Introduction: Fire Balloon

Picture of Fire Balloon

This will give you step by step instructions to make a fire balloon or sky lantern.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: This project involves highly flammable materials. Children should only make this if accompanied by an adult. Don’t use the fire balloon in dry areas or in areas where a fire could start. The best place to use a fire balloon is over a large body of water.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

- Five pieces of large tissue paper or waxed rice paper

- Scotch Tape or Masking tape

- Rubbing alcohol or lighter fluid

- Kitchen sponge or similar absorbable material

- Scissors

- Wire

- Lighter or matches

Total cost: $5 to $15

Gather the materials to make the fire balloon. You will need large sheets of tissue paper or large sheets of waxed rice paper. Tissue paper can be bought at most department stores or grocery stores. The paper needs to be thin enough for the balloon to lift off the ground. Copy paper and most paper bags are too heavy for the heated air to lift them off the ground. You will need scotch tape or masking tape to tape the pieces of paper together.

For the fire, a small sponge soaked in rubbing alcohol is used. Many other things can be used besides the sponge. The material just needs to be able to absorb the rubbing alcohol and light enough to not weigh the balloon down. With this balloon, a standard kitchen sponge and 91% isopropyl alcohol is used. Lightweight wire can be used to connect the sponge to the paper balloon. String can’t be used to connect the sponge because it will catch fire once the sponge is lit. It’s easiest to light the sponge with a grill lighter if you are by yourself. If you are with multiple people, you can light the sponge with a normal lighter or matches. Someone can hold the balloon up while you light the sponge from underneath. If you are by yourself, it’s easiest to set the sponge on the ground and light it with a grill lighter while holding the balloon up with the other hand.

Step 2: Taping the Sheets of Paper Together

Picture of Taping the Sheets of Paper Together

Lay four pieces of tissue paper out next to each other. The longer sides of the sheets should be next to each other. Overlap the sides so the pieces of paper can be taped together. About a half-inch or a centimeter is enough. Use scotch or masking tape to tape the pieces together. The tape needs to run the whole length of the pieces of paper so that the heat can’t escape the balloon after the sponge is lit. Check along the tape to make sure there are no gaps between the two pieces. The four pieces should just look like one large piece of tissue paper now.

Step 3: Making the Balloon Into a Cylinder

Picture of Making the Balloon Into a Cylinder

Take one short end of the large taped together sheet and fold it towards the other short end. Tape the two short ends together so the large sheet resembles a hollow cylinder. Once again, the tape must run the hold length of the two edges. It’s important to remember that the heat must be kept inside the balloon, so no gaps or holes.

Step 4: Putting a Top on the Balloon

Picture of Putting a Top on the Balloon

Next, a top must be put on the hollow cylinder to trap the heat. Another piece of tissue paper can be used. Fold the cylinder along the taped portions to form more of a box shape with the cylinder. It might naturally form a box shape already. Set the balloon on the ground with one side on the ground and one side facing up toward you. Take the last piece of tissue paper and place the short end about 4 to 6 inches down from the top. Leave the longer portion up above the balloon. It will be taped to the other side. Run a piece of tape along the whole edge of the paper.

Flip the balloon over and do the same thing to the opposite side.

Step 5: Completing the Top

Turn the balloon on its other sides and tape all the edges closed. The balloon should now only have one open side. Check over the whole balloon to see if there are any gaps or holes where hot air could escape.St

Step 6: Making the Fire Source

Picture of Making the Fire Source

The kitchen sponge should be cut to a smaller piece so that it can fit in the balloon and so it won’t be too heavy when soaked with alcohol or lighter fluid. Half-inch to one inch sides (or about 3 centimeters) will work fine.

You will use two pieces of wire to connect the sponge to the balloon. Beading wire is used here because it is lightweight and inexpensive. The two pieces need to be about one inch or 3 centimeters longer than the width of the whole of the bag. The beading wire can be cut with scissors, which is also helpful. You can find it in most craft sections at department stores.

The wire should be pushed through the sponge long ways on each side. The portion of the sponge with most surface area will be facing upward toward the top of the balloon once it is connected. Position the wire so there is an equal portion on each side of the sponge.

Tape each end of the wire to the balloon at the edges of the opening. The sponge should be positioned in the middle of the opening so the tissue paper doesn’t start on fire.

