Floating Spirit Lights





Introduction: Floating Spirit Lights

We live a little off the beaten path, so getting trick-or-treaters to walk the extra block to our place takes a little work.  Rather than resorting to Hollywood premiere style search lights, this year we floated up some spooky Spirit Lights to try an entice people to make the trek, and it worked extremely well.

This is a very quick and easy project, with huge effect.  Our "spirits" were attracting people from entirely different neighborhoods!

One caution:  If you live near power lines, or it is an excessively breezy night, you should NOT attempt this project.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Required Tools
  • Scissors

  • Very large, BLACK, helium balloon(s)
  • Miniature glow sticks
  • 12" size, white balloons
  • Cheesecloth
  • Spool of fishing line
Not all party stores carry balloons large enough for this, so you may need to ask around.  The ones I used were 3' in diameter, and a little pricey ($14 filled), but well worth it.  I've attempted this before with standard size balloons and it did not work well.  It took three standard balloons just to hold one ghost aloft, and even then it was a little sketchy.  The monster balloons cost a little more, but they can keep up 2 - 4 ghosts each, depending on how many glow sticks you use.

Step 2: Creating Spirits

Assembly of the "spirit" balloons is very simple, and is a great way to get kids involved, so grab yourself a helper, and let's get started!

Note:  Don't start too early, or the glow sticks will start losing their power before it even gets dark out.  I started cracking and shaking mine just after sunset.  If you have everything else prepped beforehand, final assembly goes real quick.

For each Spirit, you will need:
  • one glow stick
  • one white balloon
  • one 3' x 1.5' piece of cheesecloth (approximate size)
  • 5 feet of fishing line
I actually used two glow sticks in each of my balloons, but decided later that wasn't entirely necessary.  Using more glow sticks allows you to blow the balloons up a little larger, but they also add quite a bit of additional weight.  Also, the larger you blow the white balloons, the less glow you get overall.  It's a bit of a balancing act, and certainly adjustable for the look you're ultimately going for.  In the end, I decided that using 1 glow stick, and just slightly inflating the balloons looked the best.

For each spirit, have your helper crack a glow stick and shake it up well.

While that is happening, blow up a balloon a little bit, then let the air out.  This just helps to make sure the inside of the balloon isn't sticking to itself, and makes it a little easier to insert the glow stick.

Once you have a well-shaken glow stick, have your helper place it inside the balloon.

Now, inflate the balloon and tie it off.  If you're not sure how much to inflate the balloon, take it into a dark bathroom and judge the amount of glow you're getting, then let out, or add more air, as necessary.

Step 3: Giving Them Clothes

For extra effect, if you don't have rain in the forecast, use the cheesecloth to really give them a wispy, spirit look.  If it is raining, you will need to skip this step because once the cloth soaks with rain, even the giant helium balloons will not be able to keep them up anymore.

With the balloon knot pointing up, drape a piece of cheesecloth over the balloon, and have your helper hold it.

Cut off a length of fishing line, at least 5' long, and tie one end around the balloon knot, thus securing the cheesecloth in place, and creating an invisible tether for your spirit.

Step 4: Launch!

Once you have prepped all of the spirit balloons you plan to use, it is time to head outside and launch everything.  The giant balloons will probably come with weights on them, and I'd recommend keeping them in place until you're ready to send each one up.

Pick a place close to your house, and preferably away from any paths where people might be walking; if the wind picks up a bit, and the balloons start drifting, you don't want the lines falling across where people can get tangled in them.

Pull a little lead off the reel of fishing line (don't cut it yet!) and tie it to one of the black balloons.  Once it is secured, cut off the weights and start letting out fishing line so the balloon rises about 15 feet in the air.  If your first spirit is too close to it, when people look up, they are more apt to see the black balloon and spoil the mystery.  If it is really too close, it could even illuminate the black balloon a bit, so give yourself a good deal of room.

Once it has floated up a bit, tie a loop in the line.  I'm not too versed in knots, but hopefully the pictures show what I'm talking about.  Since it's really hard to see the fishing line, I took pictures of the same process using regular string.

With the loop in place, tie the lead from the spirit balloon to the loop, and then start letting out more line to send that one up in the air.  After that balloon is 5 or 10 feet above you, repeat the process with the next one.  If you are using 1 glow stick per balloon, you can place at least 3.  If you're using 2 glow sticks per balloon, you'll only be able to attach 2 of them.  Once you've got your final one attached and floated up, tie the line off on something secured to the ground.

Keep your helper handy for this process, it's a little tough to juggle all the stuff on your own.

Step 5: Stand Back and Admire Your Work

That's all there is to it.  Repeat step #4 for each large balloon you have and stand back to admire your work.

On a cloudless night, the black balloons will almost completely disappear in the black sky.  Even with some cloud cover, they aren't all that noticeable (but you can see one of them in my pictures).  If there is a little breeze, the large balloons will drift around some, and the long leads on the spirit balloons will allow them to drift around independently, giving the whole display a really cool random look!

The pictures and video don't quite do it justice, but it is amazing in person.

