helium balloons
Sally Schneider

UPDATE: After we published the post below, about giving balloons to grownups so they can experience “setting them free”, we got a number of comments alerting us to the dangers balloons pose to birds, wildlife and the environment. Charmed by balloons, we confess to having been completely naive about these harsh realities, which you can read about here. As we discovered when a reader freaked out about a post about shipping pallets, many of the dangers were overblown and the issues often more complex than stated, so we posted essential info. Our research indicates that Mylar balloons pose the worst environmental danger as they are basically foil and nylon; old-fashioned balloons are normally made of latex and are biodegradable. Numbers vary wildly as to how much wildlife is actually hurt or killed by latex balloons. There is some research that indicates that latex balloons, fully inflated and without any strings or ribbons attached, tend to shatter into tiny pieces at high atmospheres (about 5 miles); the fragments drop to earth to biodegrade. All that being said, we prefer to err on the side of safety, and have redacted our post:

A friend recently sent us an unusual birthday gift: a huge gaggle of classic, brightly colored helium balloons. What was unusual was the idea she had for them:

Remember when you were a kid and you accidentally let a balloon go, and you’d watch it, heart-broken, rise into the air? The balloon escaped, was set free, to ride the currents and seek its fortune as it were. I thought it might be fun to let one go here and there – or all of them – intentionally, and feel the freedom of watching them fly.


The balloons, powerfully heliumed, arrived with a note that read:

“Happy Birthday, With all our love. (Not to be used for travel.)”

The balloons kept us company in our apartment for days without deflating. They seemed to have a life of their own. WHICH IS A LOVELY THING, EVEN FOR GROWNUPS.

color helium balloons hanging out on the ceiling
photo: sally schneider

And every once in a while, we’d step out onto the balcony and release one, or push it out into the air currents. DON’T DO THIS.


liberated helium balloon in the air
photo: sally schneider

Sometimes we’d make a wish, sometimes we’d think of things we’d like to let go of. YOU CAN STILL DO THIS WITHOUT RELEASING A BALLOON.

liberated helium balloon in the air
photo: sally schneider

Each time we did it, the balloon took a different course and speed according to the prevailing winds; we’d watch until it was out of sight. As in the 50’s children’s movie, The Red Balloon, balloons seem to have a mind of their own. You can watch the whole 34 minute film here. WE RECOMMEND IT; IT’S CHARMING AND A BIG DOSE OF “BALLOON”

liberated helium balloon in the air
photo: sally schneider



(We realize now that we also could have taken the opportunity to make a balloon hair-do, a la Myeongbeom Kim.)

Our friend ordered the Personalized Balloon Bouquet from Balloon Planet. WE RECOMMEND ASKING THEM TO REPLACE THE SINGLE MYLAR BALOON WITH ANOTHER HELIUM ONE. They are not cheap but the balloons are specially lined to hold in the helium and float for 3 days or longer (ours went for a good 5 before we released the last one.) A friend bought her son balloons locally and they were all deflated on the floor the next morning, so high-quality balloons are the way to go. DISPOSE OF THEM RESPONSIBLY.

Thanks Susy!!

Related posts: edible balloons (are you a secret molecular gastronomist?)
dream balloons
thought balloons
fab hairdo with balloons, via myeongbeom kimx

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11 replies on “Gift: Balloons for Grownups, Rethought and Redacted

  1. Wait!!!! While I love the freedom and beauty in this idea, releasing balloons is terrible for animals and the environment. They get caught in trees, animals start to eat the rubber and choke. The ballons deflate into then oceans where again animals try to eat them or the jut float off, deflate and leave the rubber litter where they land.

    However, there are these tissue “wishing papers” that when lit on fire float into the air until they disappear into tiny bits of ash. My friends and I let the birthday person wish on one and send it soaring.

  2. Hey, thank you so much. I’m gonna post something on these….

  3. Once I released a green helium balloon and watched horrified as it floated straight across the street and shot into the apartment of an innocent woman; the festive ribbon tightened around the poor woman’s neck and killed her on the spot. I did not confess or notify authorities.

  4. I had an experience similar to David N. When I was a girl of 17 I released a dozen blue helium balloons. Inside each balloon was a simple note of greeting I had written and each contained my phone number. Two weeks later three police officers appeared at my door. A man in Jersey had inexplicably eaten his balloon as soon as he read my note and then dropped to the floor of his kitchen in agony, choking. Fortunately, his wife found him and he survived. The cops were not friendly and took a statement from me, but no action was taken.

  5. If you people don’t stop now, I’ll develop a balloon phobia. I feel it coming upon me now. It makes me anxious and want a Xanax.

  6. Balloons don’t kill people. People with balloons kill people. The solution is not to ban the balloon. This would be cruel and unconstitutional. Balloon violence will end when everyone carries balloons openly, and is trained in their proper and safe use.

  7. at the risk of being seen as a spoil sport, I feel I must add a couple cents to
    provide some feedback on the letting-balloons-go idea…as poetic as it sounds,
    the reality is that when the balloon bursts and comes back to earth, it becomes trash at best — and often dangerous trash….it will be plasticized pollution, and birds get entangled in the long strings, or may eat the deflated balloon if if ends up in water.
    we love our freedoms, our creative responses, our making and our pleasures…and all are vital to our daily and longest happy lives possible….and it is of course impossible to live without impact, and of course some of this will be negative. this is a small change, but a useful one, tho…please no more balloons let go!

  8. I constantly spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles every day along with a
    mug of coffee.

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