Step 7: Getting Ready to Light the Fire

Soak the sponge in alcohol or lighter fluid being careful not to get any alcohol on the tissue paper. This step is easiest to do if you are working with another person. One person can hold up the balloon while the other soaks the sponge.

Step 8: Lighting the Sponge and Letting the Balloon Go

Picture of Lighting the Sponge and Letting the Balloon Go

Finally, when lighting the sponge, it’s easiest to light the sponge using two people, but it can be done with one person if you’re careful. The balloon needs to be held up when the sponge is being lit so the paper won’t catch fire. If you’re by yourself, hold the balloon up with one hand while using a grill lighter to light the sponge with the other hand. Caution needs to be used when lighting the sponge. The whole balloon can catch fire very quickly if you’re not careful. Set the lit sponge on the ground in the middle of the opening of the balloon. Set the balloon over the fire so hot air starts to fill the balloon. Wait a few minutes and your balloon will take off.


Norro21 (author)2014-10-13

These set fire to hundreds of buildings and fields each year. The safety precaution should be not to do it at all. You are obviously not a responsible adult if you are oblivious to the dangerous and costly hazard you are causing.

dogucan97 (author)Norro212014-10-14

Well, you can launch them in the middle of an ocean or maybe a sea or something. That wouldn't set fire to anything.

Trustthapo (author)dogucan972014-10-14

Launching lanterns over water is still a major hazard to wildlife and is illegal in many places.

HaileyW8 (author)Trustthapo2017-03-16

um,,,, ACTUALLY,,, wildlife doesn't exist sweetie :)) so don't have to worry about your poor little 'animals' setting on fire now do we ;)

bye boo :*

maxhuey (author)Norro212014-10-14

Obviously you have no idea what you are talking about. There's a 3000 years history of the sky lantern and there have never been a serious accident unless stupidity sets in. Once the sky lantern fly up, it does not come down even long after the flame dies down. properly done sky lantern are safe and environmentally green.

You can buy them for $2.50 each here:

LancasterPA (author)maxhuey2014-10-14

Maxhuey, you are so wrong. We sent one of the Groupon ones up and it almost caught the dried leaves of a tree up in flames. That is personal experience. We were in a large clearing about 1/2 acre that was surrounded by trees. We had no wind on the ground but when it got 1/2 way up the height of the trees it went right into the branches and kept burning. We attribute not having a fire to the ones sold by Groupon have a flame retardant paper. 3000 years and not a serious accident, any proof to that or did you just pull that one out of your.... and have a nice day.

maxhuey (author)LancasterPA2014-10-14


maxhuey (author)LancasterPA2014-10-14

Common sense dictates that you do not fly this in areas of trees, airports etc. I guess you have not use C/S... :-)

No need proof, history is there for you to see (Google is your friend: Kong Ming lantern was invented some 3000 years ago in China. Every year since, there have been celebrations all over Asia flying these by the hundreds and sometimes thousands. If only you have traveled to Pingxi, Thailand, Vietnam, etc and other parts of Asia. you would not have ask..Its Common knowledge...

jimmyodunn (author)2014-10-15

Why not attach fine monofiliment to it so you can control it so it doesn't become a hazard? Just saying...

kuma.rhyu (author)jimmyodunn2015-12-24

Good idea, but the mono can and does get close enough to the fire pad to melt and release the balloon (it happened to me a few times launching over a lake and I had to paddle to the landing site and put out the fire pad).

schaude made it! (author)2014-10-15

this is a great instructable, thank you!! although all the warnings and legal notices are telling us it's not always and everywhere a good idea, we did this several times with kids. we changed one thing - we left the fire on the ground as the brothers montgolfier did. two or three kids kept the balloon (round/ball shape) upright while another kid put one or two hot air fans into the opening filling the balloon with hot air. one time we used a gas welder as well - it worked fine, always taking care of not touching the paper. if you want it to fly with the alcohol sponge you can do the hot air filling with the fan or gas burner for a faster start and put the alcohol later on into the sponge. i recommend very cold days - the colder the better because of the delta of temperatures - the low weight of the hot air inside the balloon compared to the "heavy cold air" outside! and, of course and as it was written above, better do it on a wet day...

kuma.rhyu (author)schaude2015-12-24

Separating the fire from the balloon is a great idea to avoid setting fires when it lands!

lbradley5 (author)2014-10-22

I just spray the tissue paper with homemade flame retardant spray, allow to dry between 3-4 layers of spray... For a make-it yourself fire retardant mixture, mix 7 oz. Borax, 3 oz. boric acid, and 2 qts. warm water. Stir to dissolve completely. put in a spray bottle.. wha... laa...

