Filling balloons is a fun activity for parties, celebrations, and decorations. You can fill balloons with regular air or with helium gas. Both air-filled and helium-filled balloons have their pros and cons when it comes to things like cost, floating ability, longevity, and environmental impact.
Helium is better for filling balloons if you want them to float. Air-filled balloons will not float or will only float for a short time before sinking. Helium keeps balloons floating much longer. However, helium is more expensive than regular air and has some environmental concerns when used in large quantities. Air is a cheaper and more eco-friendly option if you do not need the balloons to float.
Cost Differences Between Air and Helium
One of the biggest differences between filling balloons with air versus helium is the cost. Using regular air to fill balloons is free. You can fill balloons using your own breath or with an air pump. This makes air the budget-friendly option for balloons.
Helium is significantly more expensive than air. While air is free, helium costs around $100 to $500 per tank. The exact price depends on the tank size, which can range from 125 cu ft to 350 cu ft for common balloon tanks. Larger helium tanks over 200 cu ft typically run $200 to $500. Smaller tanks under 125 cu ft are $100 to $200.
In addition to paying for the helium itself, you also have to rent or buy the tank. Rental costs per day are usually $50 to $150 for a large tank. Buying a tank outright starts around $500 and goes up to thousands for extra large tanks.
Adding up the costs of helium gas refills plus ongoing tank rentals or a tank purchase makes helium a pricey option compared to free air. However, the ability of helium to make balloons float often makes the added expense worth it for many balloon users.
Air Filling Costs
- Air is free using your own breath, pumps, compressors
- No gas tank rental or purchase needed
Helium Filling Costs
- Helium gas costs $100 to $500 per tank
- Tank rental from $50 to $150 per day
- Purchased tanks from $500 to thousands of dollars
Floating Ability Differences
The key advantage of helium over air for filling balloons is its ability to make balloons float. Helium is much lighter than air, causing helium-filled balloons to rise. Air-filled balloons are only slightly lighter than regular air, so they will not float or will only float briefly before sinking.
Helium is about 7 times less dense than air. This big density difference makes helium very buoyant. When you fill a balloon with helium, the overall density of the balloon is much lower than the surrounding air. This results in an upward buoyant force that causes the helium balloons to float up.
In contrast, air has only a slight density difference from the surrounding atmosphere. When you blow up a balloon with regular air, the balloon’s density is very close to that of the surrounding air. As a result, air-filled balloons experience little to no buoyant force and will not float easily.
For purposes like decorating the ceiling at a party or event, helium is clearly the better choice over air to create floating balloons. Air-filled balloons will simply fall back to the ground instead of floating up high.
- About 7 times less dense than air
- Creates significant buoyant force
- Balloons filled with helium float very easily
- Only slightly less dense than air
- Minimal buoyant force
- Air-filled balloons do not float well
Not only does helium allow balloons to float better than air, but it also keeps balloons inflated longer. Helium atoms are smaller than air molecules. So helium leaks out of balloons more slowly than air.
Exact floating times depend on factors like balloon quality, neck thickness, temperature, and more. But generally, helium balloons will float for 1-10 days, while air balloons only float for 1-6 hours before going limp.
For example, a good quality latex balloon can float for up to 10 days when filled with helium. The same balloon filled with air might only float for 6 hours before sinking. Mylar balloons also hold helium longer, floating for about 2-5 days versus just a few hours with air.
The longer inflation time makes helium the best choice for celebrations like birthdays or get well wishes where you want balloons to stay afloat for more than just a few hours. Air offers much shorter floating and is harder to keep inflated overnight or for multiple days.
- Helium atoms are smaller than air
- Leaks out of balloons more slowly
- Keeps balloons inflated 1-10 days
- Air molecules leak out of balloon faster
- Keeps balloons inflated only 1-6 hours
From an environmental standpoint, air is a much better option than helium for filling balloons. Air consists of abundant nitrogen and oxygen, while helium is a limited natural resource.
Extracting large amounts of helium from the earth depletes limited helium reserves. Most helium today comes from natural gas fields. Drilling and gas mining processes release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and environmental harm.