Other ideas:
  • Make some extras and hang them near your front door.  We create a graveyard by our porch, and I tied some from trees over there.
  • String fishing line between two high trees and hang them down from there, for more of a horizontal spread look.
  • I used the traditional green glow sticks, but other colors could be interesting as well.
  • Try full-size glow sticks, with slightly larger balloons.



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    How about breaking open the glow stick and pouring it into the balloon. Same glow. Much less weight.

    2 replies

    Good idea! Tried squeezing and pouring glow into spirit balloon to reduce weight so a smaller helium ballon could be used (or none at all). Wouldn't suggest doing what I did for several reason: 1) glowing effect is dull, oily glow liquid spreads too much then separates, end up clinging to the inside balloon wall, balloon might have to be full of glow liquid for this to work. 2) high probability sharp tube fragments get inside the balloon and, 3) the oily slippery liquid gets all over the balloon, even if a pipet is used. You'll end up tasting the liquid when you go to blow it up. Maybe you could blow up the ballon first or use a pump to get the air in.  Bottom line for this method.... Not safe, weak glow effect, and too much fuss. Going with the original no pour method. Thanks for the instructable and good comments.

    Not a bad idea at all, the issue there is that it's just messy. Two years ago I made some glowing IV Tubes (https://www.instructables.com/id/Mr-Grinz/) and it looked really cool, but was a bit of a mess doing it.

    I'll definitely give this a try though. After inflating the balloon, and shaking it around, you'd probably actually get a better level of glow out of it!

    I wish methane was commercially available. I love helium but it is rare on earth and I feel like its a waste using it in balloons when it may be needed in more important applications. However these floating spirit lights are pretty darn cool

    just a suggestion but why dont you just paint parts of the helium balloons in glow in the dark paint ?

    1 reply

    The problem with the glow in the dark paint is that it requires a light source to "charge" it up. So they'd only last a short while before being invisible again. :)

    cool! ill have to remember this... or just favorite it...

    You can go to a outdoors camping store I got a safety light, weighs nothing and it blinks red. Think you could use one small balloon, a blinking light may draw them in. Just a passing thought.

    Pretty cool!

    they might even bee lighter than a chemlight.

    The glow sticks actually last pretty well, given the expected window they're used for. They were still quite visible after the last trick-or-treaters came by, so a good 4 hours. But LEDs would definitely extend that quite a bit!

    Like godofal said though, would need to be the larger, diffused type and not sure how it would look compared to the chemlight...just doesn't have that same "glow". I'm definitely going to have to give it a try now though! The giant black balloons still have plenty of lift in them. The LED solution would definitely be cheaper in the long-run. The smaller glow sticks weren't too bad though, about $0.25 each (I bought them in packs of 12, after Halloween last year).

    They'd naturally be bottom heavy with the battery, but I think I'd try tying a short length of fishing line just below the lens, and extending that outside the balloon, and tying the knot, to suspend it mid-balloon. The fishing line is thin enough that the balloon should still hold air for a while even with the line running through the knot. Trying that over night right now. :)

    Actually not a bad idea to suspend the sticks inside too, rather than just having them sit on the bottom like I did.

    there's always the old cut-off-the-top-of-the-cheap-5mm-LED-and-sand-it-to-a-frosted-finish-to-disperse-the-light trick.

    that could also be a problem
    with LED's you often have a high intensity beam instead of a well spread light like you have with breaklights

    i think the best (even only) way to get a similar result is to get diffused 10mm LED's, and make it bottom heavy so that the LED always points straight up

    if you get regular 5mm LED's and make regular throwies, you would have a single spot in the baloon that's really bright while the rest is barely lighted at all

    but it would work if you do it right
    it would also be cheaper, and last longer, while being reusable (bonus points for rechargeable batteries)

    while i havent had a chance to test it, if you coated the LED in hot glue it should disperse the beam, i recall a dance floot that either make or popsci featured that used hot glue on LEDs to soften and disperse the light.

    Very very cool!! I wonder if there is some way to tie them to a motorized wheel or something that would make them go up and down slowly thoughout the night :) Definitely going to try these little ghosties out at my house next year!

    1 reply

    Hahaha, you totally read my mind. I wasn't thinking up and down specifically, but have been pondering for next year to rig something across our "graveyard" which has a motor in the middle, and then attaching some of these to it and thus have them circling the yard. If there is a little breeze, they float around pretty good, but I think that's a great idea to try and add better vertical movement, that would be really cool!

    What do you think about eliminating the black balloon all together? You could take your glow sticks to the store, and have the clerk insert one into a white balloon before inflating with helium. For the ghost effect, could you use white or clear trash bags? They wouldn't be affected by rain.

    1 reply

    That would be great, except a single "standard" balloon isn't capable of keeping even the small glow sticks aloft. :( As an alternative to that, there are some balloons you can get which are designed to have the glow chemicals mixing freely inside of them. Those could be worth trying, but would probably have to get your own mini-helium tank to fill those. Cool idea with the bags, rather than cloth. I think the cheesecloth has a better look to it, but would be a very good alternative in places where it rains a lot (here!).


    Using bright, white leds and insert them into a ping-pong ball would diffuse the light really well.