DaveB13 (author)2014-10-16, very cool. Kites with LED would be safe, maybe more fun. Free floating balloon may not be legal in your state or country. This article names the fire ballon outlawed locations for when it was written:

kudzu63 (author)2014-10-16

Cool instructable. I will definitely be trying this with my kids even though they are both grown. They still like to try stuff with me. What I find sad is that so many people read these and then try to pick them apart and down every thing about them. Someone even mentioned the possibility of wildlife getting caught in the wire. WTF?? I really don't think a probably no more than a 12 inch piece of wire is going to cause any animal any trouble. Otherwise, that animal might not be able to run out in front of someones vehicle and get into trouble like that. Come on people!! Take these for what they are. Just good clean fun for people that aren't paranoid about everything going wrong.

gerrit_hoekstra (author)2014-10-15

Ay caramba! Any idea of the damage done to dumb animals who get entangled in pieces of stray wire from these things? Here is a nice litany of the troubles they have caused in the UK:

As for the dry corn field on the photo that you are about to set fire to, I hope you are on good terms with the farmer.

dadsaid5x (author)2014-10-15


dorybob (author)2014-10-14

beautiful and dangerous.

the dangerous:

the beautiful:

stephenf (author)2014-10-14

Hmm, could an alternate heat source could be used? Perhaps hand warmer pads, wonder if they are light enough? Or heat up the air with a heat gun, then release the balloon.

MSITE (author)2014-10-14

This is the first Instructable that should be taken down.

Think about it: Let's light a fire and then let the wind blow it away to God knows where. They are banned in many areas for this reason.

Just plain not thinking.

BigMike1998 (author)MSITE2014-10-14

oh come on. Like the guy said, don't be a knucklehead and launch it next to a hayfield. Do it over water or something. There are way more instructsbles here that do worse.

LancasterPA (author)2014-10-14

Ha, Ha, Ha......."The best place to use a fire balloon is over a large body of water." ... or a nice dry corn field!

deltafour1212. (author)2014-10-14

Cool instructions, but it is easier and cheaper just buy them already made.

All you so called "experts" talking about how these start fires and are hazard to wildlife don't even have a freakin clue what your talking about.

First off, you don't light them in windy conditions.

2nd they are made from rice paper which are biodegradable

3rd when you do light them on a non windy condition they rise straight up and keep going up until the fire burns out.

4th After the fie burns out in the air it takes a while for the balloon to come back to earth. By that time there is no heat from the balloon to cause any fire AT ALL!.

5th How do I know this, I have been flying these lanterns for 20 plus years testing them in every wet, dry, non and slightly breezy condition known, for a company that hired me that makes these lanterns to test their safety. A group of us have debunked every single myth you "experts" supposedly read , heard or just plain assumed that these are dangerous.

See that cornfield in the picture. Yeh we even tried that experiment. Only way we caught the corn on fire was to have a large fan that replicated high winds ( which the package says not to light in high winds but a lot of idiots still do) we lit the lantern and it blew horizontal into the corn where we finally managed to have it get caught in the corn stalks and caught fire only after 10 attempts

Jack Rodgers (author)2014-10-14


moxieboy (author)2014-10-12

Gonna have to try this though. My kid would love it!

spark master (author)moxieboy2014-10-14

hhmmm first go here

then go here

nice close up of a 3 year old (looks 4 years old to me), after getting a face full of molten wax.