Meanwhile, breathing air into balloons has virtually no environmental impact. No resources are depleted and no greenhouse gases are released. This makes air a far greener option than helium for eco-conscious balloon users.
However, helium made from air separation units has a lower environmental impact than drilling helium. So party balloons filled with recycled helium are less detrimental to the environment than mining new helium gas.
Using air instead of helium altogether eliminates balloon-related environmental damage. But if helium is needed for floating, recycled helium from separation units is preferable to fresh mining.
- Unlimited, abundant resource
- No processes or greenhouse gases released
- Most eco-friendly option
- Limited natural resource, reserves being depleted
- Drilling and mining release greenhouse gases
- Recycled helium better than fresh mining
Both air and helium are safe, non-toxic options for filling balloons. But helium does carry some minor safety risks compared to air.
Helium can cause suffocation if inhaled in large amounts, since it displaces oxygen needed for breathing. This is usually only a risk in confined unventilated spaces. Helium also combusts more easily than air and can cause fire hazards if used near ignition sources.
Air carries no risk of suffocation or combustion. The main components of air – nitrogen and oxygen – are safe to inhale and do not burn. Air can be safely used to fill balloons without any suffocation or fire risks.
While helium is not highly dangerous, its minor asphyxiation and combustion risks make air the safest choice. Air-filled balloons avoid any safety concerns and are recommended for children’s balloons.
- No risk of suffocation or breathing displacement
- Does not combust with ignition sources
- Considered completely safe
- Can cause suffocation in confined spaces
- More combustible than air
- Small suffocation and fire risks
Ease of Use
Air is easier and more convenient to use for filling balloons than helium. Air can be added simply by blowing up balloons manually or using a small air pump. No gas tanks or special equipment are needed.
Helium requires renting or purchasing pressurized tanks, regulators, and hoses to fill balloons. Tanks are bulky, heavy, and can be tricky for novice users to operate properly. Air tanks and compressors avoid this complexity.
Refilling helium tanks also means exchanging or transporting heavy tanks to a gas supply store. Air can be endlessly refilled on-site with a simple hand pump or air compressor. No transport or exchange of tanks is necessary.
For casual everyday use filling just a few balloons, air is far simpler. The average person can easily inflate air balloons without any special skills, equipment, or supplies.
- Filled by blowing up balloons manually
- Can use small air pumps or compressors
- No gas tanks or special equipment needed
- Requires rented or purchased helium tanks
- Needs regulators, hoses, valves to fill properly
- Tanks are heavy, bulky, tricky for novices
Use Cases Favoring Air
Here are some common balloon uses where air is the preferred filling choice over helium:
For outdoor decor like arches or columns at events, air works fine since balloons don’t need to float. Air is cheaper and easier than dealing with helium tanks.
Balloons for crafts or school projects can be filled with air rather than buying helium tanks. Kids can blow them up themselves.
For events lasting just a few hours, air may work since balloons don’t need to stay inflated overnight. Air offers quick, easy filling.
Use Cases Favoring Helium
Here are situations where helium is the better balloon filling choice:
Helium is required to float balloons up to the ceiling for interior decorating.
For multi-day events, helium keeps balloons inflated longer than air.
When releasing balloons outdoors, helium makes them fly much higher in the air.
Balloon Filling Guide
Here is a quick guide for when to use air vs. helium for filling balloons:
|Short indoor events
|Long multi-day events
|Outdoor columns or arches
Air and helium both have pros and cons when used to fill balloons. Air is cheaper, easier to use, and better for the environment. But helium creates floating balloons and keeps them inflated longer. The best gas depends on your specific needs.
For ceilings, long events, and releases where floating matters, helium is worth the extra cost. For short events, outdoor decor, crafts, and kids, air is the more accessible and eco-friendly choice.
Evaluate whether balloon float time is crucial for your purpose. Air works for balloons needed just temporarily. But helium is required for prolonged floating. Weigh up cost, convenience, and environmental factors as well to decide the best gas for your balloons.