Helium balloons are great fun to have at parties - they float in the air, they’re great for games, and you can make funny squeaky voices out of the air inside.
But have you ever wondered if these helium balloons are completely safe? Have you ever checked what the hazards could be around the gas inside? Is helium gas flammable or explosive?
Before you go filling up your birthday balloons with any kind of gas, here is some interesting information about helium so you know exactly how to keep your family safe and still have fun with the best kind of balloons possible.
What Is Helium Gas?
Helium is an element on the periodic table that is part of the noble gas family. It is the second lightest element, only heavier than hydrogen, and is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas.
It makes up around 23% of the universe’s mass, making it one of the most easily found elements in the universe.
When helium gas is isolated from natural gas, it can be used for a number of different reasons. The most common and well known use of helium is by inflating balloons as it has such a low density that it can make items float.
Helium is even lighter than air and travels faster - that is why when we inhale helium, it travels over our vocal codes more quickly and shortens the sound waves we produce, making them sound higher.
As it is an inert gas, meaning that it does not react with other substances, helium gas is also used to weld metals such as aluminum.
But helium gas is most well known for its low density and ability to make objects float. It is the most popular gas to pump balloons with for this reason - but is it the safest gas to use?
Is Helium Gas Flammable?
Nope - helium gas is one of the safest gases to use in terms of blowing up balloons.
Not only is helium gas a non-toxic gas, it is also non-flammable. Helium balloons cannot catch fire.
If you have ever seen a clip online of balloons bursting into flame, then these balloons are more likely to be hydrogen balloons or use some other kind of gas other than helium. The reason why helium is the best lifting gas to use in balloons is because it is non-flammable.
Other lifting gases like hydrogen can catch fire very easily. The reason why you may find hydrogen balloons when helium is so much safer to use, is because hydrogen is slightly cheaper than helium to buy.
So if you are afraid of a helium balloon catching fire on the birthday candles at a party - then don’t worry.
The worst thing that will happen if a helium balloon comes into contact with a heat source or flame, is that the rubber plastic of the balloon itself will melt and the balloon will burst. It won't catch fire or cause any injury - just a shock that you will laugh about when it is over.
Is Helium Gas Explosive?
Just as helium gas is non-flammable, it is also non-explosive.
As it is an inert gas, helium will not react with any other substances and remains very stable. This means that a helium balloon cannot explode - if it comes into contact with a flame or heat source, the balloon will just pop like any other ordinary inflated balloon.
As for helium gas tanks, they too should not be able to explode.
Helium expands when it is heated, so leaving your helium tank in a hot car or close to a heat source is not a good idea. Luckily, most helium tanks are cylinders that are equipped with an approved burst disc located on the top of the helium tank next to the handles.
If you have a helium tank at your home when a fire breaks out, the cylinder should release the gas in a controlled manner and not explode.
This is because the burst disc protects against overpressurization by allowing the gas within the cylinder to release itself and not cause the cylinder to explode by building up too much pressure within.
So when the helium gas is heated up, either by flame or by hot air in a car, the burst disc will activate. Unless this burst disc fails, a helium tank should not explode.
Is Helium Gas Dangerous At All?
Yes, helium gas can be dangerous but not when it comes to fire or explosions.
The biggest warning that comes when you buy helium tanks or balloons is to make sure that no one inhales too much of the helium. While it can be funny to make your voice go higher, inhaling helium does come with its risks.
Inhaling helium gas means that you are not inhaling any oxygen. Oxygen is very important as it sustains your body and allows you to function. If you purposefully displace the oxygen in your body with helium, then you are putting yourself at risk of asphyxiation.
Inhaling one single breath of helium from a balloon will not harm you much - at the most, you may feel a little dizzy - but it’s not impossible to suffer from other effects including nausea.
People, particularly young children, have been known to die from asphyxiation after inhaling helium from a balloon. So, it’s best to just skip this little party trick and keep the helium for just inflating balloons.
But as for fires and explosions, helium is the safest gas to use. It won’t catch fire or explode when exposed to a heat source or a flame.
And there you have it - all your questions about helium gas answered and your worries concerning exploding balloons put at ease.
The only time you should be worried about balloons catching fire or exploding is if you have purchased hydrogen balloons or balloons inflated with another kind of gas other than helium.
Helium is one of the safest gases to inflate balloons with, only beaten out by one more - just plain old natural air from your very own lungs.
If you are too concerned about using helium balloons, especially after hearing about the health risks that come with inhaling too much, then you can just decorate using balloons blown up the old fashioned way - by blowing into them yourself!
However, these balloons do not have the desired lift effect that comes with using other gases. If you want your balloons to float, then you can use the next safest gas - helium gas.
So put your mind at ease knowing that those helium balloons you bought for that birthday party won’t spontaneously explode.