Darwin is always looking to hand out an award.

huffy49 (author)2014-10-14

Great picture used ti illustrate this article. Set fire to a flying lantern and launch it next to a dry cornfield. What could possibly go wrong?

wannabemadsci (author)2014-10-12

Nothing like building it yourself, but I have seen these on eBay for around a $1 each when purchased in quantity. The ones I purchased had the tissue paper treated with flame retardant so it would not burn -- a nice plus. Nice instructable!

go read the pages from the anti balloon release people. nice pics of a 3 year ols with a burned face.


rhand5 (author)2014-10-14

The point is for the flame to have a relatively short burn time once released most of the burn time is taken up warming the air inside so it will fly, the flame should only last a minute or two after launching and then go out. I have done this in Japan for a festival for the ancestors and with 100's of people or family's launching it was beautiful and moving. And they explained that the paper and bamboo would break down quickly in the weather or out to sea and not harm the wildlife. They were very fragile and would brake and tare easily. Children would chase the path of the lanterns and try to catch them as they came down. so if you are going to try to make them clock your burn time and how long it takes to warm your lantern and have fun responsibly

spark master (author)rhand52014-10-14

hhmmm first go here

then go here

nice close up of a 3 year old (looks 4 years old to me), after getting a face full of molten wax.

maybe you would let kids near them, no problem, very Darwinian , you will get an award, or your kid, Posthumously, perhaps.

Greasetattoo (author)2014-10-14

We use dry cleaner bags.
With straws criss crossed and a birthday candle!

even worse for the environment, other then starting a fire of course, hey isn't that a bunch of dry corn on the stalk next to the makers, not looking like a lake to me.

I do like the concept though, but my dad pulled enough dead people from fires so i never made one...

Trustthapo (author)2014-10-14

I'm just going to be That Guy and warn everybody to SERIOUSLY reconsider releasing lanterns. Not only is there a major fire hazard but lanterns are harmful to wildlife as well. If that isn't enough to turn you off of releasing lanterns, the practice is illegal in some areas!

Before you roll your eyes, please consider checking this link before you decide to release any balloons or lanterns.

bheinrichs (author)2014-10-14

This weekend someone out in our lake area was lighting these and letting them drift across the lake into the wooded area that has no road access for firefighting equipment . Thankfully none of them started fires in the forest . Please keep in mind where you are releasing these as the results could lead to a major catastrophe . Remember what happen in Slave Lake , Alberta.

j9mosely (author)2014-10-14

Please check with your local authorities before launching. These are banned in many locations, or may be temporarily banned under certain conditions.

cfranc (author)j9mosely2014-10-14

Sorry to say that, but this procedure is totaly forbidden in Brazil, you can be arrested if you do that. Fire in the forest or in the cornfield like I am seeing in the first picture is easy to happen... very dangerous!!!

b.steadman (author)j9mosely2014-10-14

Nice instructable, but definitely check legality first. They are illegal in Germany, with heavy fines / jail time.

Also, never launch near an airport, obviously.

Klappstuhl (author)b.steadman2014-10-14

I can confirm the same in Austria, you gotta check in with authorities first, otherwise you could set fire to literally anything.

dlukasek (author)2014-10-14

A really BAD idea. Anyone paying attention to the news would know the destruction caused by fires in the West in the last few years, including deaths of firefighters. I am stupefied that Instructables would allow this to be posted. Goof below says "there has never been a serious accident....". What?? How would he know? I think the Canadian forest service should see his link.

zappenfusen (author)2014-10-14

Would pre-heat with hair dryer increase ease of inflation and hang time? Forest fire distinct possibility lacking proper precautions and lack of basic common sense. Launched from Inter-Coastal waterway from boat should result in great UFO scare. Thanks for multitude of devious actions, uses, etc.


Teisha (author)2014-10-14

Neat idea, but is there a way to do this with inflammable materials? Such as replacing the tissue paper with a material that wouldn't burn and somehow better enclosing the flame?

Slim49 (author)2014-10-14

That is GREAT!

I always wondered how it was done. Never worked for me as a kid!


moxieboy (author)2014-10-12

Over a corn field?

samalert (author)moxieboy2014-10-13

ROFL i too was thinking same may be they are planning for huge pop corn field in a jiffy.

robocop2 (author)2014-10-13

it's beautiful !

kool hand luke (author)2014-10-12

I like how u guys set one off near what looks to be a large crop of much for the water...haha...just stirrin..great instructable I actually used to make these but a completely different way..if I get a chance I might try and post it on here..havnt posted anything yet..cheers

N3crojoker (author)2014-10-12

I love how the crops in the background are fire hazard free lol. Jk Jk good job I been dying to do one this in a long time.

N3crojoker (author)2014-10-12

I love how crops on the background are safe from fire lol jk Jk good vid I been dying to make one of this.

Mielameri (author)2014-10-12

Oooo I love these things! And it seems more economical to make them than to buy them :)

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