons. Floor bouquets are usually at standing head height, around 1.8m (6). Make bouquets a uniform height nothing looks worse than a room of balloon bouquets at different heights.
Pay a bit extra and put a printed balloon or foil balloon that suits your occasion at the crown of each bouquet, then layer the other balloons underneath. When the balloons are arranged, tie all the ribbons together close to the neck of the lowest balloon. Select the longest ribbon and tie it to the weight. Curl the remaining ribbon tails so they hang down to the weight, and trim the excess. You now have a professional looking bouquet that will make your function special.
Party Plus stores can make balloon bouquets for you that will make your function special if you dont have the time or expertise to DIY.
Mylar Balloons (Foil Balloons):
Mylar balloons or foil balloons can be filled with helium gas or air. The minimum sized foil suitable for helium is 45cm (18") and these will fly for 1-2 weeks. They can also be refilled, as most brands have a self-sealing valve. Smaller foils are air filled and heat sealed, usually sold on a stick by florists and party shops and can last for years. The larger foils can be air filled and attached to the wall with velcro or tape, or hung from the ceiling with ribbon.
However, if you want them to fly, you will need to fill them with helium gas, preferably early on the day of your function, or the day before. Unlike latex balloons, a fault in the foil balloon may not be apparent for some time after filling, so inflate well in advance of the party. If you are purchasing foil balloons already inflated from a party shop, request that they be done a couple of hours before collection or delivery to ensure they are OK. Party Plus stores routinely fill foil balloons the day before a party to ensure they are in perfect condition.
Foil balloons come in a huge range of colours and styles, and include helium shapes and airwalkers. The most popular brands are Betallic, CTI, Qualatex and Anagram, all manufactured in America. They are available in age prints and shapes from 16 to 100, Happy Birthday, Anniversary, Engagement, Wedding, Retirement, Welcome Home, Baby, Get Well, and every other conceivable event.
A foil balloon can be tied to a gift, the back of the birthday persons chair, or at the centre of a balloon bouquet. Children and adults both love to receive balloons on their birthday or in hospital - they are a long lasting gift or decoration, and both take up less space and are much cheaper than flowers!
Balloon Gas and Helium:
"Balloon Gas" is a mixture of helium and other gases and available from gas suppliers, balloon and party shops. "Balloon Gas" is usually referred to as "helium", and has at least a 97% helium concentration. Most country areas will have a gas agent who should be able to order balloon gas for you, but allow a couple of weeks if you are in a remote area.
Phone BOC Gases in Australia on 13 12 62 for the location of your nearest gas supplier. Don't be afraid to be pushy with BOC Gases and ask for a reseller in your area, not just their own Gas and Gear Centres, as this will often provide you with cheaper and better alternatives and advice. Instructions should be given to you when you collect your gas cylinder, or you can download ours in PDF format - Helium Gas Cylinder Instructions
Check the article, "Its No Laughing Matter" to learn about the dangers of inhaling helium.
The above information is provided without guarantee, and is based upon more than 20 years experience in the balloon and party industry. If you have any queries about balloon decorating, please contact your nearest Party Plus store - in Western Australia 1300 366